Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative movement disorder. The disease starts off gradually, and early signs are often difficult to detect. It may start off with a mild tremor, but a few years in, PD patients may suffer from noticeable tremors, stiffness, slowed movement, and speech changes. About 96% of people diagnosed with PD are over the age of 50.
Maybe you know someone with Parkinson’s disease. Maybe you’re familiar with celebrities Neil Diamond and Michael J. Fox, who were both famously diagnosed with Parkinson’s. At the age of 29, Michael J. Fox fell into the 4% of people who are diagnosed with PD before the age of 50.
The number of people living with this disease increases along with the lifespan of the average adult. The current number of people living with Parkinson’s is higher than ever before. It is estimated that 40 million people in the world’s most populated nations will be living with PD by the year 2030.
Symptoms can vary greatly among Parkinson’s disease patients. Some patients may find that some specific symptoms are more severe than others. In addition, early signs of this disease may differ depending on the patient, which is why diagnosis is often delayed.
Primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
Trembling or shaking is common among Parkinson’s patients. This symptom often starts in the fingers or hands. One common type of tremor is a back-and-forth rubbing of the thumb and forefinger, referred to as a pill-rolling tremor. Tremors usually get more exaggerated with the progression of the disease.
A term for slowed movement, bradykinesia in Parkinson’s patients may be accompanied by sudden pauses. The person may experience a lack of control over speed, making it difficult to complete daily tasks. Parkinson’s patients may have difficulty going from a sitting to a standing position and drag their feet as they walk.
Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of the body, causing limited range of motion and pain.
Difficulties with posture and balance
Parkinson’s sufferers may appear stooped and off balance.
Loss of automatic movements
Movements we may take for granted, such as blinking and swinging of the arms while walking, may be difficult for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s may cause all types of changes in speech, including slurring, hesitation, and soft or quick speech.
These are the most common visible symptoms observed in people with Parkinson’s disease—but they are not the only symptoms. According to an article published in Parkinson’s News Today, one of the early signs of Parkinson’s disease may be depression.
Depression alone is not the cause for a Parkinson’s diagnosis; however, it is prevalent among Parkinson’s disease patients. Research shows that about 40 percent of people with Parkinson’s experience depression.
The following secondary symptoms are common among Parkinson’s patients. They may come and go at different times with varying degrees of severity.
- A compromised sense of smell
- Mood changes
- Sleep disorders
- Urinary problems
- Low blood pressure
- Digestive issues
- Skin problems
- Increased sweating
- Erectile dysfunction
Causes of Parkinson’s Disease
Experts still don’t know the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease, but they do agree that a complex combination of genetics and environmental factors contributes to its development.
People with immediate relatives with Parkinson’s disease have a 15–25% chance of developing the disease as well. Researchers have pointed to specific genetic mutations that may increase the risk of developing PD but do not directly cause it. Each identified gene variation causes a small increase in the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Exposure to toxins—pesticides, heavy metals, and other chemicals—increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. It seems that these things alone will not cause Parkinson’s disease. Rather, the combination of exposure to toxins along with genetic factors leads to its development.
The development of PD is caused by a complex combination of things. In addition to genetic and environmental factors, other things that may increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease include inflammation and deterioration of brain cells; poor diet; and hormonal imbalances.
There are certain things that may increase your risk of developing PD. They include:
- Age. About 96 percent of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are over the age of 50. The majority of people diagnosed are age 60 and older.
- Sex. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 50 percent more men are affected by Parkinson’s disease than women. (1)
- Genetics. People with close relatives who have PD are 15–25% more likely to develop the disease.
- Exposure to toxins. People who work with or have worked with herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxic chemicals are more likely to develop PD.
- Head Injury. Research shows that repeated head injury may increase the risk of PD. The risk of developing a movement disorder is higher with loss of consciousness. (2)
- Poor diet. Research shows that diets low in plant-based foods—leafy greens, colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds—increases the risk of chronic diseases such as PD. In addition, The American Academy of Neurology recently released results on a study that showed an increased risk of Parkinson’s with excessive low-fat dairy consumption. The study concluded that drinking more than one serving of low-fat or skim milk per day is associated with a greater risk of developing PD.
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Is Parkinson’s Disease an Autoimmune Disorder?
Until recently, there was no evidence to suggest that Parkinson’s disease was an autoimmune disorder. Now, evidence has emerged that leads experts to believe it may, in fact, be related to an immune system dysfunction.
A study conducted by David Sulzer at Columbia University showed that people with Parkinson’s have an immune response to antigens of dopamine-producing neurons. This information opens up a new route in the search for Parkinson’s therapeutic intervention.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Treatment focuses mainly on management of symptoms, and the earlier the disorder is diagnosed, the more manageable the symptoms are.
People with Parkinson’s have low dopamine concentrations in the brain, so they may be prescribed medication to increase dopamine production. In addition, treatment may include medication to help control tremors and involuntary movements.
In some cases, the doctor may recommend surgery such as deep brain stimulation or tissue removal to reduce symptoms.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, there are certain lifestyle changes and home remedies that may significantly improve symptoms. Parkinson’s patients have experienced relief with the following changes:
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Parkinson’s patients can benefit from increased intake of raw foods, plant-based foods, high fiber foods, and omega-3 fatty acids. They should avoid non-organic produce containing pesticides as well as processed foods.
It is important for PD patients to get enough nutrients to support all systems in the body and to reduce inflammation. Supplements that may help to reduce symptoms include vitamins C, D, and E; coenzyme Q10; omega-3 fatty acids; antioxidant supplements; and fiber supplements to reduce constipation.
Exercise is the best way to increase strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance. A doctor or physical therapist may recommend walking, swimming, stretching, dancing, or any other type of physical activity that you enjoy.
Parkinson’s patients may find relief with different types of alternative medicine. Keep looking until you find something that helps you. You may try massage, acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, meditation, Alexander technique, art therapy, music therapy, or pet therapy.
Experts are constantly searching for answers when it comes to prevention and treatment of this progressive and debilitating movement disorder. Fortunately, there are many options available today to help improve your quality of life if you are living with Parkinson’s disease.