Volume 5, Issue 1
January 5, 2012

Does a vegetarian diet increase
your risk of Parkinson’s?

Do you know what non-heme iron is? It refers to the kind of iron that’s in vegetables and grains. It is also the kind of iron that’s in many supplements. Your digestive tract doesn’t absorb non-heme iron as well as heme iron. This is why vegetarians often have a deficiency of iron – the only source of iron they get is non-heme iron. Now, a new study shows some disturbing findings if your diet contains too much non-heme iron.

It can significantly increase your risk of Parkinson's disease.

Researchers at the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Bari School of Medicine in Bari, Italy did a prospective study on iron and disease. Specifically, they wanted to know the relationship between iron and the risk of getting Parkinson’s.

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In the study, the researchers followed 47,406 men and 76,947 women from the United States. All of the participants provided information through a mailed questionnaire. It included information on their diet, medical history, and lifestyle practices between 1984 and 2000. In that time period, 422 of these people developed Parkinson’s disease. Then the researchers compared the total diets, and the intakes of both heme and non-heme iron in those who developed the disease and those who did not. They found some very interesting information about heme vs. non-heme iron.

First of all, the total intake of iron, heme and non-heme, from both diet and supplements increased risk of getting Parkinson’s disease by 10%. However,
this 10% was not statistically significant, which means that it might have been the result of pure chance. But when the researchers looked specifically at just the intake of non-heme iron, they found something that was statistically significant – a 30% increased risk. And it gets worse than that. When they combined an increase in non-heme iron intake with a decrease in vitamin C intake, the risk increased to 92%! In other words, it almost doubles your risk of getting Parkinson’s.

How does non-heme iron lead to or aggravate Parkinson’s? First of all, non-heme or free iron is a potential brain toxin. It catalyzes the excessive production of free radicals. Second, the level of non-heme iron in the brain comes directly from your diet. The more you eat, the higher the levels are in your brain. Third, the kind of iron that typically ends up in the brain is non-heme iron, not heme iron.

Fourth, the brains of people with Parkinson’s have increased levels of non-heme iron. And finally, researchers have found increased non-heme iron levels in the dopaminergic brain cells that become damaged in Parkinson’s disease.

So where did these Parkinson’s patients get all that non-heme iron? They got it from grains and cereals fortified with iron. The other problem with grains and cereals is that they contain relatively little vitamin C. Many vegetarians, especially those who don’t eat eggs, rely on these cereals for their breakfast. And that increases their risk of Parkinson’s. But you don’t have to be vegetarian to see the increased risk.

Anyone eating a lot of these foods is possibly doubling their risk of developing Parkinson’s. So if you eat cereal for breakfast, make sure it isn’t fortified with iron. Check the ingredients labels closely. Second, eat plenty of fresh foods that contain high levels of vitamin C. These include peppers, cruciferous vegetables, parsley, and lemons.

Finding your Real Cures,

Frank Shallenberger, MD

REF: Logroscino G, Gao X, Chen H, Wing A, Ascherio A. Dietary iron intake and risk of Parkinson's disease. Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Dec 15;168(12):1381-8. Epub 2008 Oct 21.

Copyright 2012 Soundview Publishing, LLC.

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