Patients with diabetes could have a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s due to promoting oxidative stress, which is believed to play a key role in the death of brain cells in Parkinson’s disease.

Oxidative stress is a type of stress that happens when toxic byproducts of cellular reactions, known as free radicals, start to build up. Drugs that can reduce this stress are being developed. 

The study published in Movement Disorders, which was part-funded by Parkinson’s UK, adds to growing evidence of a link between these two conditions.

Previous studies have estimated that those with type 2 diabetes have a 31% increased risk of develop Parkinson’s than those without diabetes. Existing diabetes medications, like exenatide, have even shown potential for protecting the brain cells lost in Parkinson’s with late-stage clinical trials planned to start soon.

Oxidative stress and Parkinson’s disease

In the late 1980s, scientists studying brain tissue donated to the Parkinson’s UK Brain Bank found evidence that nerve cells are damaged by oxidative stress in Parkinson's.

Dr Beckie Port, Research Manager at Parkinson’s UK, said: “While the connection between Parkinson’s and diabetes has been known for some time, this latest research is a very exciting step towards a deeper understanding of the link between the two conditions.

“Researchers have been interested in the potential of existing diabetes medication to protect people from Parkinson’s and even slow the loss of brain cells caused by the condition - something no known treatment can do.

“Our work in this area is paving the way to develop treatments that target the underlying causes of Parkinson’s, not just mask the symptoms, as current treatments do. By slowing or halting cell damage before it starts, we could stop Parkinson’s in its tracks, truly improving the lives of people living with this devastating condition.

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