Exactly How To Support Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms Naturally
In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I work with patients diagnosed with a variety of chronic health problems. While most chronic conditions don’t have a cure, people are still able to reclaim their health by mitigating their symptoms or even putting them into remission.
Parkinson’s disease is one chronic disease that I see far too often that is also considered degenerative - meaning it continues to progress over time. Although this might seem like a life sentence, it is my job to help people take back control of their health. In fact, there are many alternative treatment options for Parkinson’s that can help people thrive by alleviating symptoms. So let’s take a look at what Parkinson’s disease is, how it’s typically managed, and ways you can improve your quality of life, naturally.
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What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder involving your brain cells that produce dopamine. In Parkinson’s disease, the alpha-synuclein proteins that are responsible for releasing dopamine are abnormally shaped and form masses known as Lewy bodies. These Lewy bodies end up destroying dopamine neurons.
Since dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates movement, deficiency ends up leading to Parkinson’s symptoms such as:
- Difficulty walking
- Slowed speech
- Difficulty swallowing
- Poor balance
- Slowness of movement
Generally, Parkinson’s disease is considered to be a movement disorder but recent research has shown early stages of Parkinson’s can also show up as symptoms of anxiety, trouble sleeping, loss of smell, and more. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease meaning that it slowly progresses over time with end stage being total loss of movement control and even dementia.
The benefits of alternative treatment
There is no cure for Parkinson’s but genetic testing can be done to assess your risk for early diagnosis. In conventional medicine, Parkinson’s treatment is focused on slowing down the progression of the disease through medications that either imitate dopamine in the brain, convert to dopamine in the brain, or slow down the breakdown of dopamine.
The problem with these medications is that they often have their own set of side effects that can be equally as debilitating to live with as Parkinson’s symptoms with hallucinations being the one of them. But the question is, can you live with Parkinson’s without medication? If so, can Parkinson’s disease be reversed naturally?
In functional medicine we aim to both slow down progression and put symptoms into remission without the need for medication. While sometimes medication is necessary, we look for solutions that offer the least amount of side effects that are still effective at addressing symptoms. Sometimes a combination of medication and natural solutions are needed depending on how far along Parkinson’s has progressed and sometimes alternative solutions can be enough to be effective.
The best alternative treatments for Parkinson’s
Research is continuing to examine the mechanisms behind Parkinson’s to find possible cures and ways to ease symptoms. Because of this extensive research, there are many promising natural Parkinson’s treatment options. While our knowledge around these Parkinson’s natural treatment options are still evolving, these are supported by the most research.
Currently, cannabis is the natural treatment for Parkinson’s that is getting the most attention, and for good reason. Also known as marijuana, cannabis contains cannabinoid compounds like THC - the one with the psychoactive properties - and CBD that includes many of the health benefits of THC but without the psychoactive properties.
Early studies on both THC and CBD have found (1) cannabis to be a promising therapy for improved motor function and neuroprotection in patients with Parkinson’s. As anecdotal evidence for cannabis and Parkinson’s continues to emerge, it has prompted more research to be done on its effects.
In functional medicine, we understand that food is foundational and the foods you eat on a daily basis can either fuel disease or facilitate health. Multiple studies have connected the ketogenic diet - a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet - to significant improvement in Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
This is likely due to the fact that certain ketones produced by your body when in ketosis have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and act as fuel for neurotransmitters and can protect (2) against further neurodegeneration. One study (3) in particular found that Parkinson’s symptoms improved by 43% after just one month of eating a ketogenic diet!
Acupuncture is a common practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine that utilizes the placement of small needles on specific points of the body. While studies surrounding acupuncture and Parkinson’s are limited, the studies that have been done have shown (4) it to be a promising tool for addressing Parkinson’s symptoms.
People often ask me what natural supplements help with Parkinson’s disease and the most researched (5) answer to that is CoQ10. CoQ10 is found abundantly in your mitochondria but many people with Parkinson’s disease have impaired cell mitochondria function. Supplementation can help improve cellular health, neutralize free radicals, and mitigate DNA damage.
