Studies have connected consuming dairy products with a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers speculate chemicals in cow’s milk could be the culprit, but until now were unsure how dairy products like cheese were putting people at risk.
Scientists have discovered that elusive clue. In a report from the journal Neurology, Robert Abbott, from Shiga University of Medical Science in Japan, examined an environmental scandal in Hawaii in the 1980s where they investigated the Parkinson’s-dairy connection. At the time, organochlorine pesticide used by pineapple farmers contaminated milk supplies, through cows eating the pineapple debris. At the same time, a study of Japanese-American men was taking place, involving more than 8,000 men who were followed from mid-life to death. The men provided detailed dietary info, and some even donated their brains to the study.
Abbott and his team studied 449 brains and recorded the density of neurons in specific areas of the brain known to be affected by Parkinson’s. Men who reported drinking more than two glasses of milk a day (16 oz) showed the thinnest nerve networks in these areas, which suggests the nerves were compromised. Abbott’s team don’t have any samples of the contaminated milk, so they can’t say with 100% certainty it was the pesticide milk, but they have a good idea.
“We don’t have all the data yet, but we are close to finding the smoking gun here,” he says. “It’s not complete, but it’s very suspicious.”
It goes without saying the data is preliminary, so you don’t need to cease all dairy consumption – Abbott still drinks a glass a day. But with this newfound news, diet and lifestyle risk factors should be considered more deeply.
“This adds to the literature that diet may indeed play a role in Parkinson’s,” says Abbott. “But it also tells us that there is more to food than just its nutritional value. There’s contamination, and what’s on that food.”