The other day I was told that a close family friend has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This made me think about the many people I have known who have been afflicted with this illness, and just how debilitating it can be. I was spurred to write this post to share the great benefit complementary medicine can provide to suffers of Parkinson’s, in the hope that more people may sooner start a course of therapy to slow the disease progression. Even better, for those who have a family history or other predisposing factor this post should provide some strategies to reduce your risk of ever developing this illness.
Mitochondria in crisis
Parkinson’s is a process of progressive degeneration of a region of the brain called the Substantia nigra, and specifically its ability to produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. This has far reaching and serious ramifications, including disturbances of muscular control, memory, mood and basic cognitive function. This damage seems to stem from an impairment of the ‘energy factories’ of the cell, namely the mitochondria, to properly function. This inevitably results in cell death, and the loss of dopamine producing capacity. Thus a treatment strategy aimed at protecting these mitochondria is a good place to start in preventing or slowing the disease progression. Complementary therapies that can be used to do just this include:
- Coenzyme Q10 (preferably in the reduced ubiquinol form)
- Vitamin C (preferably liposomal)
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
- N-Acetyl Cysteine
- Acetyl-L Carnitine
- Ginkgo biloba
- Green tea (when used for active disease processes, preferably as a standardised extract for ECGC)
Underlying causes for disease development
As always in complementary medicine, it is crucially important to understand the underlying factors that have led to this cellular dysfunction. Unless these are addressed, any of the supplements mentioned above will only slow progression, rather than halt its progress. Some of the possible underlying factors that should be considered and investigated are:
- Iron overload: An excess of iron in the blood can lead to deposition of this highly oxidative mineral in the tissues of the brain. Parkinson’s patients on balance show a statistically higher than average iron load, and this should be investigated in anybody with a diagnosis or who suspects they may be at risk. Iron status is readily tested with a full iron blood panel. Regularly donating blood is an obvious way to lower serum iron, and taking the herb Milk Thistle before an iron rich meal can decrease absorption.
- Exposure to pesticides or heavy metals: Those in agriculture, or industrial occupations where exposure to solvents and other chemicals is consistent, show a much higher incidence of development of Parkinson’s. Although the links to disease progression are clear in these cases, the driving factors should give anyone pause given the widespread exposure to chemicals and pollutants most of us contend with on a daily basis. It would be prudent to be mindful of supporting your ability to detoxify and remove unwanted chemicals from your body. Curcumin and Milk Thistle are both excellent herbs to support liver detoxification pathways.
- High homocysteine: Homocysteine is a blood marker that, when elevated, can indicate an impaired ability to produce the crucial antioxidant glutathione (amongst many other health related issues). Homocysteine levels are simple to measure on a standard blood test, and should be checked in anybody with Parkinson’s. Should homocysteine be elevated, there are measures that can be taken to lower it including supplemental B6, B12 and folic acid (preferably all in their activated forms), betaine, and choline. This should be undertaken with the supervision of a practitioner as various factors may determine the precise combinations of nutrients required.
- Intestinal dysbiosis and leaky gut: Having too many of the wrong type of gut bacteria, combined with a loss of integrity of the cells lining the intestinal tract, can result in the leakage of toxic lipopolysaccharide complexes from the gut into the circulation. These complexes can cross the blood brain barrier and cause an immune reaction when in contact with the tissues of the brain. This in turn can trigger the destruction of the cells located in the region of these complexes. Because constipation and a slow peristaltic wave are hallmark symptoms associated with Parkinson’s (and constipation seems to be a consistent predisposing factor to disease development), it is important to maintain healthy gut function through a fibre rich diet (preferably containing an adequate amount of resistant starch from sources such as cooked then cooled potatoes or under ripe bananas) as well as avoiding dietary and lifestyle factors that can cause dysbiosis such as consumption of alcohol, caffeine, drugs and processed food, as well as stress and inadequate sleep. Protocols for healing a leaky gut such as supplemental glutamine, zinc, and aloe vera may be required.
- Food allergy: Linked to the point above, a food allergy has the ability to trigger an autoimmune reaction in the tissues of the body into which the food protein infiltrates. This seems to be particularly true for those with gluten intolerance (not necessarily coeliac disease) in Parkinson’s disease. Screening for potential allergens via blood panels, or through elimination diets under the care of a practitioner, may be helpful. See my previous post on gluten sensitivity for more information.
Please remember that if you are treating Parkinson’s disease, this post should be a starting point for you to explore the underlying factors driving your disease progression (under the care of an appropriate practitioner of course). I hope this helps you to discover the possibilities of therapy beyond simply symptom control.