Parkinson’s and parkinsonism — symptoms that mimic Parkinson’s — stem from the same areas of the brain. These disorders both cause tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement, however they have different causes and may be helped with different nutritional therapies.
Parkinson’s versus parkinsonism
It’s helpful to know the difference between the two. Parkinson’s is a disease that slowly destroys brain cells (for some people it happens quickly) in an area of the brain that produces the brain chemical dopamine. Symptoms worsen over the years and include resting tremors, stiffness, slowness, not blinking enough, loss of smell, digestive problems, depression, and dementia.
Parkinsonism belongs to a class of disorders called “hypokinetic disorders,” which means diminished muscle function. Symptoms are slow or stiff movements.
Parkinson’s is due to degeneration of the brain’s dopamine area; parkinsonism is caused primarily by abnormal clumping of proteins called alpha-synuclein.
This clumping interferes with communication within the brain and also degenerates tissue.
Nutritional support for Parkinson’s
Because Parkinson’s disease degenerates the area of the brain that produces dopamine, nutritionally (and pharmaceutically) supporting dopamine can significantly help people Parkinson’s patients.
Dopamine is an important brain chemical that helps regulate not only feelings of reward and pleasure, but also mood, movements, learning, and motivation.
Nutritional compounds that support dopamine include L-dopa, pyridoxal-5-phoshate, DL-phenylalanine, beta-phenylalanine, and acetyl-tyrosine.
Nutritional support for parkinsonism
Parkinsonism also involves dopamine, but nutritional support should focus more on preventing or slowing the clumping of alpha-synuclein. In fact, research shows dopamine medications may worsen parkinsonism.
The key is to support the energy factories inside each brain cell, called mitochondria, and to support cell function.
Nutritional support for Parkinson’s and parkinsonism
These strategies have been shown in studies to help nutritionally support both Parkinson’s and parkinsonism:
Support healthy gut bacteria and function. Research shows an unhealthy balance of gut bacteria and gut inflammation can cause aggregation of alpha-synuclein, thus increasing the risk of Parkinson’s and parkinsonism.
Consider a ketogenic diet or intermittent fasting. Both these diets have been shown to slow down protein aggregation and promote healthy function of brain cells.
Take flavonoids to protect brain cell mitochondria. Flavonoids are anti-inflammatory plant compounds that have been shown to protect the brain. Turmeric and resveratrol are examples of powerful flavonoids.
Take nutrients to protect mitochondria. Nutritional compounds that have been shown to protect the mitochrondria include CoQ10, carnitine, riboflavin, niacin, alpha-lipoic acid, and magnesium.
Make sure you consume enough essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and protective of brain health. Consume enough in the right ratio.
Support methylation. Methylation is a molecular process necessary for healthy brain function and helping prevent brain inflammation and degeneration. Nutritional compounds that support methylation include methyl B12, L-methylfolate (5-MTHF), trimethylgycine, choline, riboflavin, and pyridoxine.
Exercise! Increasing your heart rate through regular aerobic activity has been shown to help manage the progression and symptoms of Parkinson’s and parkinsonism. It’s best to get your heart rate up to higher levels for at least a few minutes every time you exercise.
What not to take. Acetycholine is a brain chemical and a supplement that can be great for the brain but it opposes dopamine. Therefore, in many cases it is recommended not to take acetylcholine supplements or precursors when you have parkinsonism or Parkinson’s disease.
This is a broad and simple overview of some nutritional strategies that can help you manage Parkinson’s or parkinsonism in addition to medical and functional neurological care. Ask my office for more advice.
Lab testing is foundational to functional medicine, and for good reason. It can show you what is causing your symptoms, if you are headed toward a disease (even if you don’t have symptoms), track the progress of your protocol, and motivate you to stick with your protocol.
Lab testing includes many different tests. Some examples of testing used in functional medicine include:
Food sensitivity testing. If a food you eat regularly causes inflammation, this contributes to chronic health disorders.
Gut testing. Gut problems contribute to chronic health issues. Tests can screen for leaky gut, gut function, parasites, bacterial overgrowth, and autoimmune reactions.
Blood chemistry panel. This is an excellent starting point in functional medicine testing and includes the use of functional medicine ranges (versus lab ranges). Blood testing screens for some diseases and can catch a trend toward a disease while there’s still time to reverse it.
Chemical and metal sensitivity testing. As with foods, an immune reaction to chemicals or metals can trigger chronic inflammatory health disorders.
