Parkinson’s disease involves the progressive deterioration of nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls muscle movements. It is the job of these nerve cells to make dopamine, the brain chemical responsible for transporting signals from one brain cell to another. Once these cells lose the ability to make dopamine, a person’s walking, arm movements, and facial expression become impaired. Symptoms may occur on one or both sides of the body. The disease is also called shaking palsy because of the mild, all-over shaking experienced by many sufferers.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive condition, meaning that it tends to worsen gradually over time. During the beginning of the disease symptoms are often so mild that an individual doesn’t realize he or she is sick. With time, symptoms can worsen until a person is almost totally immobile and may be restricted to bed. How long this degeneration takes varies from person to person. Some people go from mild to extreme symptoms within the space of 5 years, while others experience a slower progression of symptoms over 20 or more years.
Men are slightly more likely than women to suffer from the disease. One-quarter to one-third of all Parkinson’s patients have a family history of the disease, the risk being highest if a father also was affected. Most patients develop the disease at age 60 or older.
Signs and Symptoms
- Reduced ability to move face
- Mild tremors, either limited to a specific body part or involving the entire body
- Slowing of movements
- Shuffling gait
- Stiff or rigid limbs
- Slow, monotone, or low-pitched voice
- Stooped posture
- Difficulty in maintaining balance
- Difficulty talking
- Memory loss
- Fixed facial expression, with unblinking eyes, open mouth, and involuntary drooling (in late-stage cases)
- Complete inability to move arms, legs, neck and/or face (in late-stage cases)
Conventional Medical Treatment
There are no standard tests to detect the presence of Parkinson’s disease, yet if the condition is somewhat advanced, a physician can often recognize it by studying physical symptoms. A blood test, CT scan, and/or an MRI may be performed to rule out other diseases that may be mistaken for Parkinson’s disease.
Usually a combination of drugs are used to treat Parkinson’s disease. Levodopa, a medication that helps increase the amount of dopamine in the brain, is prescribed to most Parkinson’s patients. Selegiline or deprenyl (Elderpryl) may be used early on in Parkinson’s to improve symptoms. This medication works by blocking dopamine breakdown. Anticholinergic drugs, such as trihex Phenidyl (Artane and benztropine mesylate (Cogentin also may be used to limit any tremors. As the disease progresses, drug therapy is continually monitored and modified as necessary; dosages are changed, certain drugs discontinued, and new drugs prescribed.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
The healing process can be enhanced by a fresh, “live foods” diet consisting of alkaline foods and chlorophyll-rich “green” drinks. Live foods are those that are still living or growing for example, sprouts, eaten raw to preserve active enzymes. Consume these drinks twice daily, and use only bottled or filtered water (to minimize the ingestion of toxins).
Antioxidants are vital since they help overcome oxidative damage to the brain, and can slow the progression of this disorder. Be sure to get the amino acid phenylalanine, found in almonds, Brazil nuts, fish, pecans, pumpkin and sesame seeds, chickpeas, and lentils. Try to limit your intake of protein to 7 grams daily. This decrease in protein will help with coordination and muscle control.
If you’re taking the drug Levodopa, eat these foods in moderation, as they contain B6, a vitamin that interferes with the drug’s potency: bananas, beef, fish, liver, oatmeal, peanuts, potatoes, and whole grains.
The following recommended daily supplements should improve your condition.
- vitamin E (3200 IU three times)-may slow progression of the disease and postpone the need for drug therapy
- selenium (200 mcg)-a powerful antioxidant
- Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NADH; 5 mg 2 times daily)-helps activate the brain’s natural production of L-dopa and dopamine
- N-acetyl cysteine (1,000 mg, on an empty stomach)
- complete antioxidant formula (as directed)
- lipoic acid (200 mg, with a meal)
- coenzyme (200 mg, with a meal)
- polyphenol supplement (120 mg)
- calcium (1500 mg)-necessary for nerve impulse transmission
- magnesium (750 mg)-works with calcium
- grape seed oil (as directed on label)-contains a high level of vitamin E and linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid
- vitamin B5 (25 mg 3 times daily)-speeds messages from one nerve cell to another
- omega-3 or flaxseed oil (as directed)-may reduce the frequency and severity of tremors
- vitamin C (3000 to 6000 mg, in divided doses)-may slow progression of the disease
- phosophatidyl serine (1500 mg)
- acetyl L-carnitine (1500 mg)
- glutathione (500 mg)
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Acupuncture Traditional Chinese Medicine attributes Parkinson’s to a liver imbalance combined with various types of weakness. Acupuncture may be helpful in controlling the tremors and muscle rigidity that characterize Parkinson’s disease. It also can help alleviate the mental depression that is often associated with the disease.
Chinese Herbal Therapy Tibetan saffron and tree peony formulations may alleviate muscle tremors, while polygala can be helpful in lifting the patient’s spirits. Since Chinese medicine views Parkinson’s disease as an “internal wind illness,” herbs also will be given to treat the underlying condition.