Diann Shaddox Foundation for Essential Tremor
Complementary and Alternative Parkinson's Treatments
While those with Parkinson's disease shouldn't abandon medication for yoga or acupuncture, evidence is mounting that complementary therapies can make the disease more manageable.
People exhibiting Parkinson’s disease symptoms may benefit from complementary and alternative medicine. It's important to keep in mind, however, that unlike some conditions for which it is possible to use complementary and alternative treatments as a substitute
for traditional therapies, Parkinson's disease patients should focus on the “complementary” rather than the “alternative” portion.
Parkinson’s Treatment: Complementary Therapies
“There is pretty much no getting around that Parkinson’s disease patients will need traditional medication eventually,” explains Melanie Brandabur, MD, clinical director of the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, Calif. “A lot of people start off with the idea that they want to avoid pharmaceuticals but that isn’t possible in the long term.”
The reason it’s not possible to eliminate traditional Parkinson’s treatment is because a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease means that an important chemical, dopamine, is missing in the brain. The only long-term solution to manage Parkinson’s disease symptoms is to replace the lost dopamine levels through the administration of the drug levodopa (Dopar, Larodopa), also known as L-Dopa.
For people who are looking to complement their levodopa regimens, there are a variety of complementary therapies that can help with the management of Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
Parkinson’s Treatment: Acupuncture and Massage Therapy
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical treatment that is used to promote good health by stimulating certain points on the body. Although there haven’t yet been any major breakthroughs regarding acupuncture and Parkinson’s, acupuncture has been shown to help offset some Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Dr. Brandabur notes that she's talked to patients who say acupuncture helps with the involuntary movements common to Parkinson's and relieves tremors and muscle stiffness.
Another form of bodywork that has brought relief to patients in Brandabur’s clinic is massage therapy. She says it can be very helpful in alleviating Parkinson’s disease symptoms like muscle rigidity and soreness.
Nutraceuticals and Supplements as Part of Parkinson’s Treatment
Current studies are examining the potential benefits of Coenzyme Q10 and creatine in Parkinson’s disease. Coenzyme Q10 and creatine are substances that are important to energy, metabolism, and muscle function. They are called nutraceuticals — food or supplement products made up of nutritional extracts.
Though not everyone with Parkinson’s will see an improvement in symptoms, "when people want to take these supplements, I tell them that there is at least safety data and some science that suggests that they might work,” says Brandabur. Still, studies are in the early stages and it’s not yet known whether these supplements can actually modify the disease.
Vitamin B-12 is another supplement that has been looked at more extensively. Many older people have B-12 deficiencies because their stomachs don’t make enough acid to absorb it, explains Brandabur. Since vitamin B-12 has been shown to play an important role in brain and spinal cord health, many patients may benefit from taking a B-12 supplement in addition to their Parkinson’s medication.
Diet as a Part of Parkinson’s Treatment
Another method of increasing vitamin B-12 levels is through diet. Since animal protein is the main source of B-12, vegetarians need to be especially diligent about incorporating foods that are rich in B-12, such as fortified cereal, into their diets. Fruits and vegetables, full of antioxidants, and fish (such as herring, salmon, and mackerel) rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are also important for the Parkinson’s disease patient. “We don’t completely understand the mechanism of disease in Parkinson’s, but it seems reasonable to assume that things that are helpful to the brain, like antioxidants and omega-3s, will be beneficial,” observes Brandabur.
Parkinson’s Treatment: Yoga, Tai Chi, and Meditation
Much attention has been paid to the effects of physical activity on Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Brandabur feels that exercise, including yoga and tai chi, is highly beneficial. “In my practice, exercise is the cornerstone of therapy,” notes Brandabur. “Patients who exercise do much better than those who don’t.”
Parkinson’s disease symptoms, like those of other chronic diseases, are aggravated by stress. One stress reliever, meditation — involving deep, focused breathing — can be very helpful.
Traditional medication is still the gold standard in Parkinson’s treatment, but complementary therapies are being recognized for their role in enhancing overall quality of life for people dealing with Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Just be sure that you discuss these therapies with your Parkinson's care team before you try them.
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