Parkinson’s Disease: Symptoms, Risks, and Prevention
If you know someone with Parkinson’s disease, you know how difficult it can be to live with this illness. Often, Parkinson’s begins with tiny, almost imperceptible changes – a bit of tremor in the hand, anxiety, constipation, stiff muscles, movements that feel slow or heavy, the sensation that a leg or foot is “dragging,” depression, mild mental dysfunction, and unusual fatigue.
In the early stages, these symptoms may go unnoticed. But as the disease advances, much more noticeable changes occur. They may include a shuffling gait, difficulty speaking, rigid muscles, jerky movements, noticeable tremors, drooling, and lack of interest in food. Dementia, depression, or both may occur as well.
An all-too-common disease, Parkinson’s afflicts both men and women, particularly in the over-60 age category. But, according to the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, there is an “alarming increase” among younger people. Personally, I don’t find that surprising. Experts believe the condition is linked to the overwhelming amount of toxins in our environment.
Here’s a good example: As a reporter for National Geographic magazine discovered not long ago, extensive testing revealed 165 different chemicals in his body, including everything from flame-retardants and pesticides to heavy metals. Simply eating two meals with fish (halibut and swordfish) more than doubled his blood levels of mercury, a heavy metal considered so toxic that there is no safe amount. Like most of us, the reporter did not work with chemicals or live in a high-risk situation. The lesson I take from this is that we are all contaminated with substances that can impact our health, so we need to do everything we can to neutralize them.
How Parkinson’s Happens
The cause of Parkinson’s appears to be degeneration of certain brain cells. When these cells die off, production of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter, falls substantially. There are several theories about why these brain cells die. Toxins in the body that are not being eliminated by an overworked liver or environmental toxins, particularly pesticides and herbicides, are believed to be responsible. Even people who have never worked with pesticides or herbicides are vulnerable, since these chemicals have tainted the ground water in many areas of the country.
In conventional medicine, Parkinson’s is often treated with the drug levodopa (sold as Larodopa or Dopar), which is frequently combined with other prescription medications. A surgical technique called deep brain stimulation is also used to implant a device which directs electrical impulses into the brain, but this is high-risk surgery with varying results.
Although there is no definitive test for Parkinson’s, in my practice, I check levels of neurotransmitters and other substances with a simple test called Nutri Eval. Your own physician should be able to do the same, although you may have to request it by name.
Individuals with Parkinson’s often have low levels of essential antioxidants, like glutathione, which prevents detoxification within the body, and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), a substance that keeps the mitochondria (your cellular energy factories) functioning optimally.
With that thought in mind, here are some suggestions for correcting deficiencies and other situations that could lead to Parkinson’s.
Often called your body’s “master antioxidant” because of its importance to your health, glutathione shields your cells and organs from damaging rogue molecules known as free radicals. Glutathione also helps with detoxification of drugs, alcohol, and heavy metals, while recycling other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E.
Your liver produces glutathione, but that process can be compromised by everything from toxins and pollution to poor diet, stress, radiation, and aging. Considering its importance to your health, it’s not surprising that low levels of glutathione are linked to quite a few different diseases, including Parkinson’s, cancer, chronic fatigue, Alzheimer’s, liver disorders, autoimmune disorders, inflammation, and diabetes.
You can enhance levels of glutathione by eating certain foods, especially fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen). Asparagus, avocadoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, leafy greens, spinach, walnuts, the herb milk thistle, and the spice turmeric are all good precursors of this nutrient that help your body produce glutathione.
Glutathione supplements are also available, but their effectiveness varies. One great way to increase glutathione is by taking supplements of N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC). I recommend 600 mg twice daily.
One more point: Individuals with a common genetic defect are likely to have faulty methylation, a process that directs the production of neurotransmitters. (Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that transmit nerve impulses.) Methylation problems are also linked to glutathione depletion. I will explain methylation in more detail in the future.
For now, you only need to know that the information in your genes isn’t necessarily your destiny.
Let’s say, for example, that you have inherited a genetic tendency for developing gray hair at an early age. Just having the gene doesn’t mean that your hair will definitely turn gray in your thirties. For that to happen, the gene must be switched on – or off – by something in the environment. That ‘something’ – also known as an epigenetic factor – could be food, chemicals, behavior, and so on.
For individuals with a specific gene defect, normal methylation requires additional support from methylated members of the B vitamin family, including folate, as well as vitamin B6, and B12. A simple test – the Nutri Eval test I mentioned earlier – can determine whether or not you need assistance with methylation.
This vitamin-like substance plays a major role in firing up the tiny mitochondria inside cells that provide your body with power. As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, CoQ10 sparks the energy production that runs your heart, similar to the spark plugs that “ignite” your car’s engine.
