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Men’s Risk for Parkinson’s Disease May be Reduced by Consuming Berries, Tea

Assorted fresh berries

Researchers say these and other foods contain flavonoids, compounds known to have neuroprotective effects

A new study suggests that regular intake of flavonoid-rich foods and drinks, such as berries, apples, tea and red wine, can reduce a man’s odds of developing Parkinson’s disease by 40 percent.

On the other hand, for women, a decrease in risk was only evident when their berry consumption was composed of at least several servings per week. The study also said that men had their risk lowered only after frequent consumption of berries.

According to Dr. Xiang Gao, a research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and an associate epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, “For total flavonoids, the beneficial result was only in men”. However, the author said that berries offer protective effect in both men and women.

Gao said that berries act as a neuroprotective agent and that berries can be added in people’s regular diet. “There are no harmful effects from berry consumption, and they lower the risk of hypertension too,” Gao further noted.

The findings of the new study appear online April 4 in the journal Neurology.

Parkinson’s disease is degenerative condition affecting the central nervous system. This condition leads to movement disorders, like tremors, rigidity, and balance problems. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an estimated 500,000 Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease.

Flavonoids are compounds present in plant foods that help protect the body’s cells from oxidative damage or damage resulting from oxidation. Berries like strawberries and blueberries are rich in a certain type of flavonoids known anthocyanins.

For the new study, the researchers analyzed nutrition and health data collected from nearly 50,000 men participating in the Health Professional Follow-Up Study and over 80,000 women included in the Nurses’ Health Study.

The researchers particularly reviewed dietary consumption of five primary sources of flavonoids, such as: tea, berries, apples, orange juice and red wine.

Over a follow-up period of 20 to 22 years, Parkinson’s disease developed in 805 people, of whom 438 were men and 367 were women.

The researchers said that when they made a comparison between those who had the greatest consumption of flavonoids with those had the least, they noted that only men showed a significant beneficial result, reducing their risk of developing Parkinson’s by 40 percent.

The reason why only men gained benefit from the extra consumption of flavonoid was unclear, said Gao, however, he noted that differences between men and women have also been uncovered by other studies. It’s not obvious if a biological mechanism exists leading to these differences, or another factor, added Gao.

However, when the researchers examined the dietary substances individually, berries were obviously found to be beneficial to both men and women, causing a reduction in the risk of Parkinson’s by about 25 percent for those who consumed two or more servings of berries a week.

Gao said that anthocyanins provide protection to cells against oxidative damage and that these substances also have anti-inflammatory effect, which may be the mechanism behind their role in reducing the risk of Parkinson’s.

Nevertheless, the authors said that the findings of the study should be interpreted with caution since the participants were mainly composed of white professionals, and the results might not be applicable to people from other ethnic groups. In addition, the authors said that recollections of dietary consumption may be flawed, and there’s a possibility that other properties of fruits and vegetables might have affected the results.

According to Dr. Michael Okun, medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation, “It is exciting” to find studies coming out regarding “modifiable dietary issues” that may have an influence on the risk of developing diseases like Parkinson’s.

He added, though, that it is essential for people to understand that this study does not apply to those who are already affected by the disease.

It will also be necessary to validate these findings in other studies and find out the mechanism behind the certain degree of protection seemingly offered by berries and other flavonoid-rich foods against Parkinson’s disease, Okun added.

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