Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative illness of the nervous system that results in loss of intentional movement and impaired motor functioning. Parkinson’s disease symptoms affects smooth, natural movements of the body, and can make it hard to perform everyday tasks like speaking properly, walking, swallowing and sleeping.
With Parkinson’s, the area of the brain that controls muscular movements receives less dopamine than usual. Dopamine is an important chemical necessary for not only coordinating proper body movements, but also things like learning, increasing motivation and regulating moods. This is one reason why depression and other mood changes often affect those with Parkinson’s.
What causes Parkinson’s, and is it curable? There is no specific known cause, but some aggravating factors include exposure to certain chemicals and toxic water, plus inflammation of the brain. While there is no cure for Parkinson’s (the condition is both chronic and progressive), there are medications available to boost dopamine in the brain and help manage symptoms.
A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan also found a possible way to stop the progression of Parkinson’s. Researchers created caffeine-based chemical compounds — which also contained nicotine, metformin and aminoindan — that prevented the misfolding of alpha-synuclein, a protein necessary for dopamine regulation. (2)
When it comes to the effectiveness of medications and traditional drugs, often over time Parkinson’s symptoms will stop responding. This is why it’s very important to take extra measures to slow down the progression of symptoms, ideally in the early stages of the disease. Below you’ll learn about natural ways to help do this, including Parkinson’s remedies like eating an anti-inflammatory diet and exercising — both of which can effectively improve this difficult condition.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects older people most often, and men more often than women. (3) It’s believed to be caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors.
Characteristics of Parkinson’s include tremors, muscle stiffness, poor balance and difficulty walking. Although symptoms vary from person to person, with time simple tasks — like getting dressed in the morning or going to work — can often become a chore.
Because Parkinson’s disease is a chronic condition, symptoms usually persist over a long period of time and also progress with age. Each Parkinson’s patient is different, so it’s common to experience varying levels of different symptoms. For this reason, some patients respond better to certain natural treatments than others.
Symptoms and Warning Signs
Symptoms of Parkinson’s fall into two major categories: those related to motor functions, and those related to changes in someone’s mood. The four most common signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include: (4)
- Trembling: This usually presents itself in the arms, jaw, legs and face.
- Rigidity: Most patients experience stiffness of the body’s core (trunk area) as well as their arms and legs.
- Bradykinesia: This is the term for slowness of movement. Some patients pause or freeze when moving without being able to start again, and others begin to shuffle when trying to walk.
- Postural instability (poor posture): This results in loss of strength, loss of balance and problems with moving muscles or coordinating body parts.
Other symptoms that can also occur, which often impact someone’s moods and other behaviors, include:
- Depression and fatigue
- Urinary problems
- Trouble speaking or eating normally
- Digestive issues, including constipation
- Trouble sleeping
- Skin problems
- Voice changes
- Sexual dysfunction
Risk Factors and Causes
There isn’t one single cause of Parkinson’s that has been proven at this time. Researchers believe a loss of the neurotransmitter dopamine, neurological damage, inflammation and brain cell deterioration are among the primary factors that trigger Parkinson’s development. But why exactly patients develop these problems is a complex issue that remains up for debate.
What is known is that certain risk factors can make someone more susceptible to developing Parkinson’s disease, which can include: (5)
- Being a man, especially during older age. Research suggests that men in their 50s and 60s are most likely to develop Parkinson’s.
- Genetic susceptibility: Studies have now identified several gene mutations that can put someone at a greater risk. Parkinson’s has also been found to run in families, and having a sibling or parent increases someone’s risk.
- Damage to the area of the brain called the “substantia nigra,” which produces brain cells that are responsible for making dopamine.
- Toxicity and exposure to chemicals, including pesticides present on produce from non-organic farming. Living in a rural area and drinking well-water that might contain chemicals is another environmental risk factor.
- Poor diet, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies and an unhealthy lifestyle.
- Hormonal imbalances and other medical conditions that affect cognitive health and increase inflammation.
Although they are not the only option, pharmaceutical drugs can be used to help stabilize a Parkinson’s patient’s moods and improve motor control. Parkinson’s treatments can be classified into three general categories: (6)
- Symptomatic treatments: these include pharmaceuticals such as levodopa (L-dopa), Inosine and Carbidopa, which increase the production of dopamine in the brain. Less common drugs that are also sometimes used to control symptoms include bromocriptine, pramipexole and ropinirole.
- Neuro-protective treatments: These can include surgeries such as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) or tissue removal.
- Cure-based strategies: These are still being investigated and are the future of Parkinson’s treatments. The latest research shows that natural treatments for Parkinson’s, described below, can greatly help lower someone’s risk and also improve quality of life in Parkinson’s patients.
