Last Updated: 2007-12-04 11:13:31 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A diet low in saturated fat and high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fish, and poultry — along with a moderate intake of alcohol — is associated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to findings published in the November issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

"Several studies have investigated associations between Parkinson’s disease risk and intake of individual foods and nutrients with inconsistent results," Dr. Xiang Gao, of Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues write. "Previous studies, however, have not examined the overall quality of the diet or dietary patterns in relation to the risk of Parkinson’s disease."

To remedy that, the researchers examined data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986-2002) and the Nurses’ Health Study (1984-2000), covering 49,692 men and 81,676 women free of Parkinson’s disease at baseline.

A total 318 Parkinson’s disease cases were documented in men and 190 in women after 16 years of follow-up.

Using principal components analysis, the team identified two major dietary patterns: the prudent dietary pattern and the Western pattern. The prudent dietary pattern was characterized by high intakes of fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, poultry, and fish. The Western diet was characterized by high intakes of red meats, processed meats, refined grains, French fries, desserts and sweets, and high-fat dietary products.

The prudent dietary pattern was inversely associated with Parkinson’s disease risk. Comparing the top with the bottom quintile of the prudent pattern score, the pooled relative risk of Parkinson’s disease was 0.78 (p = 0.04 for trend).

The association was independent of smoking, caffeine, and other Parkinson’s disease risk factors. The Western dietary pattern was not significantly associated with Parkinson’s disease risk.

Diet quality, assessed using standardized scores, produced similar relative risks for the development of Parkinson’s disease.

The healthy diet, as identified in this study, "provides plenty of dietary antioxidants and folate and a limited amount of saturated fat, which may contribute to the lower Parkinson’s disease risk of individuals with healthy diets" Dr. Gao’s team concludes.

Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:1486-1494.