Adrenal testing. Adrenal testing reveals the relationship between your health and stress handling. The most important test is the second one because it shows if your protocol is working. If not, you need to dig deeper.
Hormone testing. Hormone imbalances profoundly affect health. Testing screens for excesses, deficiencies, feedback loops, and how well you metabolize hormones.
DNA genetic testing. Genetic testing delivers insight into disease risk and genetic metabolic variations that affect health. An example is the MTHFR variance.
These are just a few examples of the types of testing used in functional medicine. What type of testing you need depends on your symptoms and health history.
Why lab testing is important in functional medicine
Functional medicine is based on peer-reviewed science and finds the root cause of your symptoms. There are a variety of factors that can lead to depression, fatigue, chronic pain, poor function, and other chronic health disorders.
Functional lab testing shows a trend toward disease
In conventional medicine, doctors use labs to screen for disease. Once a condition has become a disease, such as diabetes or autoimmune disease, the damage is significant.
Functional medicine uses lab testing to catch a health trend that is on the way to disease but that can still be slowed, halted, or reversed. For instance, lab markers that show elevated blood sugar, inflammation, and poor liver function allow you to easily reverse the march towards diabetes.
Another example is autoimmunity. A significant amount of tissue must be destroyed before conventional medicine can diagnose autoimmune disease. However, by testing for antibodies against tissue, the autoimmune progression can be slowed or stopped in its early stages.
Functional lab testing tracks progress
Although the first test is important for identifying health problems, subsequent testing is also crucial to let you know whether your protocol is working. If there is no improvement, it means you have not hit on the right protocol or discovered all the underlying causes.
Lab testing improves compliance and social support
Seeing the results of a lab test makes it easier to stick with a protocol. It also can encourage a disbelieving spouse, family member, or friend to support you. Many people think gluten sensitivity is just a fad, or that your symptoms aren’t real and you simply complain too much. Your lab results validate your symptoms and can help others be more supportive.
Ask my office about functional lab testing to help you get to the bottom of your chronic health condition.
If you pass out after meals or find yourself feeling desperate for something sweet, you are likely increasing your risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s in your later years.
Post-meal sleepiness and sugar cravings are signs of insulin resistance, a condition in which blood sugar is chronically too high and aging your brain too quickly.
Look for other common signs of insulin resistance to know if you’re at risk. For women this includes balding, growing more facial hair, and a deepening voice. PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is also commonly linked with insulin resistance.
Men with insulin resistance may find they are growing breasts and they cry more easily.
People take on characteristics of the opposite sex because insulin resistance promotes excess testosterone production in women and estrogen production in men.
What causes insulin resistance?
Whether you develop insulin resistance depends on your diet and physical activity. If you subsist on a high-carbohydrate diet, indulge regularly in sweets, and never or rarely exercise, your body must secrete high levels of insulin to lower your chronically high blood sugar.
The human body is designed to survive times of famine more so than times of excess calories. These chronic surges of insulin eventually exhaust the body’s cells, causing them to refuse entry to insulin. This is “insulin resistance.”
Starbucks pastries and syrupy coffees, soda, breads, pasta, rice, corn, potatoes, hours in front of the computer and television, overeating…it’s no wonder rates of insulin resistance, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s are soaring to shockingly high levels.
Alzheimer’s is type 3 diabetes
We have long known insulin resistance is linked to many chronic health disorders, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, and type 2 diabetes (insulin resistance is also called pre-diabetes).
This is because a high-carbohydrate diet accelerates brain degeneration and atrophies the brain.
Insulin necessary for brain function
Insulin does more than usher glucose into cells to manage blood sugar. Healthy levels of insulin also sustain energy in the brain, regulate inflammation, and help produce brain chemicals that regulate mood.
Insulin resistance does the opposite—it inflames the brain and impairs the brain’s ability to perform even simple operations.
Unless it’s reversed through diet and exercise, insulin resistance often progresses to type 2 diabetes, even further increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Reversing insulin resistance to prevent Alzheimer’s
Some of the most powerful tools to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s are the same tools that can reverse insulin resistance. They include stabilizing blood sugar by eating a lower-carb diet (ratios vary based on the person), regular physical activity (it helps sensitize cells to insulin), and a diet that is primarily vegetables (they foster health-promoting gut bacteria).
This is a broad overview of how your blood sugar levels affect the health and longevity of your brain. For customized advice, contact my office.
