Eating This Healthy Food May Increase Your Parkinson's Risk, Study Says

A large Harvard study hints that you may want to reconsider these so-called "healthy" foods.

If you're like most people trying to stay healthy, there's a good chance you've made some changes to your diet. After all, being conscious of what you put into your body can be one of the best ways to avoid heart disease, diabetes, or other serious health conditions. But research out of Harvard University has shown that one type of food marketed as being good for your health may actually increase your risk of Parkinson's disease (PD). Read on to see which items you might want to cut back on.

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Having three or more servings a day of low-fat dairy products may increase your Parkinson's risk.

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Devoted fans of frozen yogurt may want to brace themselves for some bad news. A large study conducted in 2017 by Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed a dataset with health and dietary information on more than 48,000 men and 80,000 women that spanned over 25 years. Over the course of the study, 1,036 participants were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

The researchers then analyzed the types of dairy products each participant consumed, such as yogurt, milk, and butter, and if the items were full-fat, low-fat, or non-fat. The results, published in the journal Neurology, showed that while there was no connection between full-fat dairy products and developing Parkinson's disease, those who had three or more servings a day of low-fat dairy products, such as frozen yogurt or skim milk, were 34 percent more likely to develop the disease compared to those who had less than one serving a day.

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Even modest consumption of low-fat dairy may still increase your risks of Parkinson's.

woman buying yogurt in the grocery store

While the findings may point towards overindulging in low-fat dairy as a potential precursor to increased Parkinson's risk, a deeper dive into the data proved otherwise. Even people who consumed just one serving of low-fat dairy a day were still 39 percent more likely to develop the neurological disorder compared to those who had less than one serving a week.

"Our study is the largest analysis of dairy and Parkinson's to date," study author Katherine C. Hughes, ScD, said in a statement. "The results provide evidence of a modest increased risk of Parkinson's with greater consumption of low-fat dairy products. Such dairy products, which are widely consumed, could potentially be a modifiable risk factor for the disease."

Hughes also noted that a 2002 study published in the journal Annals of Neurology linked consumption of dairy products with a modest increased risk of Parkinson's in men but did not find the same correlation among women.

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Still, the researchers said it was unlikely that low-fat dairy actually caused Parkinson's disease.

closeup of person looking at bottle of milk with open fridge door

The researchers concluded by saying that it was unlikely that regularly eating low-fat dairy actually causes Parkinson's disease, pointing out that only 60 of the 5,830 people who consumed three daily servings—or less than one percent—developed the condition. Instead, they suggest that the correlation that the study discovered between the two deserves further research.

"The differences in absolute risk are modest, since the overall risk of developing PD is low. I think physicians should keep this in mind when counseling their patients," Hughes told MedPage Today. "And for patients who already have PD, unfortunately, our results can't speak to whether dairy may or may not be associated with the progression of [the] disease," she added.

Other recent studies have shown certain vitamins can decrease your risk of developing Parkinson's.

Variety of vitamin pills in wooden spoon on white background
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Other recent research shows that diet can affect your Parkinson's risk, but in some cases, it's for the better. A study published in January in the journal Neurology tracked the health of 41,058 men and women aged 18 to 94 for an average of 17.6 years. None of the participants were previously diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The study subjects were divided into three vitamin consumption groups, separating them by highest intake, moderate intake, and lowest intake.

The resulting data led the researchers to conclude that vitamin C and vitamin E can reduce your risk of Parkinson's disease, with members of the highest consumption cohort of both vitamins being 32 percent less likely to develop the condition. "Our large study found that vitamin C and vitamin E were each linked to a lower risk of Parkinson's disease, and we found the association may be even stronger when intake of both vitamin C and E is high," study co-author Essi Hantikainen, PhD, said in a statement.

RELATED: If You Notice This While Eating, It Could Be an Early Sign of Parkinson's.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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