The motor features of Parkinson’s disease can be managed with treatments that replace the chemical dopamine in the brain.
While there are many medically approved dopamine replacement drugs available for people affected by Parkinson’s disease, there also are more natural sources.
In today’s post we will look at the science and discuss the research supporting one of the most potent natural source for dopamine replacement treatment: Mucuna pruriens
When asked by colleagues and friends what is my ‘plan B’ (that is, if the career in academia does not play out – which is highly probable I might add – Click here to read more about the disastrous state of biomedical research careers), I answer that I have often considered throwing it all in and setting up a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation to grow plantations of a tropical legume in strategic places around the world, which would provide the third-world with a cheap source of levodopa – the main treatment in the fight against Parkinson’s disease.
Plan B: A legume plantation. Source: Tropicalforages
The response to my answer is generally one of silent wonder – that is: me silently wondering if they think I’m crazy, and them silently wondering what on earth I’m talking about.
As romantic as the concept sounds, there is an element of truth to my Plan B idea.
I have read many news stories and journal articles about the lack of treatment options for those people with Parkinson’s disease living in the developing world.
Hospital facilities in the rural Africa. Source: ParkinsonsLife
Some of the research articles on this topic provide a terribly stark image of the contrast between people suffering from Parkinson’s disease in the developing world versus the modernised world. A fantastic example of this research is the work being done by the dedicated researchers at the Parkinson Institute in Milan (Italy), who have been conducting the “Parkinson’s disease in Africa collaboration project”.
The researchers at the Parkinson Institute in Milan. Source: Parkinson Institute
The project is an assessment of the socio-demographic, epidemiological, clinical features and genetic causes of Parkinson’s disease in people attending the neurology out-patients clinic of the Korle Bu Teaching and Comboni hospitals. Their work has resulted in several really interesting research reports, such as this one:
Title: The modern pre-levodopa era of Parkinson’s disease: insights into motor complications from sub-Saharan Africa.
Authors: Cilia R, Akpalu A, Sarfo FS, Cham M, Amboni M, Cereda E, Fabbri M, Adjei P, Akassi J, Bonetti A, Pezzoli G.
Journal: Brain. 2014 Oct;137(Pt 10):2731-42.
PMID: 25034897 (This article is OPEN ACCESS if you would like to read it)
In this study, the researchers collected data in Ghana between December 2008 and November 2012, and each subject was followed-up for at least 6 months after the initiation of Levodopa therapy. In total, 91 Ghanaians were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (58 males, average age at onset 60 ± 11 years), and they were compared to 2282 Italian people with Parkinson’s disease who were recruited during the same period. In long-term follow up, 32 Ghanaians with Parkinson’s disease were assessed (with an average follow period of 2.6 years).
There are some interesting details in the results of the study, such as:
- Although Levodopa therapy was generally delayed – due to availability and affordability – in Ghana (average disease duration before Levodopa treatment was 4.2 years in Ghana versus just 2.4 years in Italy), the actual disease duration – as determined by the occurrence of motor fluctuations and the onset of dyskinesias – was similar in the two populations.
- The motor fluctuations were similar in the two populations, with a slightly lower risk of dyskinesias in Ghanaians.
- Levodopa daily doses were higher in Italians, but this difference was no longer significant after adjusting for body weight.
- Ghanaian Parkinson’s sufferers who developed dyskinesias were younger at onset than those who did not.
Reading these sorts of research reports, I am often left baffled by the modern business world’s approach to medicine. I am also left wondering how an individual’s experience of Parkinson’s disease in some of these developing nations would be improved if a cheap alternative to the dopamine replacement therapies was available.
Are any cheap alternatives available?
They say that “we are what we eat”, and food can certainly have a major impact on health and wellbeing.
Recently, a research report has been published that looks into the topic of food in the context of Parkinson’s disease.
And the results are interesting.
In today’s post we will outline the new research, discuss the results, and what they mean for people living with Parkinson’s disease.
Seattle. Source: Wikipedia
Established in 1978, Bastyr University is an alternative medicines institute.
The original campus (Bastyr now has a second campus in San Diego, California) is tucked into the idyllic forested area of Saint Edward State Park on the edge of Lake Washington, just north-east of downtown Seattle (Washington).
Hang on a moment – ‘alternative medicines’?
While I can understand that some readers may immediately question why ‘alternative medicines’ are being mentioned on the “Science” of Parkinson’s disease website, here at the SoPD HQ we entertain any and all ideas with regards to Parkinson’s disease. And we are certainly open to any data that may be of interest to the Parkinson’s community.
Particularly, when that data comes from this individual:
This is Dr Laurie Mischley. She’s awesome.
She is an Associate Clinical Investigator at Bastyr University, a guru when it comes to nutrition, and our first port of call when we field questions regarding Parkinson’s disease and diet. You can see her in action in this video (recommended viewing for those with Parkinson’s disease and interested in the topic of diet/nutrition):
Importantly, Dr Mischley is also responsible for most of the clinical study data that we have on Acetylcysteine (also known as N-acetylcysteine or simply NAC) in Parkinson’s disease (Click here to read more about this).
And she is currently co-ordinating the “Complementary & Alternative Medicine Care in Parkinson’s Disease” (CAM Care in PD) study, which is attempting to ‘collect as much data as possible over a five-year period with the hope of finding dietary and lifestyle factors associated with a slower disease progression’. The study is still recruiting and I would encourage readers to take time to enrol in the study and fill in the survey (Click here to learn more).
This ongoing CAM study (and Dr Mischley’s efforts) has recently borne fruit that will be of real interest to the Parkinson’s community. It is a research report that reviews dietary and nutritional supplemental factors that can impact Parkinson’s disease progression.
This is the study here: