Alcohol and Parkinson's Disease: What's the Connection?

Parkinson’s disease causes degeneration of dopaminergic neurons, which results in tremors, postural instability, and cognitive decline. Excessive alcohol consumption is considered a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease. Does that mean a person with Parkinson’s disease should avoid drinking alcohol? Let's find out what science has to say.

Key takeaways:

What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is a neurological condition caused by a decline in the number of dopaminergic neurons in the brain and the presence of abnormal protein deposits called Lewy bodies. Dopamine is a chemical messenger necessary for movement and mood regulation. The loss of dopaminergic neurons in Parkinson’s disease leads to low dopamine production giving rise to various symptoms.

Parkinson's disease motor symptoms include:

  • Bradykinesia
  • Tremor
  • Postural instability

Parkinson's disease non-motor symptoms include:

  • Cognitive decline
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep difficulties

Although Parkinson's disease has a slow onset, the condition advances over time, and symptoms can worsen. Parkinson's disease progresses at different rates for different individuals. Persons living with Parkinson’s disease and their families focus on delaying the worsening of symptoms.

One of the modifiable risk factors of Parkinson’s disease is alcohol consumption. What is the nature of the relationship between alcohol and Parkinson’s disease? It’s complicated.

Here we discuss how alcohol consumption affects Parkinson’s disease.

Does alcohol cause Parkinson's disease?

The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is not fully understood. However, several risk factors are considered responsible, including:

  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Lifestyle
  • Environment

Alcohol consumption is considered a risk factor associated with Parkinson's disease. However, it also has some beneficial effects before the onset of the disease.

A research study has shown that light to moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson's disease. This protective effect of light alcohol consumption may be due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the compounds present in alcoholic beverages.

Types of alcoholic drink

The type of alcoholic drink also plays a role in protecting from Parkinson’s disease. The reduced risk of Parkinson's disease is only associated with beer consumption, not wine or liquor. That's due to the higher antioxidant content and lower ethanol in beer. The antioxidant compounds in beer and the content of niacin, folic acid, purines, and phenols, can mediate neuroprotective effects.

GenderDrinks per day
WomenUp to 1 drink per day
Men Up to 2 drinks per day

Broadly speaking, drinking moderate amount of alcohol may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

On the other hand, once the disease sets in, alcohol consumption increases the risk of advancement of the disease. Excessive or heavy alcohol consumption (more than four drinks a day) is associated with increased severity of Parkinson's disease. Earlier and more severe motor symptoms were found in individuals with Parkinson's disease who had a history of heavy alcohol consumption compared to individuals without such a history.

How alcohol affects Parkinson's

Although how alcohol affects Parkinson’s disease is not fully understood, research has revealed some possibilities.

  • Brain inflammation. Brain inflammation and oxidative stress can be triggered by excessive alcohol consumption, and these pathologies are responsible for the development of Parkinson's disease.
  • Central nervous system. The central nervous system can be damaged due to the oxidative stress caused by alcohol.
  • Neuro-immunity. Alcohol also alters the neuroimmune response and how the brain fights inflammation.
  • Dopamine signaling. Research has demonstrated that alcohol alters the brain's dopamine signaling, a significant neurotransmitter linked to Parkinson's disease.
  • Glutamate signaling. Glutamate is another signaling molecule that causes excitatory responses in the brain. Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the secretion of glutamate to harmful levels and cause cell injury.

Can a person with Parkinson’s disease have drinks?

Depending on their overall health, people with Parkinson's disease may be allowed to drink occasionally. Your primary care provider can make recommendations considering personal medical history, current health condition, medication use, and other factors. The most important thing is to consult your doctor to understand the risks and benefits of consuming alcohol while living with Parkinson's disease.

Risks of excessive alcohol consumption with Parkinson's

Excessive alcohol consumption can worsen Parkinson's disease symptoms.

  • Medicine efficacy. Excessive alcohol consumption can reduce the efficacy of medicines. Persons with Parkinson's disease are more likely to experience alcohol-related adverse effects or interactions with medications. Some Parkinson's disease drugs such as levodopa can interact with alcohol, increasing adverse effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and impaired muscle coordination.
  • Sleep disruption. Drinking alcohol might disrupt sleep and worsen other Parkinson's disease symptoms.
  • Fall risk. Parkinson's disease increases the risk of falls and injuries. Excessive alcohol consumption worsens the risk as alcohol can affect balance, coordination, and reaction time, making it more challenging to avoid accidents.
  • Liver damage. Managing Parkinson's disease becomes more difficult when complications result from excessive alcohol consumption. For instance, cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure can worsen the health conditions of individuals with Parkinson's disease.

To sum things up, persons living with Parkinson’s disease need to have a cautious approach toward alcohol consumption. Alcohol not only increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease but also interacts with medications. Consult your healthcare provider today for additional information about alcohol and Parkinson’s disease.

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