Background: Beta-carboline alkaloids (e.g., harmane) are highly tremorogenic chemicals. Animal protein (meat) is the major dietary source of these alkaloids. The authors previously demonstrated that blood harmane concentrations were elevated in patients with essential tremor (ET) vs controls. Whether this difference is due to greater animal protein consumption by patients or their failure to metabolize harmane is unknown.
Objective: The aim of this study was to determine whether patients with ET and controls differ with regard to 1) daily animal protein consumption and 2) the correlation between animal protein consumption and blood harmane concentration.
Methods: Data on current diet were collected with a semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire and daily calories and consumption of animal protein and other food types was calculated. Blood harmane concentrations were log-transformed (logHA).
Results: The mean logHA was higher in 106 patients than 161 controls (0.61 +/- 0.67 vs 0.43 +/- 0.72 g(-10)/mL, p = 0.035). Patients and controls consumed similar amounts of animal protein (50.2 +/- 19.6 vs 49.4 +/- 19.1 g/day, p = 0.74) and other food types (animal fat, carbohydrates, vegetable fat) and had similar caloric intakes. In controls, logHA was correlated with daily consumption of animal protein (r = 0.24, p = 0.003); in patients, there was no such correlation (r = -0.003, p = 0.98).
Conclusions: The similarity between patients and controls in daily animal protein consumption and the absence of the normal correlation between daily animal protein consumption and logHA in patients suggests that another factor (e.g., a metabolic defect) may be increasing blood harmane concentration in patients.