Image Credit: Pascal Volk / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Bell Peppers to Help Ward Off Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder striking 1 percent of our older population and is the 14th leading cause of death in the United States. While we don’t really know what causes it, we do know that people with a smoking history only appear to have about half the risk. Of course, “[s]moking is hugely damaging to health; any benefit derived from a reduction in risk of Parkinson’s disease is outweighed by the increased risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease,” as well as lung disease, but this shouldn’t stop us from “evaluating tobacco components for possible neuroprotective effects.”

Nicotine may fit the bill. If nicotine is the agent responsible for the neuroprotective effects, is there any way to get the benefit without the risks? That’s the topic of my video Peppers and Parkinson’s: The Benefits of Smoking Without the Risks?.

After all, where does nicotine come from? The tobacco plant. Any other plants have nicotine? Well, tobacco is a nightshade plant, so it’s in the same family as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers. And guess what? They all contain nicotine as well.

That’s why you can’t tell if someone’s a smoker just by looking for the presence of nicotine in their toenail clippings, because non-smokers grow out some nicotine into their nails, as well. Nicotine is in our daily diet—but how much? The amount we average in our diet is hundreds of times less than we get from a single cigarette. So, though we’ve known for more than 15 years that there’s nicotine in ketchup, it was dismissed as insignificant. We then learned that even just one or two puffs of a cigarette could saturate half of our brain’s nicotine receptors, so it doesn’t take much. Then, we discovered that just exposure to second-hand smoke may lower the risk of Parkinson’s, and there’s not much nicotine in that. In fact, one would only be exposed to about three micrograms of nicotine working in a smoky restaurant, but that’s on the same order as what one might get eating the food at a non-smoking restaurant. So, the contribution of dietary nicotine intake from simply eating some healthy vegetables may be significant.

Looking at nightshade consumption, in general, researchers may have found a lower risk compared to other vegetables, but different nightshades have different amounts of nicotine. They found none in eggplant, only a little in potatoes, some in tomatoes, but the most in bell peppers. When that was taken into account, a much stronger picture emerged. The researchers found that more peppers meant more protection. And, as we might expect, the effects of eating nicotine-containing foods were mainly evident in nonsmokers, as the nicotine from smoke would presumably blot out any dietary effect.

This could explain why protective associations have been found for Parkinson’s and the consumption of tomatoes, potatoes, and a tomato- and pepper-rich Mediterranean diet. Might nightshade vegetables also help with treating Parkinson’s? Well, results from trials of nicotine gum and patches have been patchy. Perhaps nicotine only helps prevent it in the first place, or could it be that it isn’t the nicotine at all, but, instead, is some other phytochemical in tobacco and the pepper family?

Researchers conclude that their findings will be need to be reproduced to help establish cause and effect before considering dietary interventions to prevent Parkinson’s disease, but when the dietary intervention is to eat more delicious, healthy dishes like stuffed peppers with tomato sauce, I don’t see the reason we have to wait.

Benefits of smoking? See the tobacco industry gloat in my video Is Something in Tobacco Protective Against Parkinson’s Disease?.

Bell peppers may actually be healthiest raw, as I discuss in Best Cooking Method.

What about tomato products? Choose whole, crushed, or diced tomatoes instead of tomato sauce, purée, or paste. Why? See Inhibiting Platelet Activation with Tomato Seeds for the answer.

You may be interested in my in-depth video series on the Mediterranean Diet:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

46 responses to “Bell Peppers to Help Ward Off Parkinson’s

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  1. I would think it a race between bell pepper’s nicotine protective effects and Parkinson’s causing pesticide exposure if a person ate commercially grown peppers.

  2. Given that I am badly allergic to all peppers, I guess I’ll have to rely on tomatoes and potatoes. They seem to be the only members of the nightshade family I can tolerste.

  3. It would be interesting to find out if the amount of nicotine varies between green, and the brightly colored bell peppers – red, yellow, purple, and orange. (I know many, including myself, who do not like green ones.)

  4. Now you’re talking! This was a good one!

    Tobacco is a nightshade plant?!?!?!

