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Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Smokers and drinkers 'protected against Parkinson's'
Smoking and drinking
Good news for smokers and drinkers
People who are hooked on addictive substances such as tobacco and alcohol may be less likely to develop Parkinson's disease, say researchers.

Studies have consistently found that smokers have lower rates of Parkinson's disease.

And now researchers in the Netherlands have found evidence that higher consumption of coffee and alcohol is also linked to lower rates of the disease.

However, they believe that indulging in addictive behaviour does not in itself protect against Parkinson's.

Although this study offers positive results, smoking and coffee in large quantities can be harmful substances and could lead to additional medical problems

Parkinson's Disease Society

Rather, they suspect that addictive behaviour is the result of the same brain chemistry that helps prevent Parkinson's.

Their theory is that smokers smoke because their brains have high levels of dopamine, a brain chemical believed to stimulate addictive behaviour.

People with lower levels of brain dopamine are not as likely to become addicted, but they may be more likely to develop Parkinson's disease - which results from drastic reductions in dopamine in the brain.

The Dutch team have followed almost 8,000 people aged 55 and older for up to ten years.

They found that cigarette smokers had almost 50% lower levels of Parkinson's than did non-smokers.

The risk was lower for those people who had smoked the most.

The researchers also found that people who drank high amounts of coffee had a lower incidence of Parkinson's.

Again, the risk for the disease rose as the amount of coffee consumed decreased.

For alcohol, the researchers found that high consumption was related to a lower risk of Parkinson's. However, there was no relationship between risk and amount of alcohol consumed.

A spokesman for the Parkinson's Disease Society said: "The study seems to offer strong evidence that people with these habits may be less likely to develop the condition and we look forward to detailed evaluation of this research over the next few years.

"However, we still do not know what causes Parkinson's and there is no cure.

"Although this study offers positive results, smoking and coffee in large quantities can be harmful substances and could lead to additional medical problems."

Around 120,000 people in the UK have Parkinson's.

It is an incurable, debilitating disease that slowly renders sufferers increasingly immobile and eventually leads to death.

Sufferers find increasing difficulty in moving their arms and legs. They develop tremors and facial tics.

The research was presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting.

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