Smoking, aspirin may worsen some Parkinson’s symptoms

Researchers assess effects of aspirin, smoking, coffee on clinical symptoms

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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People with Parkinson’s who smoke cigarettes or use aspirin tend to report more problems with certain disease symptoms, according to a new study.

The study, however, did not find notable associations between drinking coffee and Parkinson’s symptom severity.

“This study comprehensively assesses the effect of smoking, coffee drinking, and aspirin intake on clinical symptoms,” the researchers wrote, adding that the findings “may help to acquire a better understanding of this complex disease.”

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The study, “Lifestyle factors and clinical severity of Parkinson’s disease,” was published in Scientific Reports.

Studies have suggested that drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, or using aspirin may affect the development of Parkinson’s. There’s less research, however, into how these lifestyle habits may influence the experience of symptoms among people who already have Parkinson’s.

Here, researchers in Germany investigated these associations using data from the Fox Insight study, a research initiative led by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

The study included data on 35,959 people with Parkinson’s in the U.S. Nearly 90% of the patients were white, their average age was in the mid-60s, and average time since the onset of Parkinson’s was about five years.

Using these data, the researchers constructed statistical models to examine the associations between various symptoms and the use of coffee, cigarettes, or aspirin.

Results showed that patients who use aspirin reported higher rates of tremor, problems swallowing, and issues standing up. Models also suggested these issues tended to be more severe in patients who reported taking larger doses of aspirin.

Findings also showed that patients who smoked cigarettes tended to report more problems with chewing, controlling saliva, or freezing while walking. Smokers also tended to report worse outcomes related to depression, anxiety, light-headedness, memory problems, and changed sex drive.

These issues tended to be more pronounced among patients who smoked more or had smoked for longer. However, some of these associations were not statistically significant after the researchers made adjustments to account for the presence of lung or heart disease.

Patients who drank coffee tended to report fewer swallowing problems, but otherwise results did not show any notable associations between drinking coffee and symptom severity.

Overall these findings imply that smoking cigarettes or using aspirin might lead to worse outcomes for some Parkinson’s symptoms, though the researchers stressed it’s impossible to draw any conclusions about cause-and-effect from these correlational data.

As an example, the team noted two potential explanations for the association between mental health and smoking: “Smoking itself may promote depression and anxiety, or patients with depression are just more likely to smoke and have greater difficulty quitting.”

Study limitations

The team also noted this study was limited to the data that were collected as part of the Fox Insight study, and most of the data were self-reported,  subjective assessments.

“These findings are so far only exploratory, however, they set the stage for future longitudinal assessments on these factors and [Parkinson’s] clinical features,” the team concluded.