Researchers at the University of Washington Medical School (USA) have discovered that eating bell peppers can substantially cut the risk of developing the degenerative neurological disease Parkinson’s. And the substance in peppers that seems to confer the benefit is nicotine.Cigarette smoking is one of the worst habits—perhaps the worst—that shortens life span principally due to the increased risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and emphysema. But smokers do enjoy one advantage: they have a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Multiple studies have shown the risk is decreased by as much as 77%. Still, no one should consider smoking as being positive for health, as the negative effects far outweigh this one benefit.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that typically starts with a tremor, and progresses to muscle rigidity in walking and facial expressions. Some people develop a wooden, or mask-like facial appearance, and many sufferers eventually develop dementia and die prematurely. There is no cure, but there are medications that can slow the disease progression and minimize symptoms.
Peppers are in the same family as the tobacco plant, and brain researchers have suspected that nicotine is the cigarette component that confers the protective effect. Published in the May 9 Annals of Neurology, the researchers presented their study of diet and the disease in over 1000 people, some with Parkinson’s and some healthy.
They found that in general, eating more vegetables did not reduce the risk of Parkinson’s, but when they looked specifically at foods that contained natural nicotine, they found a significant protective effect. People who ate nicotine-containing foods had up to a 30% less risk.
The more of these foods the person ate, the lower the risk of Parkinson’s. Peppers, which contain the highest nicotine content (still much lower than a cigarette), seemed to receive the most benefit. Some other foods—tomatoes and potatoes—contain nicotine in lower concentration, and they also gave some protection, but not as much as peppers.
Researchers are trying now to determine if nicotine patches might help people with early Parkinson’s disease. In the meantime, you might consider adding peppers to your vegetable diet. One caution about this vegetable however is that peppers can contain a high pesticide residue, so you should wash them very well, and try to find organic peppers if possible.
If you can’t find organic at your local farmer’s market, tomatoes are a good second choice. Tomatoes are full of several wonderful antioxidants, and they are not plagued with the pesticide issue as are peppers.
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