Parkinson’s disease was only discovered in the last few decades. As the average age of diagnosis is around 65 years, it wasn’t until the mid 20th century that people started living long enough to be affected by this debilitating disorder.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disease of the central nervous system that affects people from all walks of life.
It mainly affects motor function, with a slow onset over time. In the early stages of the disease symptoms include shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty with walking. In its advanced stages, dementia generally occurs.
Being diagnosed with PD is a life changing experience with the symptoms having a debilitating impact on day-to-day activities.
The cause of the disease is unknown, but it is believed to involve both genetic and environmental factors. People who have a family member affected are more likely to get the disease themselves. Although there is an increased risk for people exposed to certain pesticides or who have suffered a prior head injury, there is a reduced risk in tobacco smokers and those who drink coffee or tea.
While we have so far been unable to cure Parkinson’s disease, recent medical studies have confirmed that acupuncture can stimulate cognitive brain function, and slow the decline of symptoms.
Early research is showing that acupuncture can relieve age-related cognitive decline symptoms because it generates a neural response in the putamen and the thalamus, which are particularly affected by Parkinson's disease.
A study done in 2002 by the Department of Neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, revealed that 85% of those patients reported subjective improvements of individual symptoms, including tremors, walking, handwriting, slowness, pain, sleep, depression and anxiety. There were no adverse effects.
Acupuncture can successfully reduce pain, and help minimise anxiety and depression.
In addition to acupuncture, nutritional supplements can be beneficial. However, here one should act with caution and in collaboration with a medical practitioner since they may interact with medications taken for this disease, or only work in specific doses. Some studies suggest high doses of Coenzyme Q10 may slow the progression of Parkinson's in the early stages, but it can promote blood clotting and interact with blood thinner medications such as warfarin or aspirin. CoQ10 may lower blood pressure and interact with some chemotherapy drugs.
Another study showed that high doses of antioxidant Vitamin C and vitamin E helped delay the need for medication.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) has been used in Parkinson's, but it is controversial because it can reduce the efficacy of some prescription medications, including L-dopa, a drug used to treat Parkinson's disease.
Researchers into Parkinson’s disease are getting some surprising new insights into the functioning of the brain. A recent BBC program on this topic related the experience of scientists from the University of Delaware who discovered that Parkinson's patients who came to their clinic by train demonstrated more gait stability than those who arrived by car or bus. This prompted the team to research a vibratory shoe that mimicked train rhythms. The BBC TV clip showed a before-and-after case study and the difference was stunning. The vibrating shoes prompted a steady gait, and a more balanced posture, inspiring confidence and joy in the patient. As the shoes are still in the experimental stage, it might take time for them to hit the general market, but patients have long been advised to integrate some form of exercise daily, like dancing, Tai Chi or Qi Gong.
In Qi Gong, which is an integral form of traditional Chinese medicine, each dancing exercise is designed to harmonise the energy of a specific acupuncture channel. We can easily understand the Oriental medical view of Parkinson’s disease being the consequence of blockages between the different channels of energy. This would explain why all forms of dance are beneficial to the sufferers.
During 2015, researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute in Canada recruited 49 men and women with idiopathic Parkinson's for a 12 week tango study with dance teachers. The end results showed a significant reduction in gait freezing and backward falls. It is interesting to note the similarity between the forward and backward tango steps, and the movement of a train. Tai chi teachers have also discovered that Parkinson’s patients can reduce their hand shaking by practising one simple movement over and over again.
Tango's inspiring music and social aspect can also be equally beneficial for Parkinson's patients, especially for those patients who find solo exercises boring and isolating.
Even if we are unable to cure Parkinson’s at this stage, there are many ways to help the sufferers, and improve their quality of life. Often just having someone take the time to care and listen can be remarkably therapeutic. This is something we should all be able to achieve.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com