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March 10th, 2010
04:28 PM ET

Longtime smoking cuts Parkinson’s risk dramatically

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

It's a catchy headline – smoking cuts Parkinson's risk dramatically – and it appears to be true, but researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Science don't want you to start smoking.

"Nobody should advocate smoking to prevent Parkinson's disease," said Dr. Honglei Chen, a tenure-track investigator at the Institute. "It’s important to make that very, very clear."

The study, released today in the journal Neurology looked at the lifetime smoking history of more than 300,000 people, and confirmed the inverse relationship between smoking and Parkinson's disease, established in earlier scientific studies. But, researchers say they've found a critical new piece to the puzzle: It appears to be the length of time one has been a smoker – not the number of cigarettes smoked – that has the most effect on disease risk reduction.

"People who smoked more than 40 years had a 46 percent decrease in Parkinson's disease risk," said Chen. "Whereas people who smoked between one and nine years had only an 8 percent decrease in risk."

Chen, the lead study author, and his colleagues cannot yet identify the reasons behind this staggering link, but say when they are able to determine which chemicals in the cigarettes seem to be have a protective effect, they hope to be able to develop a drug that can mimic the effects of smoking, without the harmful risks.

"I think the findings are very important, but it is time now for scientists to search for the active chemicals, and to understand biological mechanisms."

Smoking continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and has been linked to an increase in heart-disease risk, stroke risk, and several types of cancers.

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soundoff (81 Responses)
  1. Dale Kolsan

    I don't agree with this study because my dad smoked for 55 years before he came down with Parkinson's disease. I don't see how anything good can come from smoking! He suffered from COPD for at least 10 years and the Parkinson's certainly didn't help matters any. It almost sounds like this study is encouraging people to smoke longer to avoid getting Parkinson's. This study is flawed and shouldn't be taken seriously!

    March 11, 2010 at 10:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      Please ... Nobody is saying that if you smoke you will not get Parkinson; nor is anyone encouraging people to smoke. Please reread the article with some common sense.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:25 | Report abuse |
  2. Gene

    Social Security has historically taken into account the death rate of smokers, and has had to revise their actuarial tables to account for the increased longevity resulting from the decrease in smoking in the general population.

    Prevent Parkinsons and rescue S.S.

    Not bad for three bucks a pack.

    March 11, 2010 at 10:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. rory

    This is a known fact, I learned about this link 8 years ago in college. It seems that the nicotine clears out the synapses of a particular build up of toxin and prevents the motor neuorons from effectively committing suicide.

    March 11, 2010 at 10:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jamit123

    Enough with the "they are dying from cancer first" comments. These scientists obviously took that into consideration, they're not idiots. Just another chance for some for someone to take cheap shots at smokers. Yes, we know the risks and thank you for reminding us... over and over.

    March 11, 2010 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. alex

    Why shouldn't this be because of a psychological reason, like say smoking serves as a tension reducing activity. It is strange to see, the suggestion that there is a magical compound in cigarette which is doing this.

    March 11, 2010 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Paras

    Why don't governments stop manufacturing/cancel manufacturing licenses smoking products?

    I was a smoker for almost 15 years, and I quit cold turkey 3 months ago, I feel so much better and healthier now. Let's all kick that habit.

    March 11, 2010 at 10:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. claudia

    My father in law has been a smoker for all of his life and was diagnosed with Parkinson's 7 years ago.. reading the comments of others like him that smoked and still got Parkinson's makes me think this study is not reliable at all.

    March 11, 2010 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Deb

    Regarding the comments about using nicotine patches... Nicotine patches are not safe. They still carry a risk of heart disease and stroke, just like smoking cigarettes. The only difference is that the risk of lung cancer is eliminated with the patches.

    March 11, 2010 at 11:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. MarylandBill

    While hardly a justification to start smoking (At least in very general terms), the results are very interesting. We know there is an association now between smoking and a decreased risk in Parkinson's... if we can figure out why this is true, then perhaps it might give us clues to preventing or treating Parkinson's.

    That being said, we need to remember that correlation is not the same as causation. Just because smokers are less likely to get Parkinson's, it does not mean that it is the smoking that stops Parkinson's. Perhaps there is something about people who will get Parkinson's that make them less likely to smoke in the first place (maybe a gene that makes them less like to become addicted to tobacco?).

