Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, cognitive condition that’s claiming more and more people every year. Experts now estimate that in the world’s most populated nations, rates of Parkinson’s disease will climb to almost 40 million sufferers by the year 2030. (1) As the world’s population of older adults increases, and people on average live longer than ever before, the number of Parkinson’s patients dealing with Parkinson’s symptoms who are both young and old is expected to reach an all-time high.
Some researchers predict that the U.S. alone will spend around $14 billion annually to help treat Parkinson’s patients by the year 2040! And over the course of a lifetime, preventing and stopping disease progression in just one Parkinson’s patient is believed to save the health care system more than $440,000.
Luckily, a 2016 study by a team of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan found a possible way to stop the progression of Parkinson’s. Researchers created caffeine-based chemical compounds, also containing nicotine, metformin and aminoindan, that prevented the misfolding of alpha-synuclein, a protein necessary for dopamine regulation. (2)
In Parkinson’s patients, alpha-synuclein misfolds, resulting in the depletion of dopamine, in turn leading to the progression of Parkinson’s. By discovering these caffeine-based chemical compounds, researchers are one step closer to finding treatment that gets to the root of the problem, bringing hope to patients suffering from the once inevitable downward spiral of Parkinson’s.
With alarming news that Parkinson’s rates have more than doubled in recent decades, now more than ever people are relying on a combination of treatments to control Parkinson’s symptoms. Below you’ll learn about natural remedies for Parkinson’s symptoms, including dietary interventions and mind-body therapies.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a complex neurodegenerative brain disorder (also called a cognitive disorder) that causes changes in moods and motor functions. Parkinson’s mostly affects older adults, especially those between the ages of 55—65, the age group most at risk for first experiencing Parkinson’s symptoms. (3) More than 1 million people in the U.S. alone have now been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Usually the disease progresses slowly as someone gets older and lasts until the end of his or her lifetime.
Parkinson’s disease is chronic in nature (meaning it persists over a long period of time) and progressive (Parkinson’s symptoms normally get worse over time with age). Because Parkinson’s is a very complex disease, each patient can experience varying levels of different symptoms. Unfortunately due to the unpredictability of Parkinson’s symptoms, it makes the disease hard to diagnose and treat in many cases. Each patient needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and often a lot of trial and error is involved in alleviating Parkinson’s symptoms.
Although the causes of Parkinson’s are still being researched and have not been fully determined, according to John Hopkins University, a loss of the neurotransmitter dopamine is the primary cause. When 50 percent to 70 percent of dopamine in the brain is depleted, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease begin to develop. (4)
The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include: (5)
- Trembling: This is one of many changes in movement (motor) functions and usually affects the arms, jaw, legs and face. Movements can become awkward, broken and almost like the patient is shuffling (walking with a series of quick, small steps).
- Rigidity: Most patients experience stiffness of the body’s core (trunk area) as well as in their arms and legs.
- Bradykinesia: This is the term for slowness of movements, causing the sufferer to seem unable to control or speed up movements. Some patients pause or freeze when moving without being able to start again.
- Postural instability: Loss of strength and balance, along with problems moving or coordinating, are very common in those with Parkinson’s.
The tremors and shaking are the most noticeable Parkinson’s symptoms and impact the majority of Parkinson’s sufferers. There are other, less common symptoms of Parkinson’s too, which have more variability and affect things like mood, behavior, speech and digestion.
Other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Mood changes, such as depression and fatigue
- Trouble moving normally and completing work-related or everyday tasks (due to stiffness, especially of the limbs)
- Urinary problems
- Trouble speaking normally
- Low blood pressure
- Digestive issues, including constipation
- Trouble sleeping, including difficulty turning in bed
- Skin problems
- Increased sweating
- Muscle spasms and cramps
- Voice changes
- Erectile dysfunction
Each of these symptoms might show up in different Parkinson’s sufferers at different times. The degree to which a Parkinson’s sufferer has each symptom can vary greatly, especially in the early stages of the disease. Usually symptoms are barely noticeable for several years, but as the disease progresses so do the symptoms. With progression of the disease the person may struggle to walk, talk or complete simple daily tasks, which at some point means the disease can no longer be denied or pushed off.
Accepting a Parkinson’s diagnoses can be very difficult for both patients and their families, so procrastination regarding getting a diagnoses and treatment is sometimes an hurdle to overcome with patients.
Causes and Risk Factors
The causes of Parkinson’s disease are multifactorial and still not entirely agreed upon. Researchers now know that both genetic factors and certain environmental/lifestyle habits contribute to Parkinson’s development. While the exact combination of factors causing Parkinson’s disease have yet to be proved definitively, a few theories show strong validity.
Factors that contribute to Parkinson’s disease include:
- Genetics: Recently there’s been some major advances in the field of cognitive disorders, including identifying several genes that put someone at a great risk for disorders like Parkinson’s, as well as locating regions of the brain involved in age-related cognitive decline.