    A few of the people around me preach the “nightshades are bad for you” because of the Gundry Plant Paradox teachings. Well, I guess they aren’t entirely wrong.

    Looks like I have to look up the benefits of nicotine.

    Could people eat peppers and tomatoes every day when they are trying to quit smoking instead of doing a patch?

    1. Looked up the nicotine and quitting smoking.

      The nicotine replacement makes it twice as likely to fail at quitting smoking is what the site said.

      So maybe not.

      Though food would probably work differently than nicotine gums and patches.

        1. Thanks Geoffrey!

          The potentially protective effect of edible Solanaceae largely occurred in men and women who had never used tobacco or who had smoked cigarettes <10 years.

          So more ain't necessarily more protective.

              1. Fabulous!

                I love the reason they give:

                “Snobbery is the answer. Since its earliest appearances in print, the stain of social disapproval has marked ain’t. Though undoubtedly used earlier in speech, it first appears in writing in the 18th century (though the form an’t is found earlier). It was initially used to imitate Cockney speech, with Dickens using it to mean both ‘are not’ and ‘have not’:”

                1. May I reply in a fake Mark Twain quote?

                  “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

                  The New Republic says that Mark Twain never said it or wrote it, and that, in fact, nobody said that exact quote, but a movie made it up and I like it, so I will pretend it is Mark Twain.

                  1. From Dean Rodin’s latest book REAL MAGIC; Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe, page 133 (which I got from the library):

                    “For anyone who knows the relevant literature, this is a great example of “It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Journalists can’t spend the time to become experts on everything, so they’ll spend a few minutes surfing [often inaccurate] Wikipedia, they’ll chat with a couple of critics they found online, and then they’ll dash out a summary of what they think they’ve learned. That approach might work for conventional topics, but it fails miserably when it comes to understanding scientific controversies.”

            1. Thanks Geoffrey!

              But patches and gum made smokers fail to quit twice as much as not using them, so more nicotine didn’t work for quitting anyway.

              1. It is in here:


                “In January 2012, a six-year follow-up study of 787 adults who had recently quit smoking found that those who used nicotine replacement therapy in the form of a patch, gum, inhaler or nasal spray had the same long-term relapse rate as those who did not use the products. Heavy smokers who tried to quit without the benefit of counseling were actually twice as likely to relapse if they used a nicotine replacement product.”

                  1. But they might have just the same relapse as everyone else if they go to counseling?

                    There is a sentence about it using the word futility.

                    1. They were pointing out that it is a failure for quitting smoking, but those little gums might have a different use where they actually work.

                      Now we just need the peppers versus the gum studies.

                    2. When I had an acupuncture practice and people would come wanting help quitting smoking, I’d ask them to toss their cigs in the wastebasket. If they balked, we were done. Complete waste of time, energy, and $ otherwise

                1. Never could understand that. I smoked over a pack a day in summer after high school and 1st quarter of college. Suddenly realized how bad it was for me (long story) and just stopped. Done. Gave away 3/4 pack I had on me and never looked back.

                  1. That is so cool!

                    You were able to quit that easily!

                    You must not have an overly addictive personality/brain hard-wiring or something.

                    I will say that my mother, father, brother, sister-in-law, and uncle and various other extended relatives all quit. Most of them went cold turkey.

                    My aunt and cousin never could quit. They were notorious for wearing the patch and smoking at the same time with oxygen on. My other cousin also can’t quit. He is thinking of trying medical marijuana – thinking that might help him to smoke fewer cigarettes per day. Not sure it will help, but he has so many medical conditions and so many doctors trying to get him to smoke. There are other elderly people around who are in their 80’s and still smoking and still looking so healthy that they are pointed to by the young people, but my cousin is the cautionary tale.

                    1. My best friend came out of the closet as a smoker and quit the same day. She had been hiding it from everybody for years and still hid it from everybody, except for me. It was a confession and finish the pack saying it would be her last ones and they were. She never went back.

                    2. Deb, I said it before…am saying it again: You certainly have a HUGE array of interesting friends and relatives!

                      (“Interesting,” to say the least.)

