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The #1 Cause of Parkinson's, According to Doctors

Knowing these signs can help you, says the scientific officer at the Parkinson's Foundation.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Of the many diseases lurking around the corners of our lives, Parkinson's is a scary one because it's not extremely well known to laymen how you get it. Is it bad habits? Poor living? It seemed to strike notable people like Michael J. Fox out of nowhere. What's the #1 cause of Parkinson's? We reached out to James Beck, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President of the Parkinson's Foundation, to ask what's the #1 cause of Parkinson's. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.


What is the Number 1 Cause of Parkinson's?

Health visitor and a senior man during home visit

"Scientists believe the disease is caused by an interaction of genes, environmental and lifestyle influences, so we are not able to narrow it down to one top cause," says Beck. "One thing that all people with PD have in common is they have lost and continue to lose dopaminergic neurons in their brain. We are currently trying to understand why that happens and how we stop it." Keep reading to learn about how your genetics may play a role.

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There is a Strong Genetic Link to the Disease

A scientist in a medical laboratory with a dispenser in his hands is doing an analysis

"For about 10-15% of all PD cases, we know that there is a strong genetic link to the disease," says Beck. "There is a lot of research right now studying DNA from people with PD – including a major study from the Parkinson's Foundation, PD GENEration: Mapping the Future of Parkinson's Disease – and scientists have discovered many genetic mutations linked to PD. But even when someone has a genetic mutation associated with PD, that does not necessarily mean they will develop the disease. Scientists are just beginning to understand the full role that genes play in PD. It is possible that certain genes may cause PD while other genes may actually protect people from developing it."

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Here Are Some Environmental Factors That May Play a Role

Doctor examines MRI scan of head, neck and brain of patient

"Some environmental factors that may contribute to PD include head trauma or exposure to certain chemicals or toxins," said Beck. "For example, paraquat, a widely used commercial herbicide in the U.S., and trichloroethylene (TCE), a solvent used in many industries and the most common organic contaminant found in groundwater, have both been linked to PD. However, some people may have a genetic makeup that makes them more vulnerable to the effects of these substances than others."

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Why Is It So Important to Know This Information?

genetic test assay

"If you have PD, it is important to know if you have a genetic component," says Beck. "The next generation of PD treatments will likely target specific, genetic forms of PD – an approach we have seen in some cancer treatments. By equipping yourself with knowledge about the genetics of your disease, you may be eligible for clinical trials that are testing new/experimental treatments specific to your genetic makeup."

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What to Do if You Think You May Have Parkinson's Disease

violently shaking hands of a PD sufferer (Parkinson's disease), tremors of the wrist and hand joints are the main symptom of the disorder

Call your doctor if you experience any symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, which initially include:

  • Trembling of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face
  • Stiffness of the arms, legs and trunk
  • Slowness of movement
  • Poor balance and coordination

The Parkinson's Foundation offers people with PD genetic testing and counseling at no cost through its ongoing research study, PD GENEration: Mapping the Future of Parkinson's Disease, says Beck. The Parkinson's Foundation also has resources available at, or you can call the Parkinson Foundation Helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (it's free). And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek