Parkinson’s Disease is a debilitating and progressive neurological condition believed to affect around 150,000 people in the UK. While the majority of people diagnosed with Parkinson’s are aged 50 or over, younger people are not immune.
Managing a life with Parkinson’s is incredibly onerous, particularly since the symptoms worsen with the passage of time. What’s more, the condition tends to be associated with both physical pain and depression.
There is a range of treatments offered to sufferers of Parkinson’s, including medication, deep brain stimulation and physical therapies. In this article, we take a closer look at three nutritional supplements that could also help in the treatment and prevention of this terrible affliction.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
As described by the NHS, ‘Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years.’
The main symptoms include involuntary tremors in various parts of the body, slow movement and stiff, inflexible muscles.
Other symptoms can include mild cognitive impairment or dementia, anxiety and depression, insomnia, nerve pain, problems balancing, difficulty swallowing, dizziness, blurred vision or fainting caused by a drop in blood pressure, excessive sweating and digestive issues.
People with Parkinson’s don’t have enough dopamine as the nerves that produce them have died.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that messages parts of the brain and nervous system to control and coordinate movement, and without enough of it, the body starts to move awkwardly and slowly.
No-one is entirely sure what triggers Parkinson’s Disease, but researchers believe it is down to genetics and also environmental factors such as exposure to herbicides, pesticides, traffic and industrial pollution. As such, we should all make a concerted effort to minimise the harm pollution can cause to our bodies.
PD progresses slowly, and according to the NHS, it is only when around 80% of the nerves have died within the substantia nigra part of the brain that symptoms usually start to show.
Other triggers can include certain medications such as antipsychotics, other progressive brain conditions like Progressive supranuclear palsy and Corticobasal degeneration, and Cerebrovascular disease (where several small strokes cause parts of the brain to die).
Berberine is a natural, yellow alkaloid, found in several healing plants such as Oregan Grape, Tree Turmeric, Goldenseal, Barberry, Cork-Tree and Chinese Goldthread.
It has been used in both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years and is well known for its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects.
There are emerging studies assessing the potential of Berberine for treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and one found that Berberine has many positive capabilities against PD including neuroprotective effects and the potential to counteract neurodegeneration.
DPP-4 inhibitors are diabetic medications that block the action of DPP-4, an enzyme that destroys incretin. Incretins are hormones that regulate insulin release and glucose production in the liver.
Researchers have evaluated the effect of DPP-4 inhibitors for Parkinson’s Disease, as elevated incretins in the brain appear to encourage the growth of nervous tissue and have neuroprotective actions.
Berberine has also demonstrated DPP-4 inhibiting capabilities which may partly explain it’s anti-hyperglycaemic capacity.
In fact, several favourable studies have shown the powerful glucose-lowering/modulating effect of berberine, and according to Parkinson’s UK, a new study by UCL suggests that 32% of people with type-2 diabetes are likely to develop PD.
One study pretreated human dopamine nerve cells with Berberine before exposing them to a PD-promoting neurotoxin. They found that, compared to the untreated cells, the ones in the berberine group had a significantly increased survival rate. This demonstrated the ability of berberis to protect dopamine nerve cells from death and oxidative damage.
Berberine is a powerful AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase) trigger. Found in numerous organs, including the brain, this ‘metabolic master switch’ is an enzyme which plays an active role in metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes. It works at a cellular and physiological level and is involved in a wide range of biological functions including lipid, glucose and energy balance.
In an interview with Dr Mercola, Dr Michael Murray, a naturopathic physician, highlighted that AMPK increases nerve growth factor and helps to protect against the type of oxidative stress leading to Parkinson’s Disease.
He also states that Berberine acts as a powerful neuroprotector, partly by improving mitochondrial health and function.
Another study on mice published in 2014 showed that berberine enhanced motor balance and coordination by preventing neuronal damage to dopamine nerve cells; it also improved short-term memory by inhibiting cell death in the hippocampus part of the brain.
Finally, It’s important to note that far more research is needed and studies have conflicting results, with some showing a link between berberine and potentially toxic effects on the brain. It can also interact with certain medications, so always discuss taking it with your GP if you are taking any prescribed drugs.
Our Planet Source Berberine supplies a generous 1200mg dose. It’s Non-GMO, vegan-friendly and free from corn, sugar, salt, wheat, soy, gluten and artificial ingredients.
