While it is thought that some combination of genetic and environmental factors is what likely causes Parkinsons disease, researchers do not yet know the exact cause of this progressive, disabling disorder. But there is evidence that some people may be at higher risk of developing the disease than others.
Parkinsons Disease Risk Factors
Research studies have identified the following as Parkinsons disease risk factors:
Age. Advancing age is the factor that is most consistently associated with an increased risk of Parkinsons disease. The average age of Parkinsons disease onset is 60, and most people who get Parkinsons disease develop the condition after age 50. Only 5 to 10 percent of people get Parkinsons disease before the age of 40. These cases are more likely to be related to genetics.
Gender. Men are at slightly higher risk of developing Parkinsons disease. It is unclear if this may be because men have traditionally had greater exposure to some environmental factors that increase the risk of its development.
Family history. Having a parent or sibling with Parkinsons disease is thought to nearly double your risk of developing the disease. Five to 10 percent of people who have Parkinsons disease also have a family member with it.
Gene variation. Researchers now are focusing on a variation in the alpha-synuclein gene thats associated with a greater risk of getting Parkinsons disease. This gene is involved in blocking toxins from being properly disposed of in the brain, leading to the death of healthy brain cells. Other gene abnormalities are also being studied.
Head injury. There is evidence that people who have experienced head injuries that knocked them unconscious may be at an increased risk of developing Parkinsons disease.
Environmental toxins. Heavy or prolonged occupational exposure to certain toxins, including manganese and other heavy metals, as well as certain pesticides and herbicides, have been associated with an increased risk of Parkinsons disease and Parkinsons-like conditions.
Medications. People who have used sleeping pills or anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications for one year or more may be at increased risk of developing Parkinsons disease. However, it is possible that this finding may simply be because depression and anxiety may occur very early in Parkinsons disease, even before Parkinsons is diagnosed not because these drugs bring on Parkinsons. Between 50 and 70 percent of individuals with Parkinsons develop clinical depression, says Jim Beck, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs at the Parkinsons Disease Foundation. And slightly less than half will develop depression before theyre diagnosed with Parkinsons, he adds.
Factors That Protect Against Parkinsons Disease
Besides these risk factors, researchers have identified others that are associated with a reduced risk of Parkinsons disease onset, including:
Caffeine. People who consume more caffeine appear to have a reduced risk of developing Parkinsons disease as opposed to those who only consume a little caffeine or none at all.
Cigarette smoking. A number of studies have found that people who smoke cigarettes are less likely to develop Parkinsons disease than those who dont. But, in fact, it may be that some effect of having Parkinsons disease makes it less likely that a person would want to smoke, so fewer people with the disease are smokers, skewing the data in favor of those who do smoke. And considering that the dangers of cigarette smoking far outweigh the odds that smoking slightly reduces the risk of Parkinsons disease, it is never recommended as a prevention measure for Parkinsons disease.
What Really Causes Parkinsons Disease?
Even though studies have pinpointed certain factors that influence the risk of Parkinsons disease onset, most people with the disease have no family history, gene mutation, prior head injury, history of environmental toxin exposure, or history of using antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or sleeping pills. So, looking at the overall picture, it is nearly impossible to predict who will develop Parkinsons disease. And if you have Parkinsons disease, there is probably nothing you could have done to have prevented it.
Researchers are working to discover the combination of factors that causes Parkinsons disease, in hopes of uncovering new ways to prevent, and perhaps treat, this chronic condition.sources