By Kelly Lohr
Believe it or not, a new study has shown that a history of cigarette smoking may actually benefit your health. Over the last decade, Honglei Chen led a study out of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina examining long-term health effects of the habit. Over 300,000 AARP members between the ages of 50 to 71 were surveyed about lifestyle choices over a ten-year period. Of these subjects, 0.05% of the individuals developed Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the breakdown of cells which release the neurotransmitter dopamine in a brain area known as the substantia nigra. Typical symptoms of Parkinson’s include uncontrollable muscle movements, poor posture, and rigidity. Of the participants from Chen’s study, it was found that current smokers reduced their risk of Parkinson’s disease by 44% as compared to non-smokers. Previous smokers who had quit reduced their risk of Parkinson’s by 22%.
Interestingly, the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease did not change based on how many cigarettes a person smoked per day. Instead, the length of the history of smoking was correlated to reduction in disease risk. Those who smoked for at least 40 years were 46% less likely to develop Parkinson’s, whereas those who smoked between 30 and 39 years reduced their risk by 35%. However, individuals who smoked for nine years or less only reduced their risk by 8%.
Despite Chen’s findings, smoking does not slow the progression of Parkinson’s once it develops. For this reason, experts do not suggest that nicotine or other chemicals in cigarettes should be considered as effective Parkinson’s disease treatments. Despite this, an improved understanding of the mechanisms behind the reduced risk may lead to breakthroughs in the causes of the disease.
For more information, visit http://www.neurology.org/cgi/content/abstract/74/11/878.