- Brain cell deterioration and inflammation: The latest research suggests that deterioration of an area of the brain called the “substantia nigra” plays a role in cognitive disorders, including Parkinson’s. The substantia nigra normally produces brain cells that are responsible for neurotransmitter production, including making the chemical dopamine, which is crucial for learning, muscle control, memory and behavior regulation.
- Toxicity and exposure to chemicals
- Poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle
- Hormonal imbalances and other medical conditions
Research shows that risk factors for Parkinson’s disease can include: (6)
- Being a man and older age. Men experience Parkinson’s more often than women and also tend to develop symptoms a bit earlier.
- Having a family history or genetic mutation linked to Parkinson’s.
- High exposure to pesticide chemicals and some of the worst ingredients is a significant risk factor for Parkinson’s. One of the most recent studies shows a link between pesticides and insecticides as a cause of Parkinson’s disease, including two types that are very common and widespread. Some research shows those exposed to these pesticides have a 2.5 times greater chance of developing Parkinson’s disease. These two common pesticides linked to Parkinson’s? They’re called rotenone and paraquat. Although neither chemical is approved for home or garden use, both frequently turn up in the bodies of thousands of Americans everywhere. These chemicals have been tied to compromised function of cell mitochondria, which are responsible for energy production, and increased production of certain oxygen derivatives that may harm other cellular structures.
- People living in rural areas, where farming is common, are at a higher risk for Parkinson’s. Those who drink well water also have a higher chance, which is believed to be the case due to chemical runoff.
- Anyone with another neurological disorder in the family of Parkinsonism diseases is also at risk. This means that another primary neurological disorder might cause symptoms of Parkinson’s disease as a secondary factor. These diseases can include Parkinson’s dementia, brain tumors, repeated head trauma, drug-induced Parkinsonism, Postencephalitic Parkinsonism, or striatonigral degeneration.
- Some research has shown that neurological problems, including supranuclear palsy, Wilson disease, Huntington’s disease, Hallervorden-Spatz syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease can also cause Parkinson’s symptoms.
- A single concussion can increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease, according to a 2018 study. The human study assessed 325,870 military veterans, which they identified 1,462 as having Parkinson’s. Among that number, those who had concussions of any level showed a strong correlation to developing Parkinson’s. In fact, 56 percent of those with Parkinson’s were shown to have a mild concussion at some point. (7, 8)
How is someone diagnosed with Parkinson’s? Although the disease can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in its earliest stages, it’s usually done through a medical history evaluation, neurological testing, and in some cases brain scans or laboratory tests.
Once diagnosed, conventional medications and therapies for treating Parkinson’s typically focus on regulating neurotransmitter functions (such as replacing low dopamine) and lowering motor symptoms associated with the disease. However, due to exciting new discoveries in recent years, doctors are now able to help correct biochemical brain pathways involved in Parkinson’s disease and treat symptoms using cutting-edge, often natural therapies. According to Dr. Michael Okun, author of “10 Breakthrough Therapies For Parkinson’s Disease,” approaches for Parkinson’s treatments can be classified into three general categories: (9)
- Symptomatic treatments: These include pharmaceuticals, such as levodopa, with carbidopa, which increase the production of dopamine in the brain. Less common drugs include bromocriptine, pramipexole and ropinirole.
- Neuroprotective treatments: These might include surgeries such as deep brain stimulation or tissue removal.
- Cure-based strategies: These are still being investigated and are the future of Parkinson’s treatments.
One of the most popular compounds that has been used to manage Parkinson’s symptoms is called inosine, which is capable of raising uric acid levels in the blood and cerebral fluids that seem to reduce Parkinson’s risk. (10) However, this drug also often comes with side effects, including kidney damage and gout attacks, which has led researchers to explore other safer options. It requires costly, careful monitoring and also doesn’t seem to work as well in patients who already have Parkinson’s, since most of its benefits are related to prevention but not symptom improvement.
Another myth is that Parkinson’s disease was cured after the introduction of levodopa (L-dopa) in the 1960s. This is false because more than 60,000 Americans are still diagnosed with Parkinson’s every single year. L-dopa is still used to treat Parkinson’s and to lower some symptoms but doesn’t work for every patient and also causes considerable side effects. (11)
Drugs are no longer the only way to help stabilize Parkinson’s patients’ moods and improve motor control. As you’ll learn, preventative and mind-body therapies, such as supplements, biofeedback therapy, eating an anti-inflammatory diet and early intervention in people who are genetically susceptible to Parkinson’s are all proving to be important in restoring mental health and enhancing quality of life in patients.
