By Dr. Scott Saunders, M.D.
At age 68 Sally was living alone, and enjoying it. She had two daughters who lived nearby and she loved to visit her grandchildren. Her daughter brought her into my office because she had developed a tremor in her lip and left hand, difficulty walking, problems sleeping and stiffness of the muscles. She was worried that she would no longer be able to live in her apartment where she enjoyed the environment and her friends.
Parkinson’s is not really a disease, it’s a syndrome, or a collection of symptoms. It happens when there is not enough dopamine being created in the brain, and can have many causes. Generally it is due to toxic insults to the brain, but Parkinson’s can be caused by hardening of the arteries, inflammation, or even genes.
Sally had most of the symptoms typical of Parkinson’s disease
The diagnosis is made by symptoms. It is not an exact science, so the typical Parkinson’s symptoms is all that is necessary. These include:
- Stiffness in the muscles
- Tremors, usually only while resting. If the tremor happens while using the muscle it is more often a different problem.
- Flat affect, or lack of emotion in the face due to lack of facial muscle tone
- Difficulty getting started, as in walking, but once started continuing is easier
- Shuffling gait
- Sleep problems
Parkinson’s is not deadly, but rather a progressively disabling problem. It can have either rapid or slow progression, depending on the cause.
“How did I get Parkinson’s disease?”
Sally is active, thin, she eats well, and takes care of herself. Her daughter works in a vitamin store and makes sure she gets her vitamins. She was curious as to how she could come down with such an illness. One of the problems is that it often takes some investigation to find the Parkinson’s cause because there are so many. Moreover, there may be multiple factors such as genetics, toxins, and a lack of nutrients. Any one of them may not have produced Parkinson’s symptoms, but the three together do.
Although the large majority of cases are not genetic, there are clearly some known genes that pre-dispose to Parkinson’s.
- Carbon disulfide, and organophosphate pesticides
- Manganese – an essential mineral that becomes toxic in large amounts
- Heavy metals such as lead and mercury damage neurons
- Carbon monoxide prevents oxygen from getting to the brain
- Medications such as antipsychotics used to treat schizophrenia, paranoia, sleep disorders, and depression
- Parkinson’s medications including L-dopa cause oxidation and damage the Substantia Nigra in the brain, causing progression of the disease
- MPTP, a heroin contaminant that may be found in street drugs
Atherosclerosis and stroke
If a stroke causes damage to the areas of the brain that co-ordinate activity, then symptoms of Parkinson’s disease may result.
Some of the toxins produce oxidative stress, but other sources of inflammation may also produce Parkinson’s symptoms. General metabolism, or the normal production of energy in the nerve cells, produces oxygen free-radicals so a lack of anti-oxidants may lead to brain cell damage.
Vitamins and minerals protect the brain from harm by blocking free-radical production, and allowing normal energy flow. When there isn’t enough, there may be either damage directly to neurons, or indirectly by allowing toxins to cause more damage.
Because there are so many different causes of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and the treatment is substantially different for each, it is imperative to know the cause before seeking treatment.
“How can I treat it?”
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