“Berries vs. Pesticides
in Parkinson’s Disease” In the original description
of Parkinson’s disease, by none other than
Dr. James Parkinson himself, he described a characteristic
feature of the disease: constipation, torpid or
lethargic bowels, which may precede the
diagnosis by many years. In fact, bowel movement
frequency may be predictive. Men with less than
daily bowel movements were four times more
likely to develop Parkinson’s an average of
12 years later. Now this could just be
a really early symptom of the disease tied to
decreased water intake. Many Parkinson’s patients
report never really feeling very thirsty, and maybe that
led to the constipation —or, alternately,
the constipation may increase the risk of
Parkinson’s disease, as constipation results in
a longer stay of the waste in the bowel and thus
more absorption of potential neurotoxins
from the diet. Yes, there are two studies
suggesting an association between constipation
and Parkinson’s, but at the same time
there are 38 studies linking the disease to
pesticide exposure. And by now more than
a hundred studies linking pesticides to an
increased risk of up to 80%. Now many of these studies
are on occupational exposure, like farmworkers, who may
reduce their risk of Parkinson’s by wearing gloves and
washing their clothes. But Parkinson’s has
also been linked to ambient exposure. Approximately a billion
pounds of pesticides are applied annually
in the US, and just living or working
in high spray areas may increase
Parkinson’s risk. And the same with using
pesticides in the home. I didn’t realize how common
household pesticide use was, but this study
out of UCLA suggests it might not
be such a good idea. Pesticides may cause
DNA mutations that increase susceptibility
for the disease or play a more
direct role. See many neurodegenerative
diseases appear to be caused by the buildup of
misfolded proteins. In Alzheimer’s, it’s the
protein amyloid beta, in Creutzfeldt–Jakob and
mad cow disease it’s prions, in Huntington’s,
it’s a different protein, and in Parkinson’s disease it’s
a protein called alpha synuclein. And a variety
of pesticides— 8 out of the
12 they tested— were able to trigger
synuclein accumulation in human nerve cells,
at least in a petri dish. The buildup of synuclein
may play a role in killing off specialized nerve
cells in the brain, 70% of which are
gone by the time the first symptoms arise. Pesticides are so good
at killing these neurons that pesticides
are used to try to recreate Parkinson’s
disease in lab animals. Is there any way to
stop the process? Well, there’s no
drugs yet that can prevent
this protein aggregation. What about flavonoid
phytonutrients, natural compounds found in
certain fruits and vegetables? They can cross the
blood-brain barrier and may have
neuroprotective effects. So they tested 48 different
plant compounds to see if any could
stop the clumping of synuclein proteins
into the little fibers that clog up
the cell. And they found a
variety of flavonoids that cannot only inhibit
the spiderweb-like formation of synuclein fibers, but some could even
break them up. Turns out flavonoids
may actually bind to synuclein proteins
and stabilize them. Here’s some healthy
brain cells; the arrows are pointed
to the neurites, the arms that nerve cells
use to communicate with each other. Here’s after exposure to
a pesticide, though. The cell is damaged,
retracts its little arms. But if you first incubate
the nerve cells with a blueberry extract the
nerve cell appears better able to withstand the
pesticide effects. So this implies that
flavonoids in our diet may be combatting Parkinson’s
disease as we speak, and healthy diets may
be effective in preventing and even “curing”
the disorder. But these were all petri dish
experiments in a laboratory. Is there any evidence, that people EATING berries
are protected from Parkinson’s? There was this study,
published forever ago, that suggested the consumption
of blueberries and strawberries was protective, but this
was a tiny study and the results were not
statistically significant, which is why I never
brought up the study before. But that was the
best we had… until now. Those eating a variety
of phytonutrients were less likely to develop
Parkinson’s disease, specifically, higher
intake of berries, was associated with
significantly lower risk. The accompanying editorial, “An Apple a Day to Prevent
Parkinson Disease”, concluded that more
research is necessary, but until then, an apple a
day might be a good idea. Of course this is
coming from a man. Apples appeared to be
protective against Parkinson’s for men, but not women, however, everyone appeared to
benefit from the berries. We just may not want to have
our berries with cream, as the milk supply may
be contaminated with the same kind
of neurotoxic pesticide residues
found in the brains of Parkinson’s disease
victims.