Parkinson’s disease is an age-related, progressive, neurodegenerative illness that affects about 1 percent of people over the age of 50. The disease is linked to the loss of dopamine-producing cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Dopamine is naturally occurring chemical, which acts as a communicator between the brain cells that control body movement and function.
According to health care experts, about 80 percent of dopamine-producing cells have already been affected by the time a diagnosis of Parkinsons disease is made in most patients. Symptoms and the severity of the progression of the disease are unique to each person, and therefore, so are the therapeutic options.
Research efforts into the causes of and potential cures for Parkinson’s disease are ongoing, with many promising avenues of treatment being explored, but at the moment there is no cure for Parkinsons disease. There are, however, a number of disease-managing therapies available to help people with Parkinson’s disease cope with their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
In fact, with early diagnosis and intervention, many people with Parkinsons disease can function virtually normally and independently. While these treatments, both medical and lifestyle-based, can be effective aids in managing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, it is important to understand that they do not slow the progression of the disease, and that treatment must be adjusted as the disease changes.
A number of drug therapies are available to people with Parkinson’s disease who wish to manage their symptoms are, including those to boost dopamine levels in the brain or to imitate dopamine in the brain. Others help to reduce problematic symptoms such as tremors and dyskinesia. Often, drugs are combined for maximum therapeutic benefit.
Surgery is another medical option for very severe or rapidly progressing cases of Parkinson’s disease. Several surgical procedures, including pallidotomy, thalamotomy, which involve destroying small areas of the brain, and deep brain stimulation, which involves using electrical impulses in the brain in a similar manner as a pacemaker uses them for the heart, can help quell symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The risks of undergoing brain surgery, however, are often greater than the potential benefits, particularly since brain damage can be irreversible.
Natural therapeutic alternatives, such as using a specific diet and exercise program, appeal to many people who want to balance their medical treatments with overall good health.
As with any person starting a new diet or exercise program, it is wise for a person with Parkinsons disease to check in with his or her doctor before beginning. He or she may have specific advice to accommodate the illness or to help alleviate symptoms. Some general tips for diet and exercise include:
- Cut food into smaller portions and chew thoroughly. Parkinson’s often affects an individuals ability to chew and swallow, so doing these simple tasks reduces the chance of choking and aids in digestion
- Follow your food guide for maximum health
- Try eating an oatmeal cookie with medications that upset the stomach
- Exercise in bed when doing it on foot is too difficult
- Try bending, stretching and breathing exercises
- Exercise jaw and facial muscles
- Walk whenever possible, even if with assistance
- Exercise in the water; many municipalities offer special classes at community pools
- Talk to your doctor about non-Western-style options such as massage or acupuncture for temporary relief
The bottom line is that neither medical options nor good diet and exercise can cure Parkinson’s, but they can certainly make dealing with the illness much more bearable.