What is leaky gut and why should you care?
Does stuff really leak out of your intestines when you have leaky gut? The truth is, contents of the small intestine escape through the wall into the bloodstream. This can trigger many different inflammatory disorders and autoimmune disease, a disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue.
Leaky gut is associated with symptoms including:
Leaky gut, referred to as intestinal permeability in the research, means the lining of the small intestine has become inflamed, damaged, and overly porous. This allows undigested foods, bacteria, molds, and other pathogens to enter into the sterile environment of the bloodstream. The immune system attacks these compounds, triggering inflammation that, when constant, turns into chronic health disorders.
Leaky gut now on the research radar
Conventional medicine once believed leaky gut wasn’t a valid concept, but researchers now validate it as linked with many chronic disorders, including inflammatory bowel disorders, gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes, depression, and more.
How to repair leaky gut
If you have a chronic health condition — even if it’s not digestive — addressing leaky gut is vital to improving your health. The bulk of this work is done through diet. The most common causes of leaky gut are processed foods, excess sugars, lack of plant fibers, and foods that trigger an immune reaction (as in gluten sensitivity).
Excess alcohol, NSAID use, and antibiotics are other common culprits.
If you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism you are not managing correctly, or if your liver is not detoxifying properly, you will likely have problems with leaky gut. Nutrients that can help support liver detoxification include milk thistle, dandelion root, and schizandra.
In addition to diet, many nutrients can help support gut healing. Some of these include probiotics, enzymes, l-glutamine, deglycyrrhizinated licorice root, collagen, hydrochloric acid, and anti-fungal herbs.
Targeted nutrients can help stabilize blood sugar, manage stress, tame inflammation, and support a healthy balance of gut bacteria. All these factors help repair leaky gut. If you have an autoimmune condition, managing leaky gut can be a lifelong process as autoimmune flares can inflame the gut.
Ask me for advice about a leaky gut diet and protocol.
The placebo effect is a target of ridicule but studies show it has become increasingly effective in recent years, particularly in the United States, where drugs for pain, depression, anxiety sometimes barely outmatch placebos.
Fortunately, researchers have decided to study how and why the placebo effect works.
By embracing the mystery of the placebo effect, you can harness its powers to enhance your health protocol or better cope with your ailment.
What is the placebo effect?
Researchers give one group of subjects a new drug or procedure and a different group a sham, then compare the results. Neither group knows which treatment they received. In some studies, the placebo treatment works as well or even better than the real treatment.
1: Use belief to enhance placebo effect
A person’s beliefs and expectations play a profound role in how their body will respond to something. When subjects are told their pain will drop before receiving a placebo, it does. Likewise, when they are told they will experience more pain, they do, even though pain delivery was not increased.
Scans during these experiments show brain activity corresponds with the expected outcome, even though neither pain relief nor increased pain was delivered.
Scientists have also learned that positive expectations release endorphins and dopamine, the “reward” brain chemical. Endorphins dampen inflammation and both endorphins and dopamine help relieve pain.
Spend some time every day reaffirming why you’re on your health journey and the positive things you expect to gain from it. Visualize feeling and functioning better.
2: Receive care and attention to enhance placebo
Increased attention, concern, and care are also believed to be why the placebo effect has become much stronger in recent years. When people take part in these studies, they receive an increased level of interaction and care that positively impacts their health.
Seek out supportive care and nurturing during your health journey. This can be from a practitioner you work with, through body work appointments, or in the company of a support group or class. Include plenty of in-person social time as it is better for you than online socializing.
3: Develop a positivity and gratitude practice
Negativity is stressful and inflammatory. Doctors report that patients who are angry, don’t believe their treatment will work, or who are not supported by their friends and family in their healing journey may not experience optimal results.
However, the person who expects the best from their protocol, learns about their new diet and supplements, and enjoys working with their practitioner experiences less stress and inflammation and better results.
Take some time each day to think positive thoughts about your health journey and what it involves. Keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal and make sure to note your progress. These tips really do help your health!
Remember, it’s the placebo effect and not superstition
Although we’ve all heard miracle healing stories, it’s best not to pin your hopes on one. The placebo effect alone is estimated to work between 18 to 80 percent of the time, which is a wide spread to bank on.
Functional medicine is about creating new lifelong habits as much as it is about restoring function. By injecting the best the placebo effect has to offer into your daily diet and protocol, you are laying the groundwork for a lifetime of more positive outcomes.