Natural Treatments For Parkinson's Disease

By Joel Fuhrman, M.D. www.drfuhrman.com

Studies Show That Some Supplements May Offer Benefits!

A number of supplements currently are being studied for their potential therapeutic value on Parkinson’s disease (PD). There are only a few clinical studies on these substances as of yet, but some of them may be promising additional therapies for those with PD. They claim to work by decreasing oxidative stress, increasing dopamine availability, or decreasing inflammation.

Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress, probably due in part to environmental toxins, are key contributors to the progression of PD; therefore, antioxidant therapies are of interest. For several reasons, the brain is the organ most susceptible to oxidative stress. It uses the most oxygen and produces the most energy; its high iron content can catalyze oxidation; its unsaturated fatty acids are prone to oxidative damage; and its antioxidant defenses are relatively low. The mitochondria are the most vulnerable components of brain cells.25, 26 Mitochondrial antioxidant nutrients prevent the generation of oxidant molecules, scavenge and inhibit the activity of oxidants, repair oxidative damage by enhancing antioxidant defense systems, and act as cofactors for mitochondrial enzymes. Mitochondrial antioxidant nutrients include alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl- L-carnitine, and coenzyme Q10.There is preliminary evidence that these molecules, especially in combination, may slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.27

Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid modulates the activity of mitochondrial enzymes, regenerates vitamins C and E, and increases intracellular levels of glutathione (an important antioxidant that is much depleted in the brains of PD sufferers) to combat oxidative stress.28 Alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to improve cognition and slow progression of early Alzheimer’s disease (AD),29 and improve diabetic neuropathy,30 but data on PD remains confined to cell culture and animal models of the disease.

In a cell culture model, pretreatment with alpha-lipoic acid had a protective effect on rotenoneinduced mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative damage in neuronal cells. Acetyl-L-carnitine had similar effects, and when these two nutrients were combined, the antioxidant effect was much larger.31 Alphalipoic acid also has been shown to decrease dopaminergic neuron loss in a mouse model of PD.32

Acetyl-L-Carnitine

Acetyl-L-carnitine is another potential mitochondrial therapy for PD. As mentioned above, it may have additive beneficial effects with alpha-lipoic acid on oxidative stress in the brain.29 A clinical study using acetyl-L-carnitine saw improvement in sleep patterns and muscle response to nerve stimulation in patients with PD.33 A 2003 meta-analysis concluded that acetyl-L-carnitine has therapeutic benefit for early AD as well.34

Coenzyme Q10

CoQ10 has been studied in PD patients soon after diagnosis, before movement symptoms necessitated levodopa treatment. Compared to placebo, CoQ10-treated individuals showed slower progression of the disease over 16 months, as well as higher scores in motor control, cognition, behavior, mood, and daily activities.35

L-Tyrosine

Certain amino acids are precursor molecules that can be converted to neurotransmitters. L-tyrosine is one such molecule. It can be converted to dopamine in the brain and has been shown to increase dopamine levels in PD patients.36 Levodopa, the standard medication for PD (which also is converted to dopamine), can block absorption of Ltyrosine, so the two must be given at different times of the day.25 One study suggests that L-tyrosine produced results comparable to levodopa with fewer side effects.37

DHA

DHA is an important structural component of the brain. Those with neurodegenerative diseases often have a loss of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), including DHA, in the cell membranes of the brain. Cell membrane composition of PUFA closely reflects dietary intake of PUFA; therefore, increasing dietary intake of DHA has favorable effects on brain levels of DHA.38 DHA interacts with alphasynuclein, a protein involved in PD, and this interaction may render the protein inactive or subject to degradation. 39 As discussed above, DHA deficiency is linked to PD, so taking DHA is both an important preventive measure and a component of treatment for PD.

GLA

This anti-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid has been reported to improve tremor associated with PD.25

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