Vegan Diet May Reduce Parkinson's Risk

What the Study Showed

Epidemiological evidence and a review of three clinical studies done in the 1990s indicate that a vegetarian diet free of animal products (known as a vegan diet) reduces a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. This finding is not presented as a conclusive summary of research data, but as a hypothesis that bears further exploration. It appears in a 2001 issue of the journal Medical Hypotheses.

How It Was Done

The three case-control studies that were reviewed point to a clear association between dietary habits and a risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. Two of the three studies implicate animal Fat as the most significant risk factor. In contrast, ingestion of vegetable fat showed no increased association with Parkinson's disease.

The author also examined several population surveys from cultures where a quasi-vegan diet is practiced, including regions of Africa, mainland China, and Japan.

Why It's Important

Previous studies have shown that diets high in animal fat or cholesterol are associated with a substantially increased risk for PD. Given this finding, it makes sense to examine the value of a vegan diet in protecting against the disease.

It remains unclear whether animal fat, compounds carried in animal fat, animal Protein, or some integrated action of several components of animal fat are responsible, but a lifelong vegan diet appears to markedly lower the risk of Parkinson's disease. Vegan diets do tend to be lower in protein, and reducing protein is recommended for controlling Parkinson’s disease, because it supports the action of levodopa, a natural compound that dwindles in the presence of the disease. In fact, replacement levodopa (L-dopa) is manufactured in the laboratory as a medication to treat the disorder.

On an epidemiologic level, Parkinson’s disease was rarely observed worldwide until the advent of widespread consumption of high-fat foods in recent decades. The study author notes that the disease is still relatively rare in cultures where a quasi-vegan diet is practiced. For example, in a Chinese study, one of the largest surveys of this type ever undertaken, more than 3 million people in 29 provinces were screened for Parkinson’s disease. The prevalence of the disease was found to be only one-fifth as high as the lowest rates reported in Europe and the Americas.

It is not known whether a vegan diet might also help in the management of early PD, but the author suggests that this hypothesis is also worth investigating. And certainly, if the author is correct, for people with a family history of Parkinson's, a vegan diet might be a lifestyle choice that could make an important difference in protecting against this serious neurologic disorder.


Source: McCarty, M. Does a Vegan Diet Reduce Risk for Parkinson's Disease? Medical Hypotheses2001;57(3):318-323.

Date Published: 9/30/2002