The link between Parkinson’s disease and alcohol use is complex and not yet fully understood.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that affects movement and is caused by a loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain.

Alcohol also affects dopamine. So, is it safe to drink alcohol if you have Parkinson’s disease? The answer isn’t so simple.

For decades, researchers have been investigating the link between Parkinson’s disease (PD) and alcohol consumption, with complex and often conflicting results.

Some studies have shown no link between the two, while others suggest that moderate alcohol consumption (5-29.9 grams per day) may actually reduce the risk of PD. Other evidence suggests that heavy (more than 30 grams per day) or prolonged alcohol use increases the risk.

A large European study from 2020 found that men with moderate lifetime alcohol consumption had a higher risk of developing PD compared to light drinkers. Still, the results didn’t establish a significant link between alcohol consumption and the risk of PD.

An analysis of 11 studies found that alcohol consumption was linked to a slightly reduced risk for PD. And different types of alcohol may cause different effects.

For instance, two studies in the analysis found that beer consumption, in particular, was associated with a reduced risk of PD, while wine or liquor were linked to an increased risk. However, some of these results weren’t statistically significant. In four other studies, no difference was found between beer, wine, and liquor.

Overall, the authors found that a decreased PD risk was only associated with beer consumption but not liquor and wine. This may be because beer has a much lower ethanol content but higher antioxidant levels, such as folic acid, niacin, purine, and other phenolics believed to mediate the neuroprotective effects of alcohol.

Beer is also associated with a high concentration of uric acid, which has been shown to have neuroprotective effects in animal studies.

Alcohol use disorder and Parkinson’s risk

Some evidence suggests that heavy alcohol use, such as what’s seen in alcohol use disorder, may lead to an increased risk of PD.

Research has shown that long-term binge drinking disrupts the typical functioning of the brain, leading to an increase in glutamate activity and stress hormone release, and a reduced ability to clear glutamate from the brain.

This can result in excessive stimulation of nerve cells, damage to cellular structures, and ultimately, cell death.

PD is characterized by a decrease in dopamine levels in the brain due to the loss of dopamine-producing cells in a region of the brain.

Acute alcohol intake can increase dopamine release in certain brain regions, which may temporarily alleviate some of the motor symptoms of PD, such as tremors and bradykinesia (slowness of movement).

However, chronic alcohol use or heavy alcohol consumption can lead to long-term depletion of dopamine in the brain, which may worsen PD symptoms over time.

Alcohol can also interact with medications commonly used to manage PD, such as levodopa, which is a precursor of dopamine. Alcohol may interfere with the absorption and effectiveness of levodopa, leading to increased tremors and other motor symptoms.

How does alcohol affect PD?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can interact with the symptoms of PD in various ways, including the following:

  • Motor symptoms: Alcohol can affect motor function and coordination, and it may worsen some of the motor symptoms of PD, such as tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia (slowness of movement).
  • Medication interactions: Alcohol can potentially interact with PD medications and reduce their effectiveness, leading to increased PD symptoms.
  • Balance and fall risk: PD can increase the risk of falls due to problems with balance. Alcohol can further impair balance and coordination, potentially increasing the risk of falls in people with PD.
  • Sleep disturbances: Alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns, and people with PD often already experience sleep disturbances, such as REM sleep behavior disorder.

Excessive alcohol consumption or chronic alcohol misuse can potentially worsen PD symptoms, interfere with medication effectiveness, increase the risk of falls due to impaired balance and coordination, and disrupt sleep patterns.

On the other hand, some people with PD may tolerate moderate alcohol consumption without significant worsening of symptoms. It’s important to discuss this with a healthcare professional to determine what is safe and appropriate for you.

Can you drink if you take carbidopa-levodopa?

Carbidopa-levodopa is a combination medication that helps increase your brain levels of dopamine to help ease some of the motor symptoms of PD.

Both carbidopa and levodopa can cause side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired coordination, which can be exacerbated by alcohol.

The relationship between Parkinson’s disease and alcohol use is complex and not yet fully understood.

While some studies suggest that low alcohol consumption may have a protective effect on Parkinson’s disease, others suggest that it depends on the type of alcohol being consumed. There’s also evidence that heavy alcohol consumption may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease or worsen its symptoms.

If you or a loved one has Parkinson’s disease, be sure to consult your doctor for personalized medical advice regarding alcohol use.