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Bodyís Own Antioxidant May Slow Parkinsonís Decline, Study Says

Note from PDF: This study was conducted with funding from PDF, as part of the Advancing Parkinson’s Treatments (APT) Innovations Grant, which funds innovative programs that facilitate the movement of treatments from “bench to bedside.”

By Nicole Ostrow

Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Higher concentrations of a natural antioxidant in the body may slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease in patients with early stages of the illness, a study from Harvard researchers found.

Those in the study with the highest amounts of antioxidant urate in their blood were 36 percent less likely to need treatment within two years for early Parkinson’s symptoms than those with the lowest levels, research online today in the Archives of Neurology showed.

Raising the amount of urate is one of the “more promising” strategies in development, said senior study author Michael Schwarzschild. About one million Americans have Parkinson’s, which starts with trembling and stiffness that can eventually hamper walking and talking, according to the National Parkinson Foundation.

Today’s study “suggests a new approach in slowing down the rate of the disease,” said Schwarzschild, an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, in an Oct. 9 telephone interview. “People live with Parkinson’s disease for decades. We want to make those decades much more manageable and keep people much more mobile.”

Urate occurs naturally in the blood. Schwarzschild cautioned that people shouldn’t try to raise levels of the antioxidant on their own through diet or supplements because high amounts can lead to gout and kidney stones and may also contribute to heart disease.

Testing Safety

A trial testing the safety of raising urate in patients who were recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s is under way at 10 centers around the country, he said. Researchers are using the dietary supplement inosine, a precursor to urate, in the study.

Antioxidants can protect against some cell damage that may contribute to the impairment or death of nerve cells that occur in Parkinson’s disease, according to the authors.

In the U.S., about 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s are diagnosed each year, according to the National Parkinson Foundation. Most of the time, the disease develops after age 65. Symptoms include shaking, slowness of movement, stiffness and difficulty with balance.

The researchers, from the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease and Harvard School of Public Health, first turned up evidence of urate’s potential of slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s in a study last year of 800 people that showed similar results.

Older Data

The researchers then looked at data on urate levels from early Parkinson’s patients who had been part of a two-year trial in the late 1980s. Blood urate levels were available on 774 patients and the scientists also were able to analyze the antioxidant levels in frozen spinal fluid from 713 patients.

Overall, 369 people, or almost 48 percent of the 774 patients, had their disease progress enough to require drug therapy, the study said. The chance of needing medication decreased the higher their blood urate levels were, the authors said. Similar findings were seen for urate levels in spinal fluid.

“These results were critically important,” said Alberto Ascherio, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, in a statement. “Only now we can be reasonably sure that the slower rate of progression in patients with higher concentrations of urate is real and not a chance occurrence.”

In the study, 162 people, or 39 men and 123 women, were in the lowest blood urate level group, while 158 people, or 138 men and 20 women, were in the highest blood urate level group.

Other Factor

Schwarzschild said the researchers are unsure if it’s the urate itself or some other factor that helps slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

The study also found unexpectedly that higher urate levels didn’t slow the progression of Parkinson’s in study participants who were receiving vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant. Researchers said it wasn’t clear whether vitamin E at high doses might have a “pro-oxidant” rather than antioxidant effect.

The study was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Parkinson Disease Foundation and the Parkinson Study Group and others.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at

Last Updated: October 12, 2009 16:00 EDT

Source Date: Oct 12 2009
Source Publication: Bloomberg
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