Parkinson’s Disease: The Mystery, the Myth and the Magic
Despite its prominence in contemporary literature and the text book symptoms, diagnosis and “standard of care” treatments, there’s a lot of myth and misinformation floating around about this disease.
Plus, most of the authoritative answers are written in medical language that you need a medical degree to understand. You shouldn’t be confused about Parkinson’s simply because you didn’t go to medical school.
Parkinson’s is a condition that has been known about since ancient times. It is referred to in the ancient Indian medical system of Ayurveda under the name Kampavata. In Western medical literature it was described by the physician Galen as “shaking palsy” in AD 175. However it was not until 1817 that a detailed medical essay was published on the subject by London doctor James Parkinson.
The publication was entitled “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy.” This established Parkinson’s disease as a recognized medical condition. The essay was based on six cases he had observed in his own practice and on walks around his neighborhood. The essay was intended to encourage others to study the disease. Some 60 years after it was first published, a French neurologist by the name of Jean Martin Charcot did exactly that. Charcot was the first to truly recognize the importance of Parkinson’s work and named the disease after him.
Much has been learned about the disease yet much remains a mystery. The symptoms are progressive and degenerative and tend to be more common in older individuals. It is understood that a dopamine deficiency in the brain is at the root of the matter, yet why this initially occurs is less clear. It wasn’t until the 1960s that that the chemical differences in the brains of Parkinson’s patients were identified. The low levels of dopamine cause the degeneration of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra. It was this discovery that lead to the first effective medicinal treatment of the disease. In the 1960s, the drug Levodopa was first administered to treat the symptoms and has since become the “gold standard” in medication.
Since the 1960s, research has continued to progress at a rapid rate. Despite the fact there is still no cure (The Myth), the symptoms can now be effectively controlled and reduced in severity. The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation was established in America in1957 to assist sufferers and to fund and promote further research. Many other foundations assisting the cause have been established in the following years.
A notable recent addition is the Michael J Fox Foundation, named after the much-loved television and movie actor. The foundation has been very public about its goal of developing a cure for the disease within this decade. Since its inception in 2000, it has succeeded in raising over 90 million US dollars. But it has made no more progress than for any of the other autoimmune, chronic degenerative and “incurable diseases” we posture to pursue within the convention model of what we know, what we think we know, or what we believe to be true.
Progress on all fronts is gaining momentum. Hope for the future of the “Shaking Palsy,” it seems, is decidedly solid, particularly in light of new information (almost 30 years old) that holds the promise of a paradigm shift in the fields of Neuroscience, Brain Chemistry and Quantum Physics.
Hope is a powerful thing. Without hope for a better future, no matter what the affliction, the will to live is lost and recovery is impossible.
Imagine, then, being told by your doctor that you have a progressive and degenerative disease that robs you of the ability to control your own body. A disease for which there is no cure.
This is the reality for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Hope is offered in the form of medication such as Levodopa. Levodopa acts to restore levels of dopamine in the brain. Remember, the perceived mechanism, the lack of dopamine, is the primary reason believed to be the cause for the symptoms associated with the condition.
Consequently, many have sought hope in alternative treatments. Parkinson’s disease has been a recognized ailment in virtually all cultures since ancient times. Many of these ancient treatments are becoming popular in the west and are increasingly validated by western medicine.
This has been practiced in India for 5000 years. Parkinson’s symptoms are mentioned in ancient text under the name Kampavata. Ayurvedic medicine is a comprehensive system placing equal emphasis on diet, exercise, meditation, massage and herbs. One such herb, Mucuna Puriens, is gaining attention in conventional circles as its effects mimic synthetic Levodopa, with fewer side effects.
Australian researchers discovered that broad beans, also known as fava beans, are an extremely effective natural source of L-dopa. The highest concentration of L-dopa is found in the pod, so they are most effective when consumed whole.
St John’s Wort
Dopamine influences positive feelings in the brain, and since dopamine levels are low in Parkinson’s patients, depression is often a symptom. St John’s Wort is an herb that has been used in Europe for many years. It has been proven to be effective in alleviating depression and insomnia.
Botulinum toxin A
One of the obvious manifestations of Parkinson’s is uncontorllable movements know collectively as Dystonia. Dystonia is characterized by involuntary sustained muscle contraction resulting in repetitive movements, twisting and/or abnormal postures. Most people know of Botulinum Toxin (BTn) injections as a treatment for wrinkles; however, the true wealth in this chemical treatment is its overall effectiveness in the management of dystonia and other movement disorders when in a weak solution.
The indications for its use are expanding and now include treatment of tremor and pain, both of which are common symptoms associated with Parkinson’s. For most patients with these symptoms, BTn injections provide significant but variable relief of the symptoms that lasts for weeks to months (an average of 3 months). However, repeated injections are required to sustain benefit over long periods of time.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
This has been shown to have an effect on the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. However, it is unclear whether it actually slows the disease or simply temporarily alleviates symptoms. The drawback is the massive dose required.
The effective dose is approximately 1,200 milligrams a day, well above the 60 to 90 milligrams recommended by many alternative therapy advocates.
Acupuncture has bee used for centuries in China to correct energy disturbances in the body. It has become a popular method of treatment for Parkinson’s sufferers the world over. So far, there are no placebo-controlled studies that show acupuncture can treat the motor control symptoms of the disease, but there is some evidence that it can assist with sleep disturbances. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that it may be effective in increasing feelings of well-being and relaxation.
While not treating the Parkinson’s symptoms directly, massage can help reduce some of the discomfort associated with muscle stiffness that is commonly experienced by patients.
Alternative treatments for many diseases come and go. Some become fashionable for a short while only to be discredited and discarded. Others accumulate a growing body of scientific and popular support. It is to a large extent simply a matter of trial and error.
Nonetheless, each of these “alternatives” has as its foundation and primary goal to mimic synthetic Levodopa, with fewer side effects.
As a physician with almost 37 years of experience in clinical practice, I have had the opportunity to treat hundreds of patients with this dreaded disorder. I’ve lectured to support groups, to the Parkinson’s Association and treated the wife of the President of the local Parkinson’s Society with great success.
One of the reasons for this success is that I don’t perceive Parkinson’s as a Disease, but rather a SYMPTOM of a fundamental imbalance or deficiency rooted in areas that conventional exploration has avoided.
This simple strategy involves looking at things nobody else is looking at in ways that nobody else is looking at them in order to address the cause of the SYMPTOM rather than treating the effect of the imbalance or deficiency, i.e., the SYMPTOM.
In order to explore possible causes for the low levels of dopamine causing the degeneration of nerve cells in part of the brain called the Substantia Nigra, we must always begin with the question, “WHY”?
In order to answer this initial question we must explore the mechanism of normal function, what’s involved in it and what could possibly alter its normal behavior.