Specifically with DBS, a clinical trial published in 2018 has shown that behavioral outcomes are better in young patients who are treated using traditional deep brain stimulation with medication than with medication alone. Of the 251 participants, 124 were assigned to receive medical therapy plus bilateral subthalamic stimulation. At the two-year follow-up period, the medicine dosage decreased by 39 percent. Additionally, neuropsychiatric fluctuations (or mood disturbances) decreased with this group. Of the 124 participants who only received medical therapy, medicine dosage increased by 21 percent and mood disturbances did not alter. (7)
While we’re still discussing DBS, a 2017 clinical study highlighted that adaptive deep brain stimulation could potentially be more efficient, impactful and specific versus traditional deep brain stimulation. The study states, “adaptive deep brain stimulation uses feedback about the state of neural circuits to control stimulation rather than delivering fixed stimulation all the time, as currently performed.” Both adaptive and traditional DBS suppressed activity in the subthalamic nucleus in the brain, adaptive DBS achieves a greater suppression due to its shorter burst duration. (8)
Best Foods for Parkinson’s
It’s important for Parkinson’s patients to eat a whole foods, nutrient-dense diet that includes plenty of fresh organic fruit, vegetables and high-quality meats. Removing processed foods and those that contain preservatives, synthetic ingredients and other chemicals is also very beneficial.
To improve this condition, start with a healthy Parkinson’s disease diet that includes the following foods:
- Raw foods: Raw fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants to help reduce free radical damage and lower inflammation.
- High fiber foods: Constipation is common among Parkinson’s patients, so be sure to eat plenty of fiber and also stay adequately hydrated to help improve bowel functions.
- Healthy Fats: Consuming healthy fats can support neurological health and help prevent worsening moods. Add in foods like wild-caught fish, avocado, coconut, pastured butter, and sprouted nuts or seeds like walnuts and flax.
- Cold-pressed oils: Olive oil used as salad dressing can provide essential vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant. Coconut oil and palm oil are also beneficial oils to include in your diet since they have anti-inflammatory effects.
- Omega-3 foods: Increasing omega-3 intake can help elevate dopamine levels and reduce inflammation. Focus on consuming wild seafood several times weekly, as well as including nuts and seeds in your diet.
- Fresh vegetable juices: These help provide essential vitamins and mineral. Fresh juice is also hydrating and can help with constipation.
- Having protein at dinner only: Keeping protein levels moderate throughout the day has been shown to help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s. (9)
- Green Tea: Green tea contains polyphenol antioxidants that help fight free radicals. It also contains theanine, which elevates dopamine levels in the brain. Try drinking three cups a day to reap the most benefits.
- Many people also benefit from eliminating grains completely.
- For more details on increasing intake of nutrient-dense foods, check out the Healing Foods Diet Plan.
Foods to Avoid
- Too much protein: Reducing protein intake can improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
- Processed foods: Toxins and additives found in these foods can make Parkinson’s worse. Removing these from a young age is also a preventative step that lowers risk for other age-related illnesses too.
- Artificial sweeteners & added sugar: These are considered toxic and can make Parkinson’s symptoms worse.
- Alcohol: Can disrupt neurologic functioning and contribute to mood changes or complications.
- Any potential food allergens: Food allergies may exacerbate Parkinson’s symptoms by worsening gut health and inflammation. Start by limiting the common allergens that include gluten, dairy, shellfish and peanuts.
Supplements and Essential Oils
- Coenzyme Q10 (1,200 milligrams daily): A powerful antioxidant that can help slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown that very low levels of coenzyme Q10 in the brain and blood of Parkinson’s patients. Mitochondria are responsible for the production of energy for our cells, but during production, a by-product of spare electrons is created. When these electrons escape the cell, they are known as free radicals that are responsible for oxidative damage to the brain and linked to cognitive problems. To combat the damage, every cell of the body contains a powerful antioxidant called coenzyme Q10, but people with high levels of oxidative damage can afford to consume even more.
- Vitamin C (750 milligrams, 4x daily): Can be used as an antioxidant to prevent free radical damage. Also supports strong immune function.
- Vitamin E (400 IU daily): An important antioxidant that supports the brain.
- Green vegetables powder supplement: Make sure the formula includes spirulina, chlorella or wheatgrass to provide critical minerals and help with detoxification.
- Omega-3 fish oil (1,000 milligrams daily): Helps reduce inflammation and supports neurological health.
- Vitamin D: To maintain bone health, make sure your diet includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D. People who are over the age of 50 should consume 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily along with at least 800 IU of vitamin D (from the sun, foods and supplements).
- Essential oils for Parkinson’s: Using essential oils may effectively reduce and calm some of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease such as depression, sleep trouble, skin inflammation and digestive issues. Helichrysum and frankincense oil have been shown to reduce inflammation of the brain, and vetiver oil has been found to reduce tremors. Rub 2 drops frankincense, helichrysum and vetiver oil on the temples and neck two times daily or put 2 drops of frankincense on the roof of the mouth.
