With tomato season just around the corner, a new study gives you permission to pig out on the ruby-colored fruit. Scientists have discovered that eating foods that contain traces of nicotine, such as tomatoes and peppers, helps lower the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, Science World News reports. (Previous studies have shown that smoking cigarettes and using tobacco in other forms lowers the risk of Parkinson's disease, but failed to discern whether it was nicotine or other components in tobacco that offer a protective effect.)
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, was published in the Annals of Neurology.
Researchers recruited 490 patients who were newly diagnosed with Parkinson's. A control group consisted of 644 people without the condition. All participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire detailing their lifetime diets and tobacco use.
The scientists' analysis of the data indicted that eating vegetables in general didn't affect the chances of developing Parkinson's disease. However, increased consumption of edible plants in the Solanaceae family (the so-called "nightshade" plants, which include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and chili and bell peppers -- as well as non-edibles such as tobacco, mandrake, deadly nightshade and petunias) lowered the risk of the disease. Eating peppers seemed to have the strongest protective effect, which was more prominent in men than in women.
But researchers also noted that the apparent protection from Parkinson's occurred mainly in men and women with little or no prior use of tobacco, which contains much more nicotine than the foods studied.
"Our study is the first to investigate dietary nicotine and risk of developing Parkinson's disease," UW's Dr. Searles Nielsen said in a press release. "Similar to the many studies that indicate tobacco use might reduce the risk of Parkinson's, our findings also suggest a protective effect from nicotine, or perhaps a similar but less toxic chemical in peppers and tobacco." The authors recommend further studies to confirm and extend their findings, which could lead to possible treatments for Parkinson's.
According to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation, 1 million Americans have the movement disorder, and 60,000 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. There are close to 10 million people worldwide living with the neurological condition, which is characterized by the loss of brain cells that produce dopamine. There is no cure for Parkinson's, which causes tremors in the hands, face, legs and arms; stiffness in the limbs; and loss of balance.