March 10th, 2010
04:28 PM ET

Longtime smoking cuts Parkinson’s risk dramatically

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/10/story.smoking.gi.jpg]

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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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.