Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox are famous people who have Parkinson’s disease, and one in 500 people in Canada will join their ranks. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a degenerative neurological disease that slowly affects the ability to control movement. Symptoms can include tremors, difficulty walking and speaking. Early symptoms can include decreased thirst, loss of smell, constipation, anxiety and decreased arm swinging while walking. This condition was thought to be chronic and progressive and could only be managed with medications. Now, with a deeper understanding of the factors that contribute to nerve cell damage, there are targeted strategies that can slow or even reverse the disease to some degree. Many of these principles are just smart preventative lifestyle strategies for all of us who want to protect our brains from degeneration.
Dr. Laurie Mischley is a naturopathic doctor who works with people with Parkinson’s disease in Seattle. The average Parkinson’s patient has a symptom score of 500 at the time of diagnosis in a standardized test for Parkinson’s, and their score goes up by 38 points per year on average. In contrast, Dr. Mischley’s patients have an average 200-300 point decrease in their score over one year of treatment. Those numbers got my attention when she spoke at a recent brain health conference I attended.
Dr. Mischley is emphatic that Parkinson’s does not have to be a progressive, irreversible disease. Progression can be slowed and sometimes reversed to a degree if we seek to understand what is stressing the neurons and remove those stresses while supporting optimal brain health with targeted lifestyle strategies and natural medicines. Dr. Mischley says that by the time PD is diagnosed, the processes that created it have been in the works for twenty years or more. Science has shown us that risk factors include drinking well water with high manganese or pesticide runoff, head trauma, heavy metal exposure (welders), dairy consumption, pesticide exposure, certain viral or fungal infections, intestinal microbiome imbalances, autoimmune processes, high iron, low B12, smoking, drinking and more. If we can identify and target these neurological stress factors, we can improve brain health.
Lab tests can help us identify the stress factors associated with Parkinson’s disease. These include inflammatory markers (CRP), blood sugar work up, iron, vitamin B12, food allergies, heavy metal testing, intestinal testing, brain auto-antibody testing, vitamin D, oxidative stress tests, (low) cholesterol, homocysteine, DHEA-S, thyroid function and more. Naturopathic physicians can order these types of lab tests and provide thorough analysis.
Dietary interventions include eating more plant-based foods, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds and healthy oils. Fish and organic chicken are encouraged, while dairy, red meat, flour and sugar are discouraged. Exercise can play an important role in Parkinson’s treatment, and our local recreation centres are providing classes specifically for this condition. Natural medicines are also vital for creating an environment in the brain where the nerves can thrive. Coenzyme Q10 and fish oil are associated with better outcomes in PD. Glutathione precursors provide protection against oxidative stress in the brain, which is critical for PD. Targeting heavy metal elimination, autoimmune balancing, gut microbiome restoration, mitochondrial repair, and homocysteine-lowering are the types of individualized treatments on which naturopathic physicians can coach their patients. Medications that promote dopamine are an important aspect of the management of PD, but knowing that you can also address the causative factors and take charge of the progression of this condition is empowering.