What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Parkinson’s disease results from the death of certain nerve cells in a part of the brain known as the substantia nigra. Normally, these cells produce an important chemical messenger called dopamine. Dopamine carries messages between nerves, and helps nerves communicate with muscles to coordinate body movement. Death of these dopamine-producing cells in the brain results in low dopamine levels, which causes problems with movement and coordination because nerve cells are unable to communicate effectively with each other and with muscle cells.
Parkinson’s disease causes
The cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown. It is thought that many factors may contribute to disease onset, including genetics, environmental toxins such as herbicides and pesticides, the natural ageing process, and oxidative stress.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
The main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease involve changes in the way your limbs and muscles move and behave. Symptoms include rigidity, tremor, slowness of movement, loss of facial expressions, disturbances of gait and difficulty walking. Later symptoms include depression, sleep disturbance, and cognitive disturbances including dementia.
Parkinson’s disease treatment
There is a range of treatment options available to you, and we recommend an integrated “team approach” to your health management.
- Medical care: Your GP will support you in your day-to-day medical needs and recommend referrals to suitable specialists. A neurologist will be able to guide you in which medications to take, and adjust dosages as required to achieve maximum benefit. It is best to find one that specialises in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
- Psychology: A psychologist will provide support in dealing with the adverse psychological aspects of Parkinson’s disease, including anxiety and depression.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture may be helpful for pain control in Parkinson’s disease.
- Osteopathy: Osteopathy may help to improve gait stability in people with Parkinson’s.
- Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can show you techniques that make daily living activities such as dressing, eating and bathing easier.
Naturopathic approach to Parkinson’s disease
This section will discuss some of the naturopathic approaches to management of Parkinson’s disease. We advise you to consult your health carers before considering commencing any of these therapies, as some therapies below may interact with medications.
A nutritious diet will allow your body to work more efficiently and give you more energy. While there is no specific diet for people with Parkinson's disease, here are some simple principles of nutritious eating that are extremely beneficial:
- Eat a variety of foods including fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and nuts and seeds.
- Enjoy fish a few times a week. Omega-3’s found in fish are anti-inflammatory and may be beneficial in Parkinson’s disease.
- Moderate protein intake. A low protein diet is not desirable, but a high protein diet may interfere with your medication. Check with your doctor whether you need to moderate your protein intake.
- Include high-fibre foods. These include vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains. These will help prevent constipation, a common issue in Parkinson’s disease.
- Try to limit refined sugar.
- Avoid saturated, rancid, and trans fats.
- Aim to drink two litres of water per day. This will also help prevent constipation.
Exercise is extremely important in maintaining physical function including muscle strength, coordination, gait stability, balance, and speed, and reducing muscle freezing. Regular exercise will also help with weight management and quality of life. A tailored exercise program can be designed by your physiotherapist and will usually include active and passive exercises, gait training, and practice of every-day activities.
Maintain a healthy weight with a nutritious diet and regular exercise. Weight loss is common in Parkinson’s disease and should be monitored. Increasing intake of protein and healthy fats may be necessary to prevent weight loss.
- Antioxidants: Oxidative stress is suspected to play a role in Parkinson’s disease. It is thought that oxidative stress may cause damage to the nerve cells that produce dopamine. Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, selenium and lipoic acid may help protect against free radical damage.
- CoQ10: Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant vitamin that is involved in cellular energy production. Cellular energy production (carried out by ‘mitochondria’ which are your cellular engines) may be impaired in people with Parkinson’s disease, and may contribute to loss of the dopamine-producing nerve cells. Daily doses of CoQ10 may improve some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Your integrative team of health care specialists
At The Health Lodge, medical doctors, and complementary therapists work together to help you achieve and maintain your best possible state of health and wellbeing. We believe that a multidisciplinary team of health care professionals is essential in managing all the aspects of Parkinson’s disease. Your multidisciplinary team may include general practitioners, neurologists, naturopaths, dieticians, physiotherapists, osteopaths, acupuncturists, counsellors, psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, specialist nurses and carers. This comprehensive and holistic approach will support your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.