Red Meat, Vitamin B2 Deficiency, and Parkinson Disease

Recent­ly, some­one in my fam­i­ly got a diag­no­sis of Parkin­son dis­ease, which is the same dis­ease that Michael J. Fox has. So nat­u­ral­ly I searched the med­ical lit­er­a­ture to see if there was a dietary angle to the dis­ease. There is, and it’s very excit­ing! Remov­ing red meat from the diet and cor­rect­ing a vit­a­min B2 defi­cien­cy might pre­vent Parkin­son dis­ease, and it might even help reverse some of the effects of the dis­ease. This would actu­al­ly change the course of the dis­ease, where­as all doc­tors can do at present is treat its symp­toms.

How I Searched the Medical Literature

I went to and clicked on MeSH Data­base. Then I typed Parkin­son dis­ease in the search box and clicked on Go. One of the results was Parkin­son dis­ease. I clicked on that and select­ed the sub­head­ing “diet ther­a­py” and added that to the search box. Then I clicked on Search PubMed.

What I Found

One of the arti­cles that I found point­ed out that Parkin­son dis­ease is far more com­mon in elder­ly peo­ple in Europe and North Amer­i­ca than it is in elder­ly sub-Saha­ran Black African, rur­al Chi­nese, and Japan­ese peo­ple. In oth­er words, it’s far more com­mon in peo­ple who eat a lot of meat than in peo­ple who eat a heav­i­ly plant-based diet.

Anoth­er inter­est­ing arti­cle sug­gest­ed that Parkin­son dis­ease might result from two sep­a­rate prob­lems relat­ed to diet and nutri­tion (High dos­es of riboflavin and the elim­i­na­tion of dietary red meat pro­mote the recov­ery of some motor func­tions in Parkinson’s dis­ease patients. C.G. Coim­bra and V.B.C. Jun­queira. Brazil­ian Jour­nal of Med­ical and Bio­log­i­cal Research, 36: 1409–1417, 2003). The first prob­lem is an over­load of iron from eat­ing too much red meat. The sec­ond is some prob­lem in the way the body han­dles riboflavin (vit­a­min B2). To put these ideas to the test, the researchers test­ed 31 con­sec­u­tive Parkin­son dis­ease patients who entered their clin­ic. Every sin­gle one of them had abnor­mal­ly low lev­els of vit­a­min B2 in their blood­stream, even though they were eat­ing food that should have pro­vid­ed enough vit­a­min B2. In com­par­i­son, only 3 out of 10 patients with oth­er neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases had a vit­a­min B2 defi­cien­cy. The Parkin­son patients were also big red meat eaters. The researchers told the Parkin­son dis­ease patients to stop eat­ing red meat and to take 30 mg of riboflavin three times a day.

The patients who fol­lowed this advice regained some of their lost motor skills. Mild­ly afflict­ed patients became com­plete­ly asymp­to­matic, and even some of the more severe­ly afflict­ed patients improved a lot. These find­ings were dra­mat­ic and excit­ing, and this arti­cle should have lit a fire under the researchers who are study­ing Parkin­son dis­ease. Here was a sim­ple, cheap, and safe dietary mod­i­fi­ca­tion that addressed the actu­al cause of the dis­ease, and could even reverse some of its effects.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, peo­ple tend to dis­card the results of dietary stud­ies out of hand, part­ly because these stud­ies can’t fol­low the same for­mat as a drug tri­al. For exam­ple, you can’t “blind” peo­ple to what they’re eat­ing, so there’s nev­er a “place­bo con­trol.” Also, some peo­ple become total­ly unhinged if they hear that the foods they like aren’t good for them. Pre­dictably, some­one wrote in a tru­ly idi­ot­ic cri­tique of the study (Com­ments of H.B. Fer­raz et al. ) The authors’ response was with­er­ing. They said things like “By search­ing the cur­rent med­ical lit­er­a­ture, Fer­raz and asso­ciates might read­i­ly become famil­iar with count­less pre­lim­i­nary stud­ies which have been sub­se­quent­ly con­firmed by larg­er and bet­ter con­trolled research” and “The cita­tions made by Fer­raz and asso­ciates demon­strate that they have com­plete­ly missed our point, even though it was clear­ly empha­sized even in the title of our study.” What a smack-down!

Fer­raz and cowork­ers were wor­ried that if peo­ple stopped eat­ing red meat, they might end up with a pro­tein defi­cien­cy. Well, where do goril­las get their pro­tein? If a diet with­out red meat pro­vides enough pro­tein for a 500-pound sil­ver­back male goril­la, it should pro­vide enough for a human being. And what would be the harm in test­ing Parkin­son dis­ease patients for riboflavin defi­cien­cy? Why aren’t Fer­raz and cowork­ers wor­ried about the pos­si­bil­i­ty that we’re miss­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty to stop Parkin­son dis­ease in its tracks?

3 thoughts on “Red Meat, Vitamin B2 Deficiency, and Parkinson Disease”

  1. lots of peo­ple know this.. It’s the meat indus­try that keeps these things under wraps. just read any­thing Howard Lyman has pub­lished or google his name and watch his doc­u­men­tary on youtube.. it’s on there.. Save the Cows..

  2. I had Parkin­sons with very seri­ous symp­toms and was in dan­ger of los­ing my job. I had to stop eat­ing meat due to liv­er com­pli­ca­tions from preg­nan­cy. Dur­ing that time my Parkin­sons symp­toms almost com­plete­ly went away. I have been veg­e­tar­i­an since then for 9 years and veg­an for one year and it has not come back. My twin sis­ter has uncon­trolled Parkin­sons, but she has not been able to remove meat from her diet and she con­tin­ues to decline.

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