1. Healthy Diet
Many Parkinson’s patients, including the famous advocate Michael J. Fox, report that a healthy diet can help reduce symptoms. (12) Some tips for managing Parkinson’s symptoms with a healthy diet include:
- Eat more raw foods, especially organic vegetables and fruits
- Avoid pesticides
- Avoid processed foods with synthetic ingredients
- Get more fiber
- Decrease intake of added sugar, trans fat and refined fat
- Consume omega-3 foods: Studies have shown that omega-3s, found in foods like wild-caught fish or nuts, are helpful in treating Parkinson’s symptoms. This is an example of the potential side effects of a long-term diet low in essential nutrients, such as omega-3s, but high in pro-inflammatory omega-6s. Eating a brain-protective diet means properly balancing intake of omega-3s and omega-6s, similarly to how our ancestors did.
Certain supplements might be able to help lower Parkinson’s symptoms, including:
- Vitamins C, E and D
- Coenzyme 10
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Antioxidant supplements
- Essential oils
- Supplements that increase fiber intake to reduce constipation
3. Reducing Toxicity and Chemical Exposure
Environmental causes are now being tied to Parkinson’s development. Research shows that rural living, exposure to well water, and exposure to agricultural pesticides and herbicides are related to Parkinson’s disease — therefore eating mostly or all organic foods is very beneficial and protective. Chelation therapy can also be helpful for lowering metal heavy accumulation and presence of other toxins.
4. Exercise and Stress Reduction
Getting regular exercise and keeping stress levels low can help decrease inflammation levels and prevent brain cell deterioration. Although it can be hard to exercise when symptoms start emerging, staying active is very important for prevention and also helps control symptoms like depression, rigidity and stiffness.
5. Behavioral, Physical, Speech or Occupational Therapies
These mind-body techniques and treatments are used to lower symptoms like speech problems, loss of balance, poor posture, trouble sleeping, difficulty eating, anxiety and depression.
Statistics and Facts
- Parkinson’s can develop in younger people but usually emerges in those in their 50s or 60s. The biggest risk factor for developing Parkinson’s is advancing age, with the average age of onset being 60 years.
- Only an estimated 4 percent of people with Parkinson’s are diagnosed before the age of 50. (13)
- 50 percent more men are affected with Parkinson’s than women, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
- Due to genetic mutations, those with a parent or sibling who are affected with Parkinson’s might have double the chance of developing the disease themselves, although a combination of environmental and genetic factors is what ultimately leads to the disease developing.
- Overall it’s estimated that those with a relative who has Parkinson’s have between a 15 percent and 25 percent chance of developing the disease. (14)
- Medication costs for someone living with Parkinson’s average about $2,500 a year, and therapeutic surgery can cost up to $100,000.
- 40 percent of people with Parkinson’s experience some level of depression.
- The limbs and trunk are the areas of the body most affected by Parkinson’s. However, the tongue, hands, jaw and feet can also suffer.
- Symptoms of Parkinson’s can progress over a period longer than 20 years.
Parkinson’s vs. ALS vs. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) vs. Dementia
- More people suffer from Parkinson’s disease than similar disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) combined. Researchers now believe that all neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s, share some important features in common.
- Parkinson’s, dementia, MS and ALS all have in common causes/factors, including neurons highly sensitive to stress, exposure to environmental toxins, reduced protein recycling, neuro-inflammation and overactive immune systems that contribute to worsening neuro-degeneration.
- Symptoms of these neurodegenerative disease can be similar because they stem from damage to nerve cells (motor neurons) and loss of control over a person’s muscles. They also often affect patients’ moods. As motor neurons deteriorate, the brain loses the ability to start and control voluntary muscle movement, neurotransmitter levels are altered, and everyday functions like walking or speaking becoming difficult.
- One type of Parkinson’s that’s most similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s is called Parkinson’s disease dementia. This causes a gradual decline in thinking and reasoning, changes in memory, and reduced concentration, judgment and interpretation of visual information. (16)
- Something that makes Parkinson’s different than multiple sclerosis is that MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, especially the brain, spinal cord and optic (eye) nerves. Symptoms that are similar in both diseases include loss of motor function, depression, trembling and trouble moving. (17)
If you start to notice gradual changes in your movement control and moods, it might be wise to speak with a doctor about your symptoms. The first signs to look for include tremors and shakiness, which are the most recognizable sign of Parkinson’s disease. This can be slight at first, such as twitching or shaking of your hands or feet, but if you notice symptoms worsening over time, seek some help and advice.
The National Parkinson’s Foundation offers resources for spotting the disease in its earliest stages and recommends considering testing if you experience such changes as loss of smell, sight, grip, stability, or ability to go to the bathroom and walk normally. (18)
- Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects people over age 60 most often.
- Symptoms of Parkinson’s include trembling, loss of balance, slowed movements, mood changes, poor posture and lack of motor control.
- Causes of Parkinson’s include genetic factors, high levels of inflammation, brain cell deterioration, low dopamine levels and high pesticide/toxin exposure.
- Natural treatments include a healthy diet, supplements, physical and occupational therapy, exercise and movement, and managing stress.
Read Next: Lewy Body Dementia: The Cognitive Disorder You May Not Know About