Blueberries for Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative neurological condition that affects control of body movements. It is not contagious or fatal and is thought to be genetic in only a very small percentage of cases. Symptoms of Parkinson’s are caused by the degeneration of nerve cells in the middle area of the brain causing a lack of dopamine, a chemical messenger necessary for smooth, controlled movements. It affects one in 100 people over the age of 60 and cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be managed. New research suggests that blueberries may be a part of that management and even prevention.

One current theory of research around Parkinson’s involves a protein called alpha-synuclein which may play a role in its development. This alpha-synuclein exists in the brain and is found primarily at the end of nerve cells in areas responsible for releasing neurotransmitters which send signals between nerves. Previous research has suggested that alpha-synuclein plays a role in regulating the release of dopamine. The gene for alpha-synuclein has been shown to play a role in Parkinson’s where there is a familial component.

Additionally, alpha-synuclein build up has been shown to cause oxidative damage, which prompted researchers to want to see whether a powerful antioxidant food like blueberries might impact in turn impact alpha-synuclein.

Initially they found that in fruit flies the alpha-synuclein gene causes increased damage to the retina and reduced lifespan. However, when they fed blueberry extract to the fruit flies there was an improvement in eye problems and a 15 per cent increase in lifespan. The researchers say this would translate to an eight-year life extension in humans if it held true across species. In theory, by impacting alpha-synuclein blueberries may also be able to help with Parkinson’s.

Obviously more research needs to be done but in the meantime this is another potential benefit for an already proven healthy, and tasty, food.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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