What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is the most common serious movement disorder and the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the world (the first being Alzheimer’s). The disease involves loss of neurons in the specific area of the brain that controls motor movement, the substantia nigra (Latin for “black substance”). Parts of the substantia nigra are darker due to high levels of melanin in these dopamine-producing neurons. The substantia nigra is part of the basal ganglia. Parkinson’s disease is caused by the gradual death of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. Many of these neurons are rich in dopamine, and the loss of these neurons means a loss of dopamine. Therefore, a loss of control of movement is the central theme in Parkinson’s.
Another finding in the brains of people with Parkinson’s is the presence of Lewy bodies in the remaining neurons. These Lewy bodies, or protein accumulations, have been associated with the destruction of brain cells in Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?
The cause of Parkinson’s disease is not entirely known. As with most conditions, the development of Parkinson’s is thought to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Genetics plays a smaller role in the development of late-onset Parkinson’s, but in young-onset Parkinson’s, the genetic link has been found to be stronger. (read more)
The primary causes of Parkinson’s that are currently being studied include:
Oxidative stress occurs in the body when there are too many free radicals, which create different forms of oxygen-free radicals (superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, hydroxide). Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that cause damage when they are present in high amounts. When the body’s immune system and antioxidant levels are normal, free radicals are kept under control and do not cause cell damage. But, when there are too many free radicals, they injure cells and cause cell death leading to significant decreases in dopamine.
To make matters worse, free radicals can also be formed when dopamine is broken down. This can lead to the inability of proteosomes (cell trash processors) to remove intracellular protein wastes (Lewy bodies). This intracellular accumulation of waste further impairs the cell’s ability to make dopamine. In a healthy body (or brain), these free radicals are detoxified by glutathione. In a Parkinson’s patient, this does not happen in a normal way. Studies are underway looking at the effects of different antioxidants (including glutathione) in Parkinson’s patients.
Free radicals also play a role in mitochondrial dysfunction in Parkinson’s patients.
Excitotoxicity is the process by which neurons are damaged and destroyed in the brain. Glutamate naturally occurs in the brain, but when it exists in high quantities, or when glutamate receptors are not functioning correctly, it can cause cell death in the brain.
Excitotoxicity has been implicated in other conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and even stroke. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been shown to cause excitotoxicity in the brain in animal studies, and many caution against ingesting this ingredient, which is widespread in processed foods.
Inflammation in the brain, or neuroinflammation, is another possible cause of Parkinson’s disease. In fact, inflammation may lead to a worsening of oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and cell death. Environmental exposures and chronic inflammatory conditions can potentially trigger this neuroinflammation. Inflammation even reaches the brain and can produce devastating effects.
The main environmental risk factors that have been associated with Parkinson’s disease are:
Numerous studies have found an association between pesticide exposure and Parkinson’s disease. Some researchers believed that pesticide exposure was only a risk factor because it went along with rural living, farming and drinking well water. A recent study, however, has found that pesticide exposure is a risk factor even in people who did not live in rural areas, and who did not drink well water. Another study found that people who use pesticides in their homes are twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as those people who are not exposed.
Manganese poisoning has also been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Manganese exposure is most common in industries such as welding, mining, and steel manufacturing.
Diet may also play a role in the development of Parkinson’s. High intake of dairy products, especially in men, is associated with a greater risk of developing the disease. Men with the highest intakes had a 60 percent greater chance of developing Parkinson’s than men with the lowest intakes. This is an interesting link that is being further investigated.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
There are four main characteristics of Parkinson’s disease: (read more)
Rest tremor refers to shaking, usually of a limb, upon rest or when it is not being used. Rest tremor is the most common and easily recognized symptom of Parkinson’s. Rest tremors can also occur in the lips, chin or jaw. In Parkinson’s, tremor rarely occurs in the neck, head or with the voice. While most Parkinson’s patients experience rest tremor, up to 11 percent do not. This has been the cause of some confusion in patients, and even some doctors. The shaking of Parkinson’s is sometimes thought to be a universal symptom, and patients who do not exhibit tremors are sometimes misdiagnosed.
Rigidity is often described as stiffness, cramps, or aches and pains. This symptom often begins as shoulder stiffness, which can be misdiagnosed as arthritis, bursitis or rotator cuff injury. Rigidity may or may not occur in a Parkinson’s patient.
Bradykinesia is a slowness of movement. Most people with Parkinson’s have this symptom, and it can appear in a variety of ways. Bradykinesia can be mistaken for muscle weakness in the patient, but what is really occurring is a slowed movement. Some variations of bradykinesia include: difficulty with fine motor tasks, difficulty initiating movement, change in gait or walking (slow, shuffling, or dragging one leg), freeze attacks (sudden halt while walking), masked face (expressionless), micrographia (very small writing), and hypophonia (high-pitched voice).
Postural instability involves the loss of balance. In young-onset Parkinson’s, this symptom is usually absent for a number of years. As the disease progresses, and in many older adults with Parkinson’s, balance becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. Postural instability is a cause of falls in up to 38 percent of Parkinson’s patients.
Development of these motor symptoms in Parkinson’s usually begins on one side of the body. As the disease progresses, the other side is affected, but this may take many years. Other motor symptoms that may be seen in those with Parkinson’s are decreased blinking, limited upward gaze, difficulty speaking, drooling, and decrease in swallowing.
Many people notice that their Parkinson’s symptoms worsen with stress. There is a physiologic reason for this. The body produces adrenaline, or epinephrine, to deal with stress. Adrenaline is formed from dopamine, however, which is the very chemical that is deficient in those with Parkinson’s. This highlights the importance of stress management in people with Parkinson’s.
Brenda’s Better Way Of Dealing With Parkinson’s Disease
Since there are many interventions including diet, exercise, specific supplementation, stress reduction, quality sleep, good elimination, detoxification and chelation of toxic metals (including excess iron) that may prevent progression of PD, it would be worth looking into early diagnostic testing and natural treatments that could prevent this condition from fully manifesting.
The inflammation and toxicity associated with Parkinson’s disease can be the result of long-term gut issues and toxin exposure that overburdens the body resulting in neurological damage. Many people with this condition have had constipation for their entire lives, so fixing digestive problems is important. Finding underlying gut imbalances with a comprehensive stool analysis (CSA) can be beneficial, as can toxicity testing, such as a heavy metal hair analysis.
Another possible underlying factor in people with Parkinson’s disease is Lyme disease, which involves a bacterial infection when certain Borrelia bacteria is transmitted through a tick bite. This infection, when undiagnosed for a period of time, enters the central nervous system forming a cyst and creating neurological symptoms that are similar to Parkinson’s disease (also Alzheimer’s disease). Because the symptoms of Lyme disease resemble many other conditions, and because people may not even know that they were bitten by a tick, this condition often goes undetected.
Following the recommendations below will help to build a healthy foundation that can help reduce inflammation and underlying digestive imbalance.