Plant protection

By John Pastor • Published: October 23rd, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Health advice is loaded with saccharine praise for fruits and vegetables.

And the press is peppered with stories about wonderfully healthy components in plants.

But what do scientists really say about these so-called ‘nutri-ceutical’ benefits?

In many cases, investigations are just beginning into beneficial compounds known as phytochemicals, which are found in fruits, vegetables, beans and grains.

One effort has led to a substance that sounds more like a phyto-foe than friend … dietary nicotine, commonly found in types of peppers, tomatoes and tobacco.

Although the dangers are vast and well-documented, cigarette smoking and tobacco-use have appeared to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

But scientists don’t know whether the protective effect is true, if nicotine plays a role, or if people with Parkinson’s are simply averse to smoking because of brain differences.

Researchers with the University of Washington in Seattle recently looked at 499 newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients.

They did not associate a diet high in vegetables with lower Parkinson’s risk, but they did notice as consumption of certain plants containing dietary nicotine increased, Parkinson’s risk decreased.

Peppers were most strongly associated with the lower risk, mainly in men and women who have never used tobacco.

The results are promising. But the researchers say additional studies are needed to explore whether dietary nicotine and Parkinson’s disease risk are connected.

It is comforting to know that scientists are looking for ways for people to prevent the troublesome tremors, rigidity and slow movements of Parkinson’s.

But until there is solid proof, any claims about certain plants providing Parkinson’s protection should be taken with a grain of salt.