Exercises and Other Movement Remedies
Washington University School of Medicine reports that exercise is the forefront of Parkinson’s treatment. (11) While people with Parkinson’s are not always able to exercise the way they once did before the disease, studies have actually found that most can retain the ability to participate in many forms of exercise just as well as age-matched subjects without the disease. In those who might be at risk for Parkinson’s but have not yet developed symptoms, research suggests that “midlife exercise significantly reduces the later risk of both dementia and other mild cognitive impairments.” (12)
Numerous studies now show that exercise seems to have many anti-inflammatory, antidepressant and neuroprotective mechanisms that improve cognitive health. Animal studies have revealed many exercise-related protective effects including reductions in dopaminergic neurotoxins, improved brain neurotrophic factors and improved neuroplasticity.
1. Move With Caution
Parkinson’s can throw off someone’s sense of balance and make it difficult to walk with a normal gait. Here are tips that can make movement safer and a bit easier:
- Try not to move too quickly, and consider using a supportive cane or device when needed.
- When you’re walking, try to make sure your heel hits the floor first. Work on rolling through your feet as you move forward.
- If you find yourself shuffling, stop and adjust your posture.
- Look straight ahead as you walk, not down at the ground. When turning around, resist the tendency to pivot at your feet. Instead, make a U-turn.
- Try to avoid leaning or reaching and keep your center of gravity over your feet.
2. Stretch to Prevent Stiff Muscles
Gentle exercise and stretching make everyday tasks easier. They can also help reduce stiffness, soreness and pain. Here’s a simple four-step sequence you can do daily to keep loose and prevent muscle spasms or pain:
- Stand eight inches away from a wall and reach your arms upward. Place your hands on the wall for balance and stretch out your arms and back.
- Next, turn around and place your back against the wall for balance. Gently march in place, lifting your knees as high as possible.
- Sitting in a chair, reach your arms behind the chair, bringing your shoulders back as far as possible. Lift your head toward the ceiling as you stretch.
- From the chair, stomp your feet up and down while pumping your arms back and forth at your sides.
3. Practice Mind-Body Exercises Like Tai Chi
Tai chi is the Chinese martial art of slow, rhythmic movement. Research conducted by the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at West China Hospital shows that in Parkinson’s patients, tai chi is great for maintaining strength and balance, reducing risk for falls, and can also helps alleviate anxiety or depression. (13)
Long recommended as a way for seniors to stay active and fit, research is now suggesting it can help manage Parkinson’s symptoms by improving range of motion, balance and focus. An hour of tai chi twice a week is recommended for helping with stability, coordination and tasks like walking.
4. Participate in Water Aerobics
Trouble balancing, muscle loss, strength decline and stiffness can make traditional exercises difficult. Water aerobics can have the same benefits as other types of conventional exercise without the risk of falling.
A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science showed that older adults who participated in water sports had significant increases in leg strength, better recovery of balance after falls, significant improvements in gait patterns and lowered risk of future injuries from falling. (14) Be sure to use the shallow end of the pool to avoid accidents, and try having a buddy come along for extra motivation and support. Joining a group class might be beneficial for emotional support and additional motivation.
According to the Neurodegenerative Disease Research Group at King’s College in London, recent research has shown acupuncture can relieve Parkinson’s symptoms by generating a neural response in areas of the brain that are particularly affected by inflammation, such as the putamen and the thalamus.
Acupuncture has been used for centuries to help reduce pain, anxiety, insomnia and stiffness. Now it’s suggested that it can even help slow cell death and attenuate oxidative stress that causes damage to dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. (15)
The natural treatments mentioned above cannot guarantee that someone is protected from Parkinson’s, or control all symptoms of the disease in all patients. Unfortunately, due to the unpredictability of Parkinson’s disease symptoms, it often makes the disease hard to diagnose and treat in many cases.
If you start to notice gradual changes in your movement control and moods, it might be wise to speak with a doctor about your symptoms, especially if cognitive disorders run in your family. The National Parkinson’s Foundation offers resources for spotting the disease in its earliest stages and recommends considering testing if you experience such changes as loss of smell, sight, grip, stability, or ability to go to the bathroom and walk normally.
- Symptoms of Parkinson’s include trembling, loss of balance, slowed movements, mood changes, poor posture and lack of motor control.
- Causes of Parkinson’s include high levels of inflammation, brain cell deterioration, low dopamine levels, high pesticide/toxin exposure and possibly genetic factors.
- Natural remedies to help manage Parkinson’s symptoms include eating a healthy diet, taking supplements such as coenzyme Q10, vitamins C, D and E and fish oil, participating in physical and occupational therapy, exercising and stretching as well as using essential oils and mind-body practices to help manage stress.