Smoking, Parkinson’s and Facebook

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Good news for all addicts out there. Researchers from Penn State University found that smoking was associated with a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease (PD) in a large cohort of over 300,000 individuals. The findings are in agreement with smaller case-control trials that raised questions owing to sample-size issues. The researchers found that the risk was reduced by 22% in past smokers and by 44% in current smokers. While lifetime smoking duration was significantly and inversely associated with PD risk, numbers of cigarettes smoked per day were not. A similar protective effect has been found for coffee consumption. The reason for these findings are not clear. Smaller trials testing the effect of nicotine treatments for the prevention of PD were negative. In a 2006 review in Lancet Neurology, de Lau and Breteler argued that the solution might be found in our cerebral reward centers. Dopamine, the culprit of PD, is our addictive reward messenger. Whenever an individual smokes or succumbs to other reward seeking behaviors, dopamine kicks in. The authors imply that individuals who are prone to developing PD might suffer from a dopamine shortage and are thus less likely to seek out dopamine-highs. Similarly, Evans et al. supported this hypothesis; they found that PD patients had lower sensation-seeking scores than controls. This theory is intriguing and might have special implication for the web2.0 crowd out there: it has been found that frequent e-mail checking was also associated with a so called dopamine squirt. This is why some of us seem to be addicted to e-mail, facebook, twitter or the like. So there you have it, finally a reason never to turn off your Blackberries and e-mail clients ever again.

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Franz is an internist with a specialization in cardiology. He co-founded the e-learning company 123sonography and MedCrunch. Franz is Associate Professor for internal medicine at the Medical University of Vienna. In 2001 he did his MPH at Johns Hopkins University as a Fulbright scholar. Follow Franz at @franzwiesbauer.

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