Peppers and Parkinson’s

red peppersDr. Dwight Jennings, DDS, MICCMO

A recent study published in Annals of Neurology (Article first published online: 9 MAY 2013) found that eating “peppers” twice a week or more may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by at least 30 percent. Susan Searles Nielsen, at the University of Washington, was investigating dietary sources of nicotine, as multiple epidemiological studies have found that regular use of tobacco reduces the risk of Parkinson’s by about half. Bell peppers and tobacco are from a family of vegetables called Solanaceae (nightshades), which also includes tomatoes and potatoes. In the study there was no apparent reduced risk of Parkinson’s with the eating of potatoes or tomatoes, only with “peppers”. It is thought that nicotine influences dopaminergic activity by acting at nicotinic receptors on dopaminergic terminals and modulating dopamine release.

What is not apparent from the study, is whether the author differentiated in her diet survey between bell peppers and chili peppers. Both are from a subcomponent of Solanaceae- genus Capsicum. At this time, the author has not responded to inquiries as to whether she made this distinction.

This could be critical in sorting out the real basis of benefit as chilli peppers contain capsicum (the hot part), which bell peppers do not. Capsicum is known to deplete substance P (the pain neurotransmitter), which has been implicated as a possible cause of Parkinson’s. The author does acknowledge that the beneficial effect of peppers could be from capsicum rather than nicotine. Elevated levels of substance P could account for why TMJ therapy is effective in Parkinson’s.

Both nicotine and substance P are known to cause calcium influx into cells, the suspected cause of degeneration of dopamine cells. Nicotine use is known to suppress cough reflex – a substance P receptor mediated activity. Thus, the smoking leading to decreased Parkinson’s may involve substance P. My advice would be to eat chili peppers at least twice per week if you can tolerate them, and bell peppers if you cannot.

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