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This May Almost Double Your Parkinson's Risk, Study Shows

Feeling this way about the world may raise your chances of the disorder later.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Having the personality trait known as neuroticism can make you more susceptible to Parkinson's disease, a new study suggests. If you're not sure what being neurotic is—aside from reading the descriptor in reviews of sitcoms and Woody Allen movies—it's an actual clinical diagnosis. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss this urgent news: Here's How You Can Catch COVID Even If You're Vaccinated.

Neuroticism Gives You a Greater Risk of Parkinson's

For the new study published in the journal Movement Disorders, researchers from the Florida State University College of Medicine analyzed data collected by the UK Biobank, which recruited nearly half a million people aged 40 to 69 from the mid-to-late-'90s and followed them for 12 years. (Each person's neuroticism was assessed when they joined the study.) The scientists found that people who scored in the top quartile of neuroticism had more than an 80% greater risk of Parkinson's, compared to those who scored lower.

"Anxiety and depression are comorbid with Parkinson's disease," said Antonio Terracciano, a geriatrics professor who led the study. "Many people with Parkinson's tend to be anxious or tend to get depressed. Part of that could be due to the disease and how it alters the brain and can have an influence on emotions. Part could be a psychological reaction of having a diagnosis of the disease."

According to a 2017 report in the journal World Psychiatry, neuroticism is defined as "the trait disposition to experience negative affects, including anger, anxiety, self‐consciousness, irritability, emotional instability, and depression." People with high levels of neuroticism "respond poorly to environmental stress, interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and can experience minor frustrations as hopelessly overwhelming."

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What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative brain disorder that causes a long-term decline in motor skills and physical functions. As Parkinson's progresses, nerve damage in the brain causes levels of dopamine to drop, leading to symptoms such as tremors, slow movement, stiffness and loss of balance. Known as the "feel-good" hormone, dopamine gives us a sense of reward; it also helps control body movements. 

Neuroticism has been associated with dementia in previous smaller studies. It has also been connected with a variety of other health problems, "including anxiety, mood, substance, somatic symptom [sleep issues], and eating disorders," the World Psychiatry report says.

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Should younger people worry?

Does this mean younger people with depression have a higher risk of developing Parkinson's years later? That may be so. "Individuals who score high in neuroticism are at higher risk for poor health outcomes across the lifespan, particularly in the domain of mental health and neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and related dementias," said Terracciano. "Some clinicians think that the anxiety and depression is just the result of Parkinson's. However, our findings suggest that some emotional vulnerability is present early in life, years before the development of Parkinson's disease."

Parkinson's affects about 1% of all older adults, making it the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer's disease. The causes of Alzheimer's & dementia are not well understood, but scientists believe both genetic and environmental factors contribute. Talk to your doctor if you feel you're at risk—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Signs Your Illness is Actually Coronavirus in Disguise.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael