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Parkinson's Disease

(also known as Paralysis Agitans; Shaking Palsy)

A Summary

by: George Pararas-Carayannis, Ph.D.*

(Excerpts from summary prepared under contract for the ReGenesis Medical Center/ Dec 2000)

* Disclaimer - I am not a medical doctor. All material provided at this website is for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to confirm the information contained herein with other sources. Patients and consumers should review the information carefully with their professional health care provider. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians. I will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary, or other damages arising therefrom.


Parkinson's disease was first described in England in 1817 by James Parkinson. The disease is a progressive neurological disorder of the brain affecting muscle control and movement. It is characterized by shaking and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination. It affects both men and women and is one of the most common neurologic disorders of the elderly.

Parkinson's disease affects people worldwide. Approximately 2 out of 1,000 people, more than a million people in North America, suffer from it. About 50,000 more are diagnosed with the disease each year. Most often it develops after age 50. It is rare in children. The disease rarely occurs in people younger than 40. However, younger people who took the drug MPTP, a synthetic narcotic street drug, developed symptoms similar to those caused by Parkinson's.

Parkinson's is a Serious Disease

Parkinson's disease typically progresses slowly, is not usually fatal, but it reduces longevity and impairs the quality of life. A person can live for many years after the disease is diagnosed. The symptoms can often be alleviated or controlled with medications. The treatments may even slow down the progression of the disease. However, over time, the side effects of many of these medications can be nearly as distressing as the disease itself. The drugs may eventually lose their effectiveness.

The Central Nervous System

Causes and Origins of the Disease

Parkinson's disease is sometimes referred to as idiopathic, which means that the primary cause is unknown, in order to distinguish it from "parkinsonism", which are the symptoms occurring from a known cause.

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, in which the region of the brain that controls movement gradually deteriorates. It is caused by progressive decay of the nerve cells that control muscle movement (the basal ganglia and the extrapyramidal area of the brain).

Dopamine, which is one of the substances used by cells to transmit impulses (transmitters), is normally produced in this area. Dopamine is one of three major neurotransmitters known as catecholamines, which help the body respond to stress and prepare it for the fight-or-flight response.

Deterioration of this area of the brain reduces the amount of dopamine available to the body. Insufficient dopamine disturbs the balance between dopamine and other transmitters, such as acetylcholine. Without dopamine, the nerve cells cannot properly transmit messages, and this results in the loss of muscle function and coordination. The exact reason that the cells of the brain deteriorate is unknown. The disorder may affect one or both sides of the body, with varying degrees of loss of function. Parkinson's disease is sometimes categorized as either tremor predominant, or postural instability and gait disturbed (PIGD)(walking disorders).

Recent studies also indicate that people affected by Parkinson's have a defficiency in glutathione, another critical amino acid that appears to play a significant role in neural transmission of messages. In fact intravenous treatment with glutathione appears to restore muscle movement.

Neuron Dots Multiple Synopses

Biologic and genetic factors are important in causing Parkinson's, although a recent study found that these factors are rarely critical in cases which develop after the age of fifty. Also, current research indicates that genetic factors may not be significant to developing typical Parkinson's disease. According to a study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, genetic factors play less of a role in causing Parkinson's than was previously thought. None the less, the search for a Parkinson's gene continues.

Brain Neuron - Dots are multiple synopses points

Environmental factors are believed to play a more significant role in the development of the disease, particularly exposure to heavy metal and pesticides.


Parkinson's disease manifests in symptoms that interfere with many daily activities. The disease affects the functional abilities of sufferers, resulting in their reactions being slowed or spastic. For example, driving difficulties can be brought on by the many factors of the disease, including sleepiness caused by the medications. In later stages of the disease, there may be some intellectual deterioration and memory loss.

The effects of the disease may vary widely from patient to patient. Initial symptoms may be mild and nonspecific (mild tremor, slight feeling that one leg/foot is stiff and dragging, and so on). Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease may include:

muscle rigidity;
stiffness (difficulty bending arms or legs);
shaking, tremors (varying degrees, may become severe enough to interfere with activities and may be worse when tired, excited, or stressed)
slow and difficult movements;
problems with loss of balance and difficulty walking (frequent falls);
unstable, stooped, or slumped-over posture;
muscle aches and pains (myalgia);
changes in facial expression ("mask" appearance, may be unable to close mouth; reduced rate of blinking);
voice/speech changes (slow speech, low-volume voice, monotone, difficulty speaking);
loss of fine motor skills (difficulty writing, eating or any activity that requires small movements);
memory loss;
decline in intellectual function (may or may not occur but can be severe);
gastrointestinal symptoms (mainly constipation);
seborrhea (skin);
muscle atrophy;
loss of smell, vision or color perception;

Depression: In addition to the loss of muscle control and the physical symptoms, some people with Parkinson's disease become severely depressed. Depression is often present as one of the first symptoms and is probably partially caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Although early loss of mental capacities is uncommon, with severe Parkinson's the person may exhibit overall mental deterioration (including dementia, hallucinations, confusion, anxiety, stress and tension).

Dementia can also be a side effect of some of the medications used to treat the disorder. These symptoms can also be controlled with medications. Unfortunately some of the medications may provide only temporary relief, but may have a long term adverse effect, such as an increase in oxidants and brain damaging free radicals.

Parkinsonism: Other disorders and external factors may cause symptoms similar to those caused by Parkinson's disease. The term "parkinsonism" refers to any condition that involves a combination of the types of changes in movement seen in Parkinson's disease, which happens to be the most common condition causing this group of symptoms.

Risk Factors for Parkinson's Disease

Age: The elderly are at higher risk for both parkinsonism and Parkinson's disease, although there is some evidence that the very elderly (over 75) are at low or no risk. Only About 10% of Parkinson's cases are in people younger than 40 years old. The average age of onset of the disease is 55.

Generally, the symptoms of parkinsonism (tremor, gait disturbance, bradykinesia, and rigidity) appear in an estimated 8 million people over 65. In one study, parkinsonism occurred in about 15% of people 65 to 74 years of age, about 30% in those 75 to 84, and over half of people older than 85. However, this particular study included people with very mild symptoms and the percentages are higher than ones using stricter criteria.

Gender: The disease appears to affect equally both men and women, although the symptoms may differ. For example, older women seem to be more at risk for gait disturbance (walking difficulty) and men for rigidity and tremor.

Heredity: People with family members who developed Parkinson's at a younger age are at higher risk for Parkinson's disease, but relatives of those who were elderly when they had the disease, appear to have an average risk.

Ethnicity and Geography: African- and Asian-Americans have a lower risk than European-Americans. A higher incidence of parkinsonism is found in people who live in rural areas, particularly those who drink private well water or are agricultural workers exposed to pesticides and herbicides. These risks, however, seem to vary depending on ethnicity, indicating that genetic factors are also at work.

Smoking: Cigarette smokers appear to have a lower risk for Parkinson's disease. This finding, of course, is no excuse to smoke, but such protection may help researchers develop new therapies.


Standard allopathic (medical) clinical approaches are used to diagnose Parkinson's disease. The role of risk factors in the development of the disease are examined to determine prevention.

Treatment and Drug Therapy for Parkinson's

Both pharmacological and surgical treatments may be used to mitigate the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. However, recent studies have shown that L-dopa therapy - a common treatment used to reduce Parkinson's symptoms - enhances the production of brain-damaging free radicals and increases the levels of homocysteine in the body. Homocysteine is an amino acid. An increase in its level has been linked to higher incidences of heart disease and stroke.

Several new treatments are being continuously developed tested and evaluated to slow the onslaught of Parkinson's symptoms. Recent advances in the drug and surgical treatments of Parkinson's disease have greatly improved the lives of the approximately 1 million Americans suffering from it.

Non-Surgical Treatments

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH) has reported on benefits to some Parkinson's patients derived from what is known as Fetal Cell Therapy. The therapy involves fetal dopamine cell implants. Although promising, this form of therapy is not the panacea some expected.

The use of certain medications could also cause some Parkinson's patients to become very drowsy and suddenly fall asleep. Therefore, driving while under the influence of medications is discouraged.

Lifestyle Changes

Parkinson's disease slows down a person's reaction time. Many patients with Parkinson's are not safe to drive, not only because of potential sleepiness but because their reaction times are compromised, their thinking and judgment affected. Driving is a hazard to themselves and to others. The disease itself makes life changes necessary.

On-going Research

Since dopamine deficiency is the primary defect in Parkinson's disease, researchers are presently attempting to discover how the dopamine is lost. The research is concentrating in determining the effect of both genetic susceptibility and environmental assaults.

Identifying genetic and fundamental abnormalities that cause early-onset Parkinson's disease is one area of research on the basic mechanisms of the disease itself. Scientists are studying abnormalities in a protein called alpha synuclein, which has been detected in some early-onset Parkinson's patients of European descent. It appears that a genetic defect causes defective alpha synuclein proteins to collect and clump together, most likely forming fibrous deposits known as Lewy bodies in the substantia nigra -- the place in the brain where dopamine is first released. In fact Lewy bodies appear to have an effect not only on reducing the dopamine, but also in causing other neurologic diseases.

Genetic researchers have also discovered a gene that may be responsible for a rare form of Parkinson's disease that occurs in children and adolescents. The gene regulates a newly found protein that the researchers call parkin and is similar to a protein known as ubiquitin found in Parkinson's disease and other neurologic disorders. Whether this defective protein is relevant for late-onset Parkinson's remains to be seen.

Additional research is focusing on the observation that some Parkinson's patients have a 30% to 40% decrease in an enzyme called complex I. Low amounts of complex I lead to energy loss and the inability of the cell to withstand the assault of free radicals. Free radicals set off a chemical chain reaction that damages any type of cell, including nerve cells in the brain. People who have insufficient amounts of complex I, either from genetic abnormalities or other factors, may be more susceptible to developing Parkinson's disease from exposure to chemicals and toxins.

A great deal of research is focusing on the effects of environmental toxins and the effects of oxygen free-radicals. Viral infections and intense exposure to environmental and industrial chemicals have each been associated with the development of parkinsonism.

Recent research has shown that in addition to dopamine reduction, a difficiency of glutathione also contributes to the development of Parkinson's disease. The role of glutathione in neural trasnmissions is being investigated.

Alternative treatments for Parkinson's patients

Several protocols of treatment can be given to Parkinson's patients, but mainly intravenous Glutathione. Glutathione is an important nutrient and energy source for the brain and acts as a major antioxidant within each cell in patients with Parkinson's or other age related diseases.

Intravenous Glutathione Therapy: Immediate beneficial results may be experienced by Parkinson's patients even after one treatment of Glutathione. Apparently the glutathione either helps directly neurotransmission or triggers production of dopamine. Whatever the mechanism may be, the results are often amazing. Glutathione treatments improve considerably some of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease including difficulties with rigidity, walking, movement, coordination and speech. A marked reduction of tremor has been observed as well as a decrease in depression.

Miscellaneous Summaries on Chronic Illnesses

heart disease | | stroke | diabetes | | high blood pressure | | high cholesterol | | Alzheimer's | | Parkinson's | | arthritis | | chronic fatigue | | poor circulation | | brain injury | | multiple sclerosis | | cerebral palsy | | life extension | | memory loss |

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