The Pepper and Parkinson's Connection

You already know that bell peppers are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants. They also contain nicotine, which (while it's extremely dangerous in cigarettes) may decrease your risk of getting Parkinson's disease when it is eaten, according to a new study published online in the Annals of Neurology.

The study found that consuming peppers two to four times weekly was linked with a lower risk of Parkinson's, a movement disorder that causes facial, hand, arm, and leg tremors, along with loss of balance, stiffness in the limbs, and a generalized slowness throughout the body.

The study linking peppers to Parkinson's theorized that it is the relatively high level of nicotine in the vegetable that may reduce the risk of Parkinson's. Peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes, along with the tobacco plant, are members of the flowering plant family known as Solanaceae. Tomatoes also had somewhat of a protective effect against Parkinson's, but it was not as strong as peppers, the research found.

So should you start dicing more bell peppers into your salads? "More research is needed to try to understand why nicotine may play a role," says James Beck, PhD, vice president of Scientific Affairs at the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. "It's important to tease out the relationship here between the two before recommending that people start eating more peppers."

More About Parkinson's Disease

About 60,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with Parkinson's, and about 4 percent of these are diagnosed before the age of 50. Men are more than 1½ times as likely as women to have Parkinson's. Affecting nearly a million Americans, it has no cure and is treated with medications and certain invasive treatments like deep brain stimulation surgery. Exactly what causes Parkinson's is unclear, though having a family member with the disorder puts you at a slightly higher risk.

Still, the likelihood of developing Parkinson's is quite small. Only some 0.6 percent of the population develops Parkinson's, and the rate if you have a relative is 1.2 percent, Beck says.

While the jury is still out on the bell pepper connection, it may pay to follow the Mediterranean diet. "This means eating a lot of vegetables, including peppers, potatoes, eggplants, and tomatoes" Beck says. "A healthy diet is a good foundation for helping to treat a variety of disorders."

Following a Mediterranean diet, which also recommends beans, monounsaturated fats like olive oil, and whole grains, has many other health benefits, too, including a reduced risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.

James Beck, PhD, reviewed this article.




"Eating peppers may lower Parkinson's risk." 8 July 2013. Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

"Could eating peppers prevent Parkinson's? Dietary nicotine may hold protective key." 9 May 2013. Science Daily.

"What is Parkinson's Disease?" Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

"Statistics on Parkinson's." Parkinson's Disease Foundation.