As for natural sources of urate, they are mostly things that people are told to avoid for other reasons, Schwarzschild said -- fructose, the sugar often blamed for an epidemic of obesity; alcohol; and even smoking. "There is a lot of it in liver, but who wants to eat that much liver?" Shoulson added.
Parkinson's disease is a degenerative neurological illness in which deterioration of brain cells causes steadily worsening symptoms such as trembling and slowed motion. Indications that urate might affect the course of Parkinson's began to emerge from epidemiological studies decades ago, Schwarzschild said. More solid evidence came from a study reported last year, which led the researchers of the new study to look back at a two-decades-old study of 800 people with Parkinson's disease.
"They had donated spinal fluid as well as blood, so we were able to test for urate levels in spinal fluid, which surrounds the brain cells," Schwarzschild said.
Analysis showed that the one-fifth of participants with the highest urate levels had a 36 percent lower risk of disease progression compared to the one-fifth with the lowest levels.
"Urate is actually one of the major antioxidants that circulates in humans," Schwarzschild said. "Brain cell degeneration in Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease or ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease], is caused by oxidative damage."
But another expert agreed it's too early for dietary or treatment recommendations.
"This finding is very exciting, but not yet ready for applicability to individual patients," said
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