Parkinson’s Disease, Is Dopamine To Blame?

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Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive and degenerative neurological disease that is most common around the ages of 60 years and above. 1 to 2% of people aged 60 will have the onset of the disorder.

In the UK alone, every hour someone is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, which means 1 in every 500 people will develop Parkinson’s disease. Unfortunately, we have no way of determining an early diagnosis before the life changing symptoms take hold, providing hope for medical staff across the world.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease affects the nerves that run from the brain through the central nervous system. It is thought that the main chemical responsible for this action is Dopamine. Scientist have observed in the late stages of Parkinson’s disease a distinct loss of Dopamine neurons (dopaminergic) which cause a decrease in production of Dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is essential for movement in the body, hence why majority of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are associated with abnormal movement patterns. The cause of the degradation of nerve cells is so far idiopathic (unknown), however one theory is that it may be caused by faulty Mitochondria. The Mitochondria of a cell produce energy via respiration. Also, during this process they produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) free radicals that cause oxidation and damage within the cell. Faulty Mitochondria release more ROS, which can cause more damage to the lipids and proteins that make up nerves.

Early diagnosis is so important. It has been calculated that the average life expectancy after diagnosis is 12.5 years. There have been recent breakthroughs in the diagnosis of this disease. Current diagnosis is based on symptoms, but by that point the disease has developed. However, 2016 research has found that abnormal proteins found in the cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) may indicate the onset of the disease. It has been found to have 95% accuracy in the diagnosis of 20 people. It is still in the early stages of development and should be introduced as soon as further tests have been completed.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Involuntary shaking
  • Slow movement and response
  • Stiffness of muscles and joints
  • Depression
  • Increased falls
  • Reduction in functionality of memory.

Late stages of the disease are associated with other abnormalities such as increased number of falls, and dementia. These symptoms are unable to be controlled by by Dopamine treatment alone. This has led scientists to believe that Dopamine is not the only cause.

Is Dopamine the main culprit?

The answer is, NO! Although Dopamine appears to be the main indicator it is not the only brain chemical responsible for the onset of the disease. Serotonin has also been shown to have a large impact on the disease. Serotonin is responsible for cognition, emotional and motor control. It was found that Serotonin was also depleted in patients with Parkinson’s disease but not to the degree of Dopamine (66% vs 99%). The reason for this is still unsure but it is thought to be linked to neurodegeneration in areas of the brain where Serotonergic receptors are located. In a brain not effected by Parkinson’s disease 5-HT (Serotonin) receptors help the production of Dopamine.

Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease

Drugs

Drugs are the first treatment used. The primary drug is Levodopa (L-dopa) which is used to promote Dopamine production. Due to the varied side abnormalities of Parkinson’s disease antidepressants, antivirals and ibuprofen are also used. However, side effects are very common with all of the prescribed drugs.

Food

If drugs such as L-dopa are being taken then a high protein diet must be avoided. High levels of proteins and their component amino acids will interfere with the work of the drug and reduce its efficacy.

The “Healthiest diet in the world”, the Mediterranean diet is advised for anyone with the early onset or full development of Parkinson’s because it is neuro-protective. The Mediterranean diet is rich in plant oils, omega oils and polyphenols essential for nerve health.

Supplements

If the Mediterranean diet does not appeal you may need to naturally supplement your Omega Oils. Omega is rich in neuro-protective EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and highly recommended for the health of the nerves. The B-Vitamins are also responsible for the protection of nerves. A B-complex or Multivitamin Supplement may be hugely beneficial. Furthermore, recent research has discovered the therapeutic effects of Caffeine. 2016 research revealed that two compounds referred to as ‘C-8-6-I’ and ‘C-8-6-N’ have been found to protect Dopamine producing cells from developing abnormalities [5]. Finally, 5-HTP, when L-dopa is taken on its own it has been known to deplete L-tyrosine, Serotonin, and L-tryptophan. Before the use of L-dopa people with Parkinson’s have 50% less Serotonin than people without the disease. This is further depleted once L-dopa is taken. It has been shown that taking 5-HTP alongside L-dopa can ensure more effective treatment for the patient [6].

Although, lack of Serotonin (5-HTP) isn’t the main cause of Parkinson’s disease it certainly plays a functional role in the onset of diseases and taking 5-HTP a natural Serotonin stimulant may just be the answer to the reduction of your symptoms. Please note that any supplements or changes to drug intake must be first discussed with a doctor or practitioner.

Despite so little being known of Parkinson’s disease, progress has been great, everyday great strides are made to ensure that we get to the root of problem. As famous Parkinson’s Disease patient Micheal J.Fox said:

Often people with Parkinson’s think that if you’re symptomatic it’s reflective of some kind of flaw. It’s not, it’s purely a scientific thing”

  1. Parkinson's UK. (2016). Facts for Journalists. Available: https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/content/facts-journalists.
  2. Escott-Stump.S. (2015). 4: Neurosychiatric Conditions- Parkinson's Disease . In: Joyce, J and Malakoff-Klein, E Nutrition and Diagnosis-Related Care. 8th ed. Philadelphia: Walters-Kluwer. Pg. 263-265.
  3. NHS. (2016). Parkinson's Disease. Available: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Parkinsons-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx.
  4. Fox.S, Chuang.R, Brotchie.J. (2009). Serotonin and Parkinson's disease: On movement, mood, and madnes. Movement Disorders. 24 (9), Pg. 1255-1266.
  5. Whiteman,H. (2016). How caffeine could help slow Parkinson's disease.Available: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313241.php.
  6. Hinz.M et-al. (2011). Amino acid management of Parkinson’s disease: a case study. International Journal of Genetic Medicine . 4 (2), Pg. 165-174.
  7. Fox,M . (2015). 21 motivational Michael J Fox quotes on living with Parkinson’s disease. Available: http://parkinsonslife.eu/21-motivational-michael-j-fox-quotes-on-living-with-parkinsons-disease/.

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