How To Prevent Parkinson’s Disease

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The second most common neurodegenerative disease, Parkinson’s disease affects motor function, causing tremors, slow and interrupted movements, postural problems, and rigidity and stiffness in the joints. The exact causes of Parkinson’s disease are still unknown, and there’s no outright cure for this progressive disease. However, there are some methods that may help prevent its onset and slow its progression.

This article provides an overview of who is most at risk, the role of genetics, as well as approaches to Parkinson’s disease prevention.

Who Is Most at Risk?

Overall, the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease is about 0.3% of the population over 40, and it affects 94 out of every 100,000 people. Several factors raise the risk of developing this condition. These include older age, sex assigned at birth, environmental exposure, dietary factors, and the presence of comorbid conditions.

Older Age

Older age is a major risk factor for Parkinson’s. Whereas this disease is very rare for those under 50, the chances of developing get progressively higher if you’re 60 or older. Three-quarters of all cases are seen in adults 65 or older. This disease has been linked to the degeneration of neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain, a process that occurs more often in older adults.  


People assigned male at birth are more likely than people assigned female at birth to develop Parkinson’s disease. They are 1.4 times more likely to have it. Why this is the case is still being researched, though some believe that estrogen—the female sex hormone—may be a protective factor.

Environmental Exposure

People who have been exposed to certain environmental contaminants and substances may be at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. This includes pesticides, nitrogen dioxide in the air, reduced exposure to sunlight, as well as airborne copper, manganese, or lead. You may be more likely to be exposed to these substances at your workplace or in your home, depending on your job and where in the world you live.

Exact links are still being researched, though certain chemicals and contaminants are known to affect dopamine functioning, which can affect motor function.

Dietary Factors

Researchers have also linked an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease with high levels of iron in your diet. This can cause oxidative stress, which is an excess of reactive oxygen species (a toxin that is naturally produced by your cells) due to your body’s reduced ability to break them down. Oxidative stress can affect brain cells associated with motor function and may contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Research has identified lower levels of vitamin D in those with Parkinson’s. Vitamin D can be found in certain foods (often dairy) and sunlight. Current evidence suggests that prolonged periods of low vitamin D levels may cause a loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra, leading to Parkinson’s symptoms.

Comorbid Conditions

A history of certain medical conditions earlier in life has been linked with the development of Parkinson’s disease. These conditions include:

  • Obesity: Defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, obesity causes decreases in dopamine receptors in the striatum brain region. This has been linked with Parkinson’s disease onset, making it a risk factor.
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI): A history of TBI—injury to the brain due to a blow to the head or whiplash—also increases risk. It’s linked to the degeneration of neurons associated with motor function.
  • Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes is characterized by your body’s inability to break down sugars and has been linked to Parkinson’s disease. This may be due to elevated levels of the hormone amylin being secreted during the use of insulin, a diabetes medication. When there’s an excess of insulin, amylin crosses the blood barrier and can affect dopamine function.
  • Cancer: A history of skin cancer (melanoma) and prostate cancer are also recognized as risk factors. These cancers have been found to increase the activity of syneclein alpha (SNCA), a gene that’s associated with Parkinson’s disease formation.


Though other factors are involved, there’s a significant genetic component to Parkinson’s disease. Some types of Parkinson’s are directly inherited and can be passed from parent to child. Such monogenic forms of Parkinson’s (when the condition results from a single gene mutation) have been linked to mutations in the gene synuclein alpha (SNCA) and leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2), among others.

Certain types of Parkinson’s disease follow an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern. This is when one parent carries a faulty gene that leads to the condition. Notably, others are autosomal recessive, arising only if both parents are carriers.

Having a faulty gene doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have Parkinson’s disease. About 90% of cases aren’t directly linked to gene mutations in genes. Parkinson’s heritability has been estimated to be about 30%. This means that while they play a role, other factors are involved.

How to Reduce Risk 

Parkinson’s disease is notoriously difficult to treat and there is no cure. Ensuring proper and timely diagnosis is critical for managing the condition, and several tests help in that task. To slow its progression, certain lifestyle and dietary changes may help.

Neurological Tests

There’s no specific test for Parkinson’s disease, so neurologists—doctors who specialize in the treatment of brain and spine disorders—rely on information from your medical history and testing your motor and physical ability for diagnosis. There are a number of neurological tests to identify signs of the disease, including:

  • Tests of repetitive movement: This is used to assess motor coordination. You will perform repetitive movements, such as opening and closing a hand or tapping fingers, while a neurologist observes.
  • Observation: Spontaneous, uncontrolled movements are a cardinal sign of Parkinson’s disease. You may be observed while you are asked to sit still, stand up, or walk down a hall.
  • Tremor assessment: Rest tremors, or uncontrollable shaking when not moving, are another typical sign. The neurologist will ask you to stay still and focus on a task while observing and noting any symptoms.
  • Rigidity assessment: To screen for stiffness and rigidity in the joints—another cardinal sign of the condition—the neurologist will move your hand around to feel how much resistance there is.
  • Pull test: Stooped or irregular posture and difficulty balancing also are signs of Parkinson’s disease. To check for effects, the neurologist will pull you back while you’re standing and gauge how well you’re able to keep balanced.

Genetic Tests

Since some cases of Parkinson’s are linked to genes, genetic testing can also play a role in identifying the condition. Though not a standard aspect of diagnosis, it’s considered when genetic-linked cases are suspected and especially if you have a family history of the disease. Mutations in several genes, including synuclein alpha (SNCA), parkin (PRKN), and PTEN-induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1)—identifiable via tests—are signs of a genetic case.


Conferring numerous all-around health benefits, regular exercise has been found to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and potentially delay its onset. Researchers have found a distinct effect, particularly if practiced during middle adulthood and late in life. According to a 2015 study, people ages 35-39 who regularly took part in regular physical activity had a 40% lower risk of developing the condition.

Regular exercise can also improve motor function, help with balance and gait (how you walk), and promote strength in diagnosed patients. Physical exercise and physical therapy have long been recommended alongside traditional therapy for Parkinson’s disease, especially when aerobic activity is combined with strength and balance training.


There are studies that show that changing what you eat may help with prevention, but more research is needed in this area. Potential approaches include:

  • Mediterranean diet: Adopting a Mediterranean diet, which is high in vegetables, fruit, unsaturated fat, whole grain, and nut-intake, may help delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Reducing dairy: Diets that are lower in dairy products, such as cheese, milk, and yogurt, may also reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
  • Increasing caffeine: Studies have shown caffeine—as in coffee or tea—to be a protective factor, meaning it may help delay onset.
  • Reducing alcohol: Among other health benefits, stopping alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of the disease.  

Complementary Methods

Alongside other methods, some complementary approaches to Parkinson’s disease prevention and management. Because it’s a practice that focuses on stretching and core strength, yoga may work well alongside other methods. This was the conclusion of a 2021 review published in the journal Behavioral Neurology, which noted positive effects for slowing the progression of the disease. Specifically, those diagnosed with Parkinson’s were better able to preserve motor function, coordination, balance, and strength.

A Quick Review 

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes tremors, rigidity, and postural problems. While there is no way to truly prevent it, knowing your risks, early detection, and lifestyle changes may help slow its progress and delay its onset.

If you suspect you have this condition, talk to your healthcare about your concerns. They may be able to share preventive and management measures. Also, discuss any major lifestyle or medical changes with them before implementing them.

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