5. Massage therapy
Massage therapy has been shown to offer temporary relief from tremors and muscle rigidity after a 60-minute session. While the long-term effectiveness of massage is still being looked at, massage therapy can be a great tool for symptom relief alongside these other natural treatment options for someone struggling with more severe symptoms.
6. Tai chi
Tai chi has long been associated with its ability to improve balance and coordination with a 2012 study (6) confirming Tai Chi’s ability to improve both balance and stability in people with Parkinson’s disease - even when compared to similar forms of exercise.
Aromatherapy takes advantage of essential oils in order to treat physical and psychological health problems. Specific essential oils like lavender, bergamot, and lemon have been shown (7) to boost dopamine production making it an easy natural treatment option to implement with virtually zero side effects.
This practice involves targeted movement facilitated by trained therapists while being submerged in water like pools or whirlpools. Since the water’s buoyancy supports the body, it allows for greater movement with less pain while also strengthening muscles and improving balance due to the increased resistance in the water. This can be a beneficial way for Parkinson’s patients to improve their balance, range of motion, and motor skills naturally.
9. Alexander Technique
Alexander technique is a self-care approach that can be taught via one-on-one or group sessions aimed at helping you to stay in the present moment to alleviate stress involved in daily movement activities that can be increasingly difficult with Parkinson’s disease. Studies have concluded (8) Alexander technique to be an effective therapy at improving balance, tremors, and other Parkinson’s related symptoms.
Similarly to Tai Chi, yoga can be helpful (9) at improving balance and strength in those with Parkinson’s disease. Also, it can be done from the comfort of your home or at in-person classes.
When to seek professional help for Parkinson’s symptoms
Parkinson’s is a debilitating disease that when left unchecked can leave you with little to no control over your body. Even though there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease the earlier you are diagnosed the more likely you are to live your life without severe symptoms. By intervening early with these natural Parkinson’s treatment options - and/or medication depending on your health case - you have a greater chance of slowing down the progression of this disease and your symptoms.
If you have a family history of Parkinson’s it's important to consider genetic testing to assess your risk factor, especially if you have any of the symptoms or early signs of this disease.
If you are currently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and are interested in how you can treat this condition naturally, schedule a telehealth consultation for personalized treatment with functional medicine.
As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.
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- More, Sandeep Vasant, and Dong-Kug Choi. “Promising cannabinoid-based therapies for Parkinson's disease: motor symptoms to neuroprotection.” Molecular neurodegeneration vol. 10 17. 8 Apr. 2015, doi:10.1186/s13024-015-0012-0
- Tieu, Kim et al. “D-beta-hydroxybutyrate rescues mitochondrial respiration and mitigates features of Parkinson disease.” The Journal of clinical investigation vol. 112,6 (2003): 892-901. doi:10.1172/JCI18797
- Vanitallie, T B et al. “Treatment of Parkinson disease with diet-induced hyperketonemia: a feasibility study.” Neurology vol. 64,4 (2005): 728-30. doi:10.1212/01.WNL.0000152046.11390.45
- Lee, Myeong Soo et al. “Effectiveness of acupuncture for Parkinson's disease: a systematic review.” Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society vol. 23,11 (2008): 1505-15. doi:10.1002/mds.21993
- Liu, Jia et al. “Coenzyme Q10 for Parkinson's disease.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews ,12 CD008150. 7 Dec. 2011, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008150.pub2
- Fuzhong Li, Ph.D., Peter Harmer, Ph.D., M.P.H. et al. "Tai Chi and Postural Stability in Patients with Parkinson's Disease" February 2012. N Engl J Med 2012; 366:511-519 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1107911
- Lv, Xiao Nan et al. “Aromatherapy and the central nerve system (CNS): therapeutic mechanism and its associated genes.” Current drug targets vol. 14,8 (2013): 872-9. doi:10.2174/1389450111314080007
- Woodman, J P, and N R Moore. “Evidence for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons in medical and health-related conditions: a systematic review.” International journal of clinical practice vol. 66,1 (2012): 98-112. doi:10.1111/j.1742-1241.2011.02817.x
- Ban, Mengke et al. “The Effects of Yoga on Patients with Parkinson's Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Behavioural neurology vol. 2021 5582488. 5 Jul. 2021, doi:10.1155/2021/5582488
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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