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Cutting Calories May Cut Parkinson's Risk

Long-Term Calorie Restriction May Help Prevent Parkinson's Disease
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Dec. 13, 2004 -- Cutting back on calories may help protect against Parkinson's disease over the long run, according to a study in animals.

Researchers say the study suggests that calorie restriction may lessen the natural loss of dopamine that occurs with age and may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Dopamine is a chemical used by the brain to control movement.

Although dopamine levels in the brain decline naturally with age, this decline becomes accelerated in people with Parkinson's disease and causes problems with movement and uncontrollable muscle tremors.

Researchers say previous studies have shown that people who eat a low-calorie, low-fat diet and those who exercise appear to have a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

Calorie Restriction May Lower Parkinson's Risk

In the study, which appears in the Dec. 13 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers fed a group of rhesus monkeys a restricted-calorie diet with 30% fewer calories than the diet fed a comparison group of monkeys.

After six months, the monkeys were injected with a toxin that induces a Parkinson's-like disease.

The study showed that the calorie-restricted monkeys had higher levels of movement compared with monkeys fed an unrestricted diet. Levels of dopamine in the brain were higher in the monkeys fed the calorie-restricted diet. Those monkeys also had higher levels of a substance known as GDNF that helps dopamine cells survive longer.

Researchers say these preliminary results suggest that long-term calorie restriction may reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease by increasing the production of GDNF and preventing the destruction of dopamine cells.

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