Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the United States. And Michael J. Fox certainly helped raise awareness with his early onset of the disease. But even since he was diagnosed in 1991, mainstream medicine and big pharma have come up with very little to offer victims of this devastating disease.
Fortunately, U.S. researchers are finally beginning to look at the impact of diet and nutrition. And in a brand new study, researchers found one key nutrient might prevent or delay the onset of cognitive impairment and depression in PD patients.
I’ll tell you all about that important study in a moment. But first, let’s back up…
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition characterized by “intention tremor,” or shaking of the limbs, while attempting to carry out actions and motions.
Medical researchers still don’t know what causes Parkinson’s disease. But we do know some risk factors increase your likelihood of getting it.
First, there’s your age. As with many chronic diseases, older age is a risk factor for PD. For most people, the disease strikes around age 60. And only 5 to 10 percent develop it before age 40, like Michael J. Fox.
Men have a slightly higher risk of developing Parkinson’s. Family history also plays a role. Having a parent or sibling with Parkinson’s approximately doubles your risk. Researchers are also considering a genetic component, especially for early onset Parkinson’s.
Heavy or long exposures to environmental neurotoxins–such as herbicides, pesticides and heavy metals–also raises your risk. And toxic drugs–such as antidepressant, antianxiety and sleep medications–may cause an increased risk as well. Researchers also observe that sustaining a prior head injury followed by loss of consciousness also increases risk.
Still, most people with Parkinson’s have no family history, no known genetic variant, no prior head injury, no history of using antidepressants, nor prior heavy exposure to environmental neurotoxins. So, looking at the overall picture, there is nothing much the mainstream can offer in terms of prevention.
However, there are two factors that appear to decrease your odds of getting Parkinson’s…
First, people who drink coffee appear to have a lower risk compared to those who do not. Second, many studies have found that people who smoke tobacco are less likely to develop to Parkinson’s.
Of course, you will never hear about any possible benefits of tobacco use. The government never clued anyone in to its own scientific research showing that smoking one-half a pack per day (ten cigarettes) is actually associated with some health benefits. And the general public is still in the dark about the fact that smoking cigars or pipes only is associated with lower overall death rates, compared to non-smokers.
There is also a well-known physiologic synergy between caffeine and nicotine. But government-supported scientists are far more interested in researching the “harmful” effects of caffeine and nicotine. And moralistic arguments about these two supposed “sin” substances obstruct any view of the real science we do have.
So–how about diet and nutrition?
We know that fat-soluble vitamins D and E, as well as the B vitamins, are critical to brain and nerve function. And we know these nutrients benefit patients with other neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS). So it’s not a far stretch to propose that these nutrients could benefit PD patients as well.
In fact, one key nutrient appears to have a profound effect on PD patients…
In the latest study, researchers gave 286 PD patients a battery of tests measuring global cognitive function, verbal memory, semantic verbal fluency, executive function, and depression. (Of the 286 subjects, 61 were diagnosed with dementia, a common symptom of PD.)
At the same time, researchers measured serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels.
Overall, researchers found significant negative associations between vitamin D levels and disease severity. In other words, the lower the vitamin D level, the worse the disease symptoms. In addition, PD patients with higher vitamin D levels were more likely NOT to have dementia. They performed better on memory, learning, and fluency tests.
Researchers also found a significant negative association between vitamin D levels and depression. So here again, the lower the vitamin D level, the greater the depression symptoms.
According to the study’s lead researcher, Amie L. Peterson, M.D., “The fact that the relationship between vitamin D concentration and cognitive performance seemed more robust in the non-demented subset suggests that earlier intervention before dementia is present, may be more effective.” So, if you have PD, the earlier you start taking vitamin D the better.
Now, let’s take that one step further. What if these patients never became vitamin D deficient? Would they ever develop PD? Makes me wonder. Especially given what we already know about MS and vitamin D.
Hopefully, we’ll see this line of research continue.
In the meantime, make sure to take a daily dose of 5,000 IU of vitamin D. If you already take other supplements, you may prefer a vitamin D liquid extract. You can add it to juice or milk. I also recommend a high-quality vitamin B complex to help maintain healthy neurological function.
1. “Memory, Mood, and Vitamin D in Persons with Parkinson’s Disease,” Journal of Parkinson’s Disease; 3(4)
2. “Higher vitamin D levels associated with better cognition, mood in Parkinson’s disease patients,” Science Daily (www.sciencedaily.com) 1/16/2014