Could Lactose Explain the Milk and Parkinson’s Disease Link?

Could Lactose Explain the Milk and Parkinson’s Disease Link?
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Neurotoxin contamination of the dairy supply doesn’t explain why the association between Parkinson’s and skim milk consumption is as strong as the disease’s association with whole milk.

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Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, after Alzheimer’s. In the U.S., there are approximately 60,000 new cases diagnosed every year, bringing the total number of current cases up to about a million, with tens of thousands dying from it every year.

The dietary component most often implicated is milk, for which contamination of milk by neurotoxins has been considered the only possible explanation. High levels of organochlorine pesticide residues have been found in milk, and in the most affected areas in the brains of Parkinson’s victims, on autopsy.

Since pesticides in milk have been found all over, maybe the dairy industry should require toxin screenings of milk. And there are indeed now inexpensive, sensitive, portable tests available. No false positives; no false negatives; providing rapid detection of highly toxic pesticides in milk. Now, we just have to convince the dairy industry to actually do it.

 Others, though, are not as convinced of the pesticide link. Despite clearcut associations between milk intake and the incidence of Parkinson’s disease, there is no rational explanation for milk being a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease. If it were the pesticides present in milk that could accumulate in the brain, we would assume that the pesticides would build up in the fat—and the link between skim milk and Parkinson’s is just as strong.

So, they suggest reverse causation—the milk didn’t cause Parkinson’s; the Parkinson’s caused the milk. Parkinson’s makes some people depressed, they reason, and depressed people may drink more milk. So, we shouldn’t limit dairy intake in Parkinson’s sufferers, especially since they are so susceptible to hip fractures. But, now we know that milk doesn’t appear to protect against hip fractures after all, and may actually increase the risk of both bone fractures and death—but, ironically, may offer a clue as to what’s going on in Parkinson’s.

But, first, this reverse causation argument. Did milk lead to Parkinson’s, or Parkinson’s lead to milk? What one needs are prospective cohort studies where you measure milk consumption first, and then follow people over time. And, such studies still found a significant increased risk associated with dairy intake. The risk increased by 17% for every small glass of milk a day, and 13% for every daily half slice of cheese.

Again, the standard explanation is that it’s from all the pesticides and other neurotoxins in dairy. But that doesn’t explain why there’s more risk attached to some dairy products than others. Pesticide residues are found in all dairy products; so, why should milk be associated with Parkinson’s more than cheese?

Well, there are other neurotoxic contaminants in milk besides the pesticides themselves—like tetrahydroisoquinolines, found in the brains of Parkinson’s disease victims, but in higher levels in cheese than in milk, though people may drink more milk than they eat cheese.

The relationship between dairy and Huntington’s appears similar. Huntington’s disease is a horrible degenerative brain disease that runs in families, whose early onset may be doubled by dairy consumption. But again, this may be more milk consumption than cheese consumption— which brings us back to the clue in the more-milk-more-mortality study.

Any time you hear disease risks associated with more milk than cheese—more oxidative stress, inflammation—we should think galactose, the milk sugar, rather than the milk fat, protein, or pesticides. That’s why we think milk drinkers specifically appeared to have higher risk of bone fractures and death, and may explain the neurodegeneration findings too—as not only do rare individuals with an inability to detoxify the galactose found in milk suffer damage to their bones, but also to their brains.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Chris Pelliccione via flickr.

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, after Alzheimer’s. In the U.S., there are approximately 60,000 new cases diagnosed every year, bringing the total number of current cases up to about a million, with tens of thousands dying from it every year.

The dietary component most often implicated is milk, for which contamination of milk by neurotoxins has been considered the only possible explanation. High levels of organochlorine pesticide residues have been found in milk, and in the most affected areas in the brains of Parkinson’s victims, on autopsy.

Since pesticides in milk have been found all over, maybe the dairy industry should require toxin screenings of milk. And there are indeed now inexpensive, sensitive, portable tests available. No false positives; no false negatives; providing rapid detection of highly toxic pesticides in milk. Now, we just have to convince the dairy industry to actually do it.

 Others, though, are not as convinced of the pesticide link. Despite clearcut associations between milk intake and the incidence of Parkinson’s disease, there is no rational explanation for milk being a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease. If it were the pesticides present in milk that could accumulate in the brain, we would assume that the pesticides would build up in the fat—and the link between skim milk and Parkinson’s is just as strong.

So, they suggest reverse causation—the milk didn’t cause Parkinson’s; the Parkinson’s caused the milk. Parkinson’s makes some people depressed, they reason, and depressed people may drink more milk. So, we shouldn’t limit dairy intake in Parkinson’s sufferers, especially since they are so susceptible to hip fractures. But, now we know that milk doesn’t appear to protect against hip fractures after all, and may actually increase the risk of both bone fractures and death—but, ironically, may offer a clue as to what’s going on in Parkinson’s.

But, first, this reverse causation argument. Did milk lead to Parkinson’s, or Parkinson’s lead to milk? What one needs are prospective cohort studies where you measure milk consumption first, and then follow people over time. And, such studies still found a significant increased risk associated with dairy intake. The risk increased by 17% for every small glass of milk a day, and 13% for every daily half slice of cheese.

Again, the standard explanation is that it’s from all the pesticides and other neurotoxins in dairy. But that doesn’t explain why there’s more risk attached to some dairy products than others. Pesticide residues are found in all dairy products; so, why should milk be associated with Parkinson’s more than cheese?

Well, there are other neurotoxic contaminants in milk besides the pesticides themselves—like tetrahydroisoquinolines, found in the brains of Parkinson’s disease victims, but in higher levels in cheese than in milk, though people may drink more milk than they eat cheese.

The relationship between dairy and Huntington’s appears similar. Huntington’s disease is a horrible degenerative brain disease that runs in families, whose early onset may be doubled by dairy consumption. But again, this may be more milk consumption than cheese consumption— which brings us back to the clue in the more-milk-more-mortality study.

Any time you hear disease risks associated with more milk than cheese—more oxidative stress, inflammation—we should think galactose, the milk sugar, rather than the milk fat, protein, or pesticides. That’s why we think milk drinkers specifically appeared to have higher risk of bone fractures and death, and may explain the neurodegeneration findings too—as not only do rare individuals with an inability to detoxify the galactose found in milk suffer damage to their bones, but also to their brains.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Chris Pelliccione via flickr.

Doctor's Note

What is this about milk not protecting against hip fractures? See Is Milk Good for Our Bones?.

Other than avoiding dairy products, what can we do to reduce our risk of Parkinson’s? See Is Something in Tobacco Protective Against Parkinson’s Disease? and Peppers and Parkinson’s: The Benefits of Smoking Without the Risks?.

You may also be interested in my videos Treating Parkinson’s Disease with Diet and Parkinson’s Disease and the Uric Acid Sweet Spot.

For the effect of foods on another neurodegenerative disease that affects our ability to move normally, see ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease): Fishing for Answers and Diet and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

For all of my most recent videos on Parkinson’s disease, check out the topic page.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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