Vitamin E and Parkinson's Disease





Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Vitamin E
Professional Data: Vitamin E


Parkinson's disease is a serious brain condition that results from nerve damage in certain regions of the brain that regulate the body's voluntary muscles. Also referred to as "PD," Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder that causes muscle rigidity, shaking, and slow difficult walking.1 PD usually strikes in mid to late adult life, although 30 percent of people with the disease experience symptoms before age 50.2 Another 40 percent develop the disease between ages 50 and 60. PD is a slowly progressive and incurable disease.

The hallmark feature of PD is a loss of neurons governed by a neurotransmitter called "dopamine." These cells are found in areas of the brain that allow us to control voluntary muscles. When we want to move, walk, write with a pen, throw a ball, swing a golf club, drive a car, or do just about anything, the brain sends a message to the muscles that perform the given task. The muscles contract properly and movement occurs. As dopamine-containing neurons die off in PD, signals from the brain that coordinate movement and muscle function are transmitted too slowly. When the signals are received, the body is unable to respond normally.

Although much is known about the brain degeneration that occurs in Parkinson's disease, why this happens remains a mystery.3 Viral infections and exposure to certain substances have been implicated, but in most cases PD is an "idiopathic" disease, one with no known cause.

A recent study, published in the journal Neurology, investigated the potential role of vitamin E and other antioxidants in the risk reduction of PD. In over 100,000 individuals participating in two large previous studies, 371 were diagnosed with PD. Researchers documented information obtained from the food questionnaires completed by the patients. The researchers found that the intake of vitamin E or vitamin C supplements or multivitamins were not associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson's disease. However, the results did show that there was a positive correlation between high vitamin E foods, especially nuts, and a reduced risk of PD. The authors of this study concluded that, "The reduction in risk of PD associated with high dietary vitamin E intake suggests that other constituents of foods rich in vitamin E may be protective."4


1. Olanow CW, et al. Etiology and pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease. Annu Rev Neurosci. 1999;22:123-44.
2. Scott B, et al. Gender differences in Parkinson's disease symptom profile. Acta Neurol Scand. Jul2000;102(1):37-43.
3. Schrag A, et al. Cross sectional prevalence survey of idiopathic Parkinson's disease and parkinsonism in London. BMJ. Jul2000;321(7252):21-22.
4. Zhang SM, et al. Intakes of vitamins E and C, carotenoids, vitamin supplements, and PD risk. Neurology 2002;59:1161-1169.