In addition, CoQ10 works as an antioxidant to protect your heart from harm by free radicals. Studies have shown that CoQ10 helps lower bad cholesterol, improve good cholesterol, and protect the heart during a heart attack. With a resume like that, CoQ10 is clearly one nutrient that’s worth its weight in gold.
Although your body produces CoQ10, the amount plummets as you grow older. Like glutathione, low levels of CoQ10 are commonly seen in conjunction with various heart ailments, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and conditions that affect muscles. In addition, CoQ10 supplementation is a must if you take a statin drug such as Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, or Vytorin for cholesterol management, because statins restrict your body’s production of CoQ10.
I recommend CoQ10 supplements to all my patients, with a typical dosage of 100 mg taken twice daily. Supplements are required because it’s difficult to get therapeutic amounts of CoQ10 from food alone. Fish is one of the best sources of CoQ10. But, because of the toxins and pollution in fish these days, I recommend eating it only once per week. Organic, grass-fed beef, lamb, and pork are other good sources, as are organic, free-range eggs. Fresh, raw organic broccoli and spinach are the best CoQ10 sources among vegetables.
Other Ways To Protect Against Parkinson’s
If you don’t practice detoxification regularly, I urge you to review my earlier newsletter on the topic; flushing chemicals and other toxins from your body could shield you from Parkinson’s and a host of other ailments. In addition, here are some additional steps you can take to minimize your risk of developing this devastating disease.
Avoid pesticides and herbicides
If you’re a gardener or work on your lawn, please go organic. There are hundreds of books and websites explaining how to do this. Furthermore, I urge you to eat organic food whenever possible. I know this means spending a little more money, but research is repeatedly showing that chemicals used to kill insects and unwanted plants are damaging our health. Spending a bit more for organic foods can translate into savings on doctor visits, testing, and trips to the hospital, none of which are inexpensive.
In particular, Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup has come under fire recently, after research revealed that it has been found in food, including sugar, corn, soy, and wheat. Earlier studies have shown that Roundup could be connected to a long list of health problems, including Parkinson’s. Researchers note that the government has approved the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, at levels that are a whopping 450 times above the point when this substance is toxic to human DNA. That means that your cells can be damaged or destroyed every time you eat glyphosate-tainted foods.
Enjoy Some Berries
A study from the Harvard School of Public Health examined nearly 130,000 men and women and found that those who eat berries regularly have a lower risk of Parkinson’s than people who do not. Flavonoids, health-promoting substances found in plants and fruit, are believed to be responsible, according to researchers. In addition to berries, other flavonoid-rich foods include apples, oranges and orange juice, tea, and red wine.
Startling results from new animal research show that a sudden drop in testosterone levels can result in Parkinson’s symptoms in males. High levels of stress or life-changing events sometimes cause testosterone levels to fall dramatically. Follow my earlier advice for keeping testosterone levels in the healthy range to avoid this type of complication.
Deal with Depression
People who are suffering from depression are three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology. As I’ve mentioned in earlier newsletters, depression has been linked to a number of other serious ailments, including stroke and cancer, so this is definitely an issue that needs addressed. I suggest reviewing my recommendations for treating depression without using anti-depressants and taking steps to improve your situation. It can make a tremendous difference to your health.
Pick a Pepper
And pile on the tomatoes! A recent study in the Annals of Neurology found that the more foods in the Solanaceae family (pepper, tomatoes and tomato juice, eggplant, potatoes) that were eaten, the less likely the individual was to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
One small point about this study: These foods are members of the nightshade plant family, and they can cause joint pain and other discomforts in some people. If you find that your joints are sore or stiff after consuming these types of food, then you may be sensitive to nightshades and should avoid them.
Question Your Dry Cleaner
More and more dry cleaners are offering so-called “non-toxic” or “environmentally safe” services that involve fewer chemicals. If you haven’t already done so, I recommend switching over from conventional dry cleaning to one of these services, simply to avoid exposure to the chemical trichloroethylene (TCE), which was found in a recent study to increase the risk of Parkinson’s. But do make certain that the cleaners are not using TCE. And be careful with carpet cleaners, paints, and adhesives, which can also contain TCE. Finally, use a high-quality water filter to avoid ground water tainted by the chemical.
There may be no effective cure for Parkinson’s at the moment, but clearly there are steps you can take to avoid the disease. For those who have already been diagnosed, please be aware that long-term exercise programs can alleviate the depression that so often accompanies the disorder. Performing cardiovascular and resistance training for just one hour, three days per week, provided significant relief from depression symptoms. Walking, swimming, dancing, and tai chi are other helpful activities that improve movement and overall health.