  5. Okay, I found some cool “nicotine” benefits, but I am confused about tobacco preventing Parkinson’s but causing essential tremors.

    So, you might start shaking either way.

    But – in celebrating the nicotine in the pepper and tomato and potato –

    “Nicotine has separate mechanisms by which it may protect brain cells, aside from its influence on dopamine,” Boyd says. “One of the functions of nicotinic receptors is to moderate the entry of calcium into cells. The presence of nicotine increases the amount of intracellular calcium, which appears to improve cellular survival.”

    And nicotine may have an antioxidant effect, serving to mop up the toxic free radicals produced as a byproduct of metabolism, thus protecting the brain. The neuroprotective effects of nicotine were studied in a randomized clinical trial involving 67 subjects in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, where memory was slightly impaired but decision-making and other cognitive abilities remained intact. They received either a 15-milligram nicotine patch or placebo for six months. The results found “significant nicotine-associated improvements in attention, memory and psychomotor speed,” with excellent safety and tolerability.

    Other studies suggest that nicotine may be as effective at enhancing attention as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and the wakefulness-promoting drug modafinil (Provigil). In 2008, Paul Newhouse, director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, compared performance on a series of cognitive tasks in 15 nonsmoking ADHD patients while wearing either a 7-mg nicotine patch or a placebo patch. After just 45 minutes with the nicotine patch, the young adults were significantly better at inhibiting an impulse, delaying a reward and remembering an image they had seen.

  6. One of my favorite meals is either white beans, or black bean spaghetti. I top it with a hot relish of cooked tomatoes, red bell pepper, jalapeño, a small zucchini, and red onion. Add garlic and herbs. Side of cooked greens. I seem to crave nightshades. Maybe this is why.

      1. Tree of Life, I just chop the veggies up fairly small, use nonstick ceramic pan, and sauté in a bit of vegetable broth or just water. I do make sure I have some fat in the meal somewhere to adequately absorb the nutrients. Some seeds, nuts, or avocado works. Even some almond butter on an Ezekiel muffin.
        I find my skin dries out too much if I get very little fats.

  7. I support Dr G, Dr Esselsteine, Dr Furman, Dr Campbell. My goal is to be 100 % vegan soon. Thousands of veggies to choose from! Yum, yum! I have never smoked, ever. I am 63 y/o.

    However, I did the Nightshade fasting and re-entry test for potatoes, tomatoes, peppers (all sorts), paprika, eggplant.
    I am totally convinced, I totally believe that nightshade are inflammation producing for me. Stopping nightshade (potatoes) has healed my arthritic knees, no need for surgery, I can get on my knees on the floor (for CPR classes) and get back up with NO pain!
    My arm and shoulder pain- GONE- when I stopped tomatoes, peppers paprika! No more Tylenol, no more Nsaids.
    No Nightshades for me, too many other veggies to choose from!

  8. Susan, I had that effect from going gluten-free. I used to worry about nightshade vegetables, and even thought I had a problem with potatoes, but I have tested since going GF and no have no problem with them. Fortunately, I’ve never had an issue with peppers. I’m very happy to hear this about peppers, one of my favorites. My husband is showing faint symptoms of Parkinson’s, unrecognizable individually but in a grouping that rings alarm bells for me. He’s going to be eating a lot more organic peppers and tomato sauces.

  9. Vegetables and fruits have a lot of fibre and are full of nutrition like essential minerals and vitamins that may help your body improve metabolism and subsequently burn belly fat. Including these in your diet may help you not just in your weight loss journey, but also to live a long and healthy life. The phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” is not an exaggeration and including these fat burning veggies in your diet will help you reach your body goals faster.Thanks for a Good Blog

  10. Maybe we need a study on people who HAVE Parkinsons and have them smoke like one cigarette a day up to 10 cigarettes a day, to see if it cures the Parkinsons? I am not advising everyone to take up smoking, just those who already have Parkinsons to see if it ends Parkinsons.

    1. I wish to add, I believe its the tars that does most of the damage in smoking so how about developing high nicotine, and no or very low tar cigarettes if the study above works.

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