Finding Inspiration for People with Parkinson's Disease
By Jennifer Morganti, ND, NEEDS Director of Education
Imagine the frustration of having a disease that limits your ability to fully control your movement and facial expression, that advances slowly, will never go away, and likely worsen for the rest of your life. About 50,000-60,000 new cases of Parkinson's are diagnosed every year in the U.S. and there is currently no cure. This progressive neurological disease causes tremors, rigidity, impaired balance, and slower movement. It usually is diagnosed in people over 50, but there are many exceptions to that rule. The 52-year old actor Michael J. Fox was diagnosed at the very early age of 29. Twenty-three years later, he is now back to work as the star of his own new sitcom about living with Parkinson's disease, The Michael J Fox Show. He credits this milestone to his ability to sustain an optimistic attitude and sense of humor over the years. His determination and positive outlook on life serve as inspiration for anyone suffering from this chronic disease.
Staying optimistic can be challenging. There is always some uncertainty for anyone who is diagnosed with Parkinson's. Due to the lack of good testing options, diagnosis is not definitive, and up to one-quarter of the cases are misdiagnosed. There is high variability in the progression of the disease that can somewhat be controlled through lifestyle adjustments. Stress speeds up the course of the disease. A positive mental attitude is helpful, as well as exercise, and counseling. And just like the keys to healthy aging, staying social and having a good support group improves the health of a Parkinson's patient.
Scientists aren't clear on the exact cause of Parkinson's, but it is related to the destruction of nerve cells that make dopamine. Eventually dopamine supplies diminish, causing neurological symptoms. There appears to be a strong genetic component in many cases and expression of the genes may be triggered by excess inflammation, free radical damage, and mitochondrial dysfunction.
There are some preliminary studies on natural supplements that may be helpful for Parkinson's, but there needs to be a much larger investment in research on natural treatments. Vitamin D, Co-Q10, and detoxification are three promising natural approaches to addressing Parkinson's.
Vitamin D is an anti-inflammatory that helps reduce oxidative stress from free radicals. Several studies have found a correlation between low vitamin D levels and people with Parkinson's.I One small study found that over 72% of 109 Parkinson's patients had serum vitamin D levels below 30 ng/mL.II Another small study found that supplementing Parkinson's patients with 1,200 IU vitamin D over the course of a year prevented escalation of Parkinson's symptoms, as compared to those taking a placebo. Using two different Parkinson's rating systems, the group taking placebo was shown to have significant escalation of symptoms over the course of the year. Those taking vitamin D had stabilization of their symptoms, despite the low dosage. After the study, the researchers wondered if the dose was too low to elicit an improvement in symptoms, but clearly even the low dose showed a significant benefit.III
Co-Q10 is known to support mitochondrial function and is a potent antioxidant that can protect neuronal death, making it an excellent potential treatment for neurological diseases such as Huntington's Disease, ALS, and Parkinson's. The most compelling study was published in 2002, with 80 Parkinson's patients. They took placebo or Co-Q10 at doses of 300, 600, or 1,200 mg daily for 16 months. The researchers used a rating scale to measure symptoms, and found those taking placebo showed the most severe deterioration in symptoms. In the groups taking Co-Q10, there was a slowing of progression, with the largest dosage showing the best outcome. This group taking 1,200 mg daily had the best physical functioning and independence after the 16-month trial.IV
If you research Parkinson's Disease and toxicity, you will see a lot of vague references to possible environmental causes, but not enough substantial scientific studies. Pesticides are linked in some research, as they seem to accumulate in the nerve pathway that transmits dopamine. Mercury toxicity, herbicides, organophosphates, mold, zinc, and iron excess and drug abuse are suggested as possible triggers, but it is hard to make a strong direct link because as one study states, there is quite a long pre-disease phase where there are no symptoms.V Hopefully, environmental toxins will be a focus in future Parkinson's research efforts. As a precaution, it would probably be wise to support liver detoxification at a minimum. The detox cocktail, comprised of glutathione, lipoic acid, and vitamin C is a good place to start.
One of the best Parkinson's informational websites that I have found on this topic is the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (www.Michaeljfox.org). They offer a lot of well-written education for both patients and caregivers, fundraising activities, and an aggressive research foundation. If a cure is to be found, my bet is on this organization to find it. His extremely positive attitude should provide hope for anyone suffering from this disease.
I Neurology, Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 134289, 11 pages
II Int J Endocrinol. 2013;2013:689149
III Am J Clin Nutr May 2013 vol. 97 no. 5 1004-1013
IV Arch Neurol. 2002 Oct;59(10):1541-50
V Neurology Research International, Volume 2010, Article ID 103094, 10
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.