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20 December 2006
The Parkinson's Paradox

While medical science endeavors to aid human health, the wealth of studies available can often make it downright impossible to know how to lead a healthy lifestyle. The recent preliminary finding linking Parkinson's disease with low levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) is just one example. While we have been told ad infinitum that high levels of LDL cholesterol will lead to cardiovascular disease, it now seems that having low levels of LDL is common among people suffering from Parkinson's, say University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) researchers.

While having low levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is usually a sign of good cardiovascular health, researchers have made some peculiar links between Parkinson's disease, heart attack, stroke and smoking. "People with Parkinson's disease have a lower occurrence of heart attack and stroke than people who do not have the disease," says UNC's Dr. Xuemei Huang.

Researchers already know that Parkinson's patients are more likely to carry a gene (APOE-2) associated with low LDL levels, and that smoking is also linked to low LDL levels. Parkinson's is a disease full of paradoxes," says Huang. "We've known for years that smoking reduces the risk of developing Parkinson's. More than 40 studies have documented that fact. But we don't advise people to smoke because of the other more serious health risks."

In combination, these findings led Huang to consider whether high levels of LDL cholesterol would decrease the risk of Parkinson's. "If my hypothesis was correct," explained Huang, "lower LDL cholesterol, something that is linked to healthy hearts, would be associated with a higher occurrence of Parkinson's."

Huang's hypothesis turned out to be correct, and her findings, published in the December 18 edition of the journal Movement Disorders, showed that: "lower LDL concentrations were indeed associated with a higher occurrence of Parkinson's disease." But Huang warns that her studies are still in a preliminary stage, and that more research is needed before people begin making radical changes to their lifestyle.

Source: University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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