“The link between dairy products and Parkinson’s disease has been found in other studies,” said R D Abbott, from the Shiga University of Medical Science in Japan.
“Our study looked specifically at milk and the signs of Parkinson’s in the brain,” said Abbott.
Tests looked at whether participants had lost brain cells in the substantia nigra area of the brain, which occurs in Parkinson’s disease and can start decades before any symptoms begin.
Researchers also measured in 116 brains the amount of residue of a pesticide called heptachlor epoxide. The pesticide was found at very high levels in the milk supply in the early 1980s in Hawaii, where it was used in the pineapple industry.
It was used to kill insects and was removed from use in the US around that time. The pesticide may also be found in well water.
The study found that nonsmokers who drank more than two cups of milk per day had 40 per cent fewer brain cells in that area of the brain than people who drank less than two cups of milk per day.
For those who were smokers at any point, there was no association between milk intake and loss of brain cells.
Previous studies have shown that people who smoke have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Residues of heptachlor epoxide were found in 90 per cent of people who drank the most milk, compared to 63 per cent of those who did not drink any milk.
Abbott said that the researchers do not have evidence that the milk participants drank contained heptachlor epoxide.
He also stated that the study does not show that the pesticide or milk intake cause Parkinson’s disease; it only shows an association.
The study was published in the journal Neurology.