    March 11, 2010 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jessica

    Frankly, im quite surprised that every human who's ever lit up doesnt die of cancer...its mind boggling given how much demonization takes place. You'd think its a certain death sentence with one puff.

    March 11, 2010 at 11:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Crimsonking

    Tobacco, like any consumable, is good for you and bad for you.

    Science knows less than you would think about the whys of both, but the various ways smoking can help some people some of the time are not conspiracies of the tobacco lobby, they are as scientifically justifiable as the hazards of smoking, which will impact some, but not all, smokers, and which in any case are somewhat, but not really, understood.

    A lot of theories have to do with dose-response dynamics. In other words, more or less literally, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

    You can save or take a life with a gun. You can be fit or be fat from drinking Gatorade. You can help or harm yourself with tobacco.

    Or both. Or both. Or both.

    Re the questions about whether the studies control for people who already died of something else, smoking related or not, I think the answer has to be yes - otherwise how could the people be in the study.

    March 11, 2010 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. AC

    Maria, they're not purposely looking into smoking. My guess is that they just "accidentaly" came up with those findings during the study. Now, they're trying to find out which chemicals on cigarretes are involved in the "prevetion" of the disease so they can create a drug with those specific chemicals.

    March 11, 2010 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. sherry

    Hasn't anyone figured out that it isn't the tobacco that is a problem? It's the additives and chemicals infused into the tobacco to enhance the taste that causes the problems, same as all the junk put in foods and beverages we consume. Reports of any and all researches,tests ,surveys,etc. are controled and manipulated by the ones who have something to gain from what they "find". NEVER believe what you hear/read and only half of what you see. Do your own "research" into the things you're fed by others.

    March 11, 2010 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jesse

    People are probably dying before they have a chance to have Parkinson symptoms.

    I get a kick out of the responses from smokers complaining about taxation and that diet foods are more harmful..... You aren't ever going to figure it out, are you! You really think this study refutes every link to smoking being harmful to health???

    "I have to die of something" My favorite statement as a health care provider. I think that's fine, but if you smoke and that's your attitude, then when you get sick and need health care: DON'T COME TO A HOSPITAL!! Stay home and die. Isn't that what you want? You don't want to pay taxes on the cigs which help to cover your huge medical bills through Medicare. You certainly will not afford the healthcare when you are 65 and spening every other week in a hospital and walking around with an oxygen tank. My insurance premiums will continue to skyrocket because of you, smoking and complaining about taxes.

    Being unable to accept consequences is not a good "conservative" approach.

    March 11, 2010 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. duffySloan

    Thanks Jesse, a conservative that makes the grade on why we need this health care reform bill to pass, I will pass on your agreement to the bill to the President, thank you for your support

    March 11, 2010 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. tamela thompson

    Smoking has an effect on the central nervous system and acts a stabilizer, such as a balancing mechanism to allow the CNS to achieve homeostatic equilibrium. Is this an accurate presumption?

    March 11, 2010 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Fox

    To all of those asking if the researchers thought of cancer causing earlier death, yes. This thought has occurred to the researchers (!) and the results were derived from age-matched subjects. In all fairness, perhaps the commentators were thinking the news was spinning the results. Nope.

    March 11, 2010 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. OldScientist

    Boy, it's a sad commentary on the public intelligence that many of these comments ever got posted. Read Dr. Chen's quotes - smoking is bad, bad, bad, bad, bad!!!!

    But, perchance, if you are not killed by other things that scientists account for [lung cancer (ugly death), heart disease (ugly life), dry cleaning bills (just plain ugly), etc.], long-term smoking will dramatically decrease your risk of Parkinson's disease. It is NOT just survival of the fittest as these scientists made clear. What this offers is a clue for what might be a mechanism of Parkinson's, as well as an interesting anomoly (why can something so bad also do something good).

    March 12, 2010 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. ladybugvp

    My dad was a long time smoker and a couple of years after quitting he developed Parkinson's – just wondering if the loss of nicotine after him being accustomed to it, caused Parkinson's?

    March 15, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Sharon

    While there's lots of unanswered questions to this article I have to question my mom's situation. She smoked for 63 years and was diagnosed with Parkinson's 11 months after she quit smoking. She jokes that she shouldn't have quit. While Parkinson's is taking it's toll on her, I'm not sure if lung cancer would have been better or worse. Guess there's something to take everyone of us down.

    March 15, 2010 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. reswiz

    My husband quit smoking after 24 years, and was diagnosed with PD 9 years later, at age 48. He comes from a family of addicts, so it isn't the addictive behavior thing either. Of course, since PD can be caused by many different things, who knows? Just remember that early onset PD can occur whether you smoke or not. And the disease is much worse for early onset patients than the elderly.

    March 17, 2010 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Sean

    I have been a smoker of over 25 years, and have never tried to quit smoking. I have always found that something about the smoking helped me to feel mentally better. Nicotine which is the ingredient in cigarettes that gets you addicted to smoking, does have beneficial effects on the brain. There are safer alternatives to smoking available.

    You can find out more information about this on my website:

    http://adhdandnicotine.com/

    April 5, 2010 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Sophia Wilson

    Can anyone give more list of diet foods?*'*

    July 16, 2010 at 02:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Lilly Abbott

    Definitively, the tobacco is an imminent danger, but when except when discovering that he is good for decreasing suffering from parkinson it is a help, but it will be still bigger if they manage to find the component that allows this, because the Parkinson aches are so strong that the only than the doctors prescribe vicodin, hydrocodone and lortab, sound very powerful narcotics, are that, but that help to control the ache.

    Lilly Abbott.
    Findrxonline

    October 7, 2010 at 14:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Nathaniel Wood

    Diet Foods should be composed of low sugar and high fiber foods–:

    October 7, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Electric Burner

    diet foods that are nutritious would be the best for our bodies, most diet foods are not very nutritious ':'

    December 12, 2010 at 14:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Actron CP9185

    I read your article very much.
    Actron CP9185

    November 7, 2011 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Patricia

    I HAVE TRIED TO QUIT SMOKING LOTS OF TIMES MY BRAIN COMPLETELY SHUTS DOWN AND ITS NOT IN MY HEAD OR ITS JUST A HABIT 2 YEARS AGO I WAS AND STILL IS EXPERIENCEING DIZZINESS MY DIZZINESS GOT SO BAD I COULD NOT CLEAN HOUSE WENT TO ENT HE SAID I HAD A MYSTERIOUS DISEASE. HE REFERRED ME TO MY FIRST NEURO WHICH HE REGRETTING SENDING ME TO. BECAUSE LATER I WOKE UP UNABLE TO WALK OR TALK. DID ALOT OF PRAYING THEN I WAS SO CRIPPLE UP NOT A NERO COULD TELL ME WHY. I AM WALKING AGAIN BUT NOTHAT GOOD AND I HAVE SLURRED SPEECH TO. BUT I HAVE NOTICE EVERYTIME I TRIED TO QUIT SMOKING I LOOSE EVERYTHING MY SPEECH SLURRS MORE AND HARD TO WALK AND THINK. UNDER A NEW DOCTOR NOW . TRYING TO GET ANSWER TO WHAT DO I HAVE.I WONDER IF I HAVE YOUNG PARKINSON DISEASE. ITS HARD TO FIND A GOOD DOCTOR THESE DAYS THEY THINK YOU GONE CRAZY. AND THEN THEY TAKE ALL YOUR MONEY AND YOU STILL DONT HAVE ANWERS. ALWAYS WAIT THREE MONTHS AND LET SEE IF YOU DIE. THATS WHAT I THINK. WILL THATS ALL I HAVE TO SAY.

    March 27, 2014 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Alex

    Poor nutrition and inner anxiety probably contribute more to death than anything else. It is no coincidence that heart disease is the leading cause of death. Anxiety has been demonstrated to increase cancer and increase blood pressure, which overworks the heart. Combine this with insufficient nutrients getting to the heart through inadequate nutritional intake for the individual and heart disease becomes the leading killer, followed by cancer and both are related to anxiety.
    Smoking reduces anxiety and therefore the damage it causes.

    June 7, 2014 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.