2) Fish Oil
Studies have shown mixed results as to whether or not those with PD have low omega-3 levels in the brain, although some have found significantly reduced levels of DHA.
Some small in vivo and in vitro studies for Parkinson’s have had positive results where omega-3s have reduced dopaminergic nerve cell death in the brain, improved memory, suppressed inflammation and decreased oxidative stress.
Dyskinesia is abnormal, uncontrolled, involuntary movement that can be experienced in those with PD after long-term dopamine treatment. In a small animal study, administration of DHA delayed the onset of Dyskinesia from levodopa, a dopamine therapy drug for Parkinson’s.
One small 12-week study had very favourable results from supplementing PD patients with a daily combination of 1,000mg omega-3 and 400IU vitamin E.
Overall, there was a significant improvement in the Unified Parkinson’s disease rating scale. There was a marked reduction in C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker) as well as increased glutathione and antioxidant capacity. Insulin levels, sensitivity and resistance were also markedly improved.
A recent Swedish study also discovered that a protein found in fish, parvalbumin, could help to prevent the formation of alpha-synuclein plaques that are synonymous with Parkinson’s, suggesting that the consumption of fish oils could help to prevent the disease.
Add to all of this the benefits of fish oils for enhanced cognitive performance, and reducing the brain inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s and PD, and supplementation as a treatment for Parkinson’s certainly justifies further investigation.
To browse our selection of superior WHC fish oils, click here. WHC produce two of the top 3 rated fish oil supplements in the world, as rated by independent laboratory Labdoor. They are UnoCardio 1000 (#1) and UnoCardio X2 (#3).
Curcumin is the primary active ingredient in turmeric. It’s an antioxidant-rich polyphenol known for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiseptic and immune-boosting properties.
Research of curcumin in the realms of Parkinson’s is small, but there have been positive results in both cell and animal studies where it has demonstrated significant neuroprotective qualities.
Some studies also showed curcumin to have marked anti-inflammatory effects, protecting the substantia nigra and increasing dopamine levels. Furthermore, in two of the trials, curcumin effectively reduced neuronal cell death and improved functional outcome in animal models.
Researchers carrying out a systemic review of all these studies concluded that curcumin should definitely be a candidate for further investigation as a neuroprotective drug for Parkinson’s Disease patients.
Curcumin is notoriously difficult to absorb, and it is hard to find supplements that are as effective as they claim to be.
Maximized Turmeric 46x contains CurcuWIN®, a novel water-soluble curcumin formulation. It contains turmeric extract 20-28%, and a hydrophilic carrier 63-75% to enhance bioavailability.
In a double-blind study comparison, CurcuWIN® proved to be 46x more absorbable than a 95% curcuminoid extract. To find out more, click here.
Diet and Parkinson's
According to a 2017 research paper entitled The Role of Diet and Nutritional Supplements in Parkinson’s Disease Progression, “Foods associated with the reduced rate of PD progression included fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, non-fried fish, olive oil, wine, coconut oil, fresh herbs, and spices (P < 0.05).
“Foods associated with more rapid PD progression include canned fruits and vegetables, diet and non-diet soda, fried foods, beef, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese (P < 0.05).
“Nutritional supplements coenzyme Q10 and fish oil were associated with reduced PD progression (P = 0.026 and P = 0.019, resp.), and iron supplementation was associated with faster progression (P = 0.022).”
According to michaeljfox.org, “Iron supplements can decrease absorption of levodopa so they should be separated from medications by at least two hours.”
Foodforthebrain.org works with people with Parkinson’s to create personalised nutrition plans based on their health history, symptoms and test results. Their dietary action plan is a useful resource, providing simple, actionable advice.
It’s clear that we need to find more effective forms of treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.
Current drugs such as Levodopa aim to mimic the effects of dopamine but over time become less effective and cause unpleasant side effects that can significantly impact quality of life.
Berberine, fish oils and curcumin all warrant further investigation, but that depends on who’s willing to invest in this kind of research. We don’t imagine the big pharmaceutical companies will be queuing up as these supplements are already widely available in the marketplace.
Of course, it’s not just about treatment: prevention is also hugely important, and due to their potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects, these three supplements show massive potential in that area too.
Written by Rebecca Rychlik, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.
A 2014 study showed that berberine enhanced motor balance and coordination by preventing neuronal damage to dopamine nerve cells.