Parkinson’s disease rates are reportedly on the rise among American men. One study points to a shocking reason for the alleged increase – and it might have cigarette companies leaping for joy. According to a report by Health Day, a team headed by the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Walter Rocca examined health data from people in Olmsted County, Minn.
“The research showed that rates of Parkinson’s disease nearly doubled for men between 1996 and 2005, and the increase was steepest for men aged 70 and older. Rates of a related condition called ‘parkinsonism’ among men also rose sharply between 1996 and 2005.”
The rise in rates reflected solely on members of the male population; no such trend was noted among women.
James Beck, president of scientific affairs at the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, reviewed the study. An expert on Parkinson’s disease, Beck believes the findings prove the number of American suffers are drastically underrepresented. Said James, “I believe this will be the first of several reports in the United States to demonstrate what the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation has come to realize: That the number of people living with Parkinson’s is dramatically undercounted.”
Another major takeaway could be relatively grim. Researchers noted the sharp rise in Parkinson’s disease rates in recent decades mirrored the sharp decline in American smokers.
“Prior research has suggested that smoking might reduce the risk of Parkinson’s. So, the decline in the habit among American men — after peaking in the 1940s and 1950s — might lead to higher rates of Parkinson’s decades later, the researchers theorized.”
An example of such research includes a 2001 study published in the American Journal for Epidemiology. That report found a decrease in risk among smokers. It was a trend tracked over a period of thirty years. It’s believed that lowered rates of Parkinson’s among smoking individuals could be attributed to the nicotine in tobacco products.
Lest anyone believe this benefit is solely found in a pack of cigarettes, the same study claimed caffeine can help lower one’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
It’s also important to remember that this study, however compelling, focused on a very specific, non-diverse population. This is an admission made by the researchers themselves.
“The authors of the new study emphasized that this theory has not been proven, and that their findings about rising Parkinson’s disease rates among men in Minnesota require further investigation.
‘The trends could be spurious and need to be confirmed in other populations,’ according to the researchers.”
Certainly further research on the rising Parkinson disease rates will be needed to figure out why there was no drastic rate change observed among women. It’s true that men are more heavily diagnosed than women — at a two to one margin. However, additional studies could help determine why that is, and if there are certain habits that women have that substantially decrease risk levels as a gender.
Also, observing diverse populations could reveal that the rise in the disease is most observable among a particular group of American men rather than American men overall.
It’s estimated that nearly 1,000,000 people in the United States suffer from Parkinson’s disease. The National Parkinson’s Foundation estimates an additional 50,000 to 60,000 are diagnosed with the condition annually. It’s likely thousands more will go undiagnosed. Conditions related to Parkinson’s were blamed for the 2016 deaths of boxing legend Muhammad Ali and music icon Maurice White of the band Earth, Wind, & Fire.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include “shaking, tremor, slowness of movement, stiffness and trouble with balance.”
If it’s true these conditions are rising among American men, and there’s a smoking link, treatment suggestions might take a genuinely controversial turn. Do you think smoking or nicotine use should be considered as a potential preventive or treatment option? Please share your thoughts below!
[Photo by AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez]