A regular theme of the SoPD website is the reviewing of novel phamarcological treatments that are being tested on models of Parkinson’s. And while the breadth of the research is exciting and encouraging, the average reader may feel distant to the results of those studies as the experimental drug being tested is still a long way from possible regulatory approval.
There have been numerous requests to explore more readily applicable research, which could be useful for the Parkinson’s community to explore (for example, diet and exercise). This is dangerous ground for a blogger to tread on, but in the interest of stimulating discussion (and possibly research), we shall do our best.
In today’s post, we will discuss what the Wim Hof method is, what research supports it, and potential issues with applying it to conditions like Parkinson’s.
Before we start: This post is not an endorsement of the Wim Hof method, but rather an exploration of the research that has been conducted on it. The author has had no contact with Mr Hof or any associated parties, nor is he aware of any clinical research investigating the Wim Hof method in the context of Parkinson’s. The author is simply fulfilling a request to discuss the topic.
I am regularly asked to give an opinion (or write a blog post) about a method or technique that is being advertised online as a remedy for all aliments (including Parkinson’s).
“What do you think of the ________ method?” folks will ask.
Many of these techniques I am unaware of and I can simply give a polite “I honestly don’t know” kind-of response. But for others, where I do have a little information I find myself rather conflicted.
A lot of these online methods/techniques involve commercially-focused entities hidden behind a veneer of testimonials, and very few of them have any actual real science backing them. It is difficult for anyone to give an opinion, let alone write a post about it.
But if people in the Parkinson’s community are experiencing some kind of benefits from a particular method, who am I to say otherwise or pour doubt on their experience given the lack of alternatives (I do draw a line, however, at dodgy stem cell clinics – they are all charlatans).
Source: The conversation
But recently a friend within the PD community asked me to look into the “Wim Hof method”. And while I reluctantly agreed to, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised
Because there was actual real research backing up some of the claims! The method has never been clinically tested on Parkinson’s (as far as I’m aware), but researchers have had a look at the method and the results are worth discussing.
What is the Wim Hof method?
The great Isaac Asimov once said:
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘huh, that’s funny’…”
Here at the Science of Parkinson’s disease we suspect that this was the situation when some Italian scientists made a curious discovery in some early-onset Parkinson’s disease subjects.
An image of a brain scan. Source: DailyMail
Last week they published their observation in the journal Movement Disorders:
Title: Abnormal Brain Temperature in Early-Onset Parkinson’s Disease
Authors: Rango M, Piatti M, Di Fonzo A, Ardolino G, Airaghi L, Biondetti P, & Bresolin N.
Journal: Movement Disorders, 2016 Mar;31(3):425-6.
The researchers were conducting brain scans of 5 people with early onset Parkinson’s disease (3 men and 2 women, with an average age of 41±6 years) and 10 control/normal subjects (6 men and 4 women with an average age of 43±7 years). The study was a follow on from a smaller previous study conducted by the same researchers. There was absolutely no difference in the average body temperature of all the subjects (36.7±0.48°C) and healthy subjects (36.5±0.84 °C).
But when the researchers began looking at different brains regions, they found there were substantial increases in temperature in the early-onset Parkinson’s patients when compared to the control subjects.
The areas of the brain where signiﬁcant temperature differences were observed included:
- the hypothalamus (38.50±0.20 vs. 37.01±0.60 °C; PD subjects vs controls)
- the posterior cingulate gyrus (37.60±0.20 vs. 36.70±0.40 °C)
- the centrum semiovale (38.00±0.60 vs. 36.60±0.60 °C)
- the lenticulate nucleus (38.80±0.80 vs. 37.40±0.60 °C)
There was also a slight difference in the visual cortex in the patient group, but this was not statistically signiﬁcant (37.20±0.20 vs. 36.80±0.40 °C).
Dysfunction in the hypothalamus is known to occur in Parkinson’s disease (click here for more information on this). Changes in the posterior cingulate gyrus (an area involved with emotion) have also been reported (click here for more information on this). But our knowledge of the role of the centrum semiovale and lenticulate nucleus in Parkinson’s disease requires further investigation.
Please remember that all things being equal, there should be no difference whatsoever in brain temperatures. The brain is an extremely sensitive organ and its temperature is rigidly controlled.
So why is there a difference?
Basically the researchers have no idea and, to their credit, they admit as much.
They also point out to the reader that any temperature change in the hypothalamus – an area of the brain that regulates temperature in the body – should result in a corrective response to restore proper temperature in the brain. But apparently in the early-onset Parkinsonian brain it doesn’t. They also note that dopamine-based Parkinson’s treatments (such as levodopa) should decrease overall brain temperature because they increase cerebral blood ﬂow (a natural cooling system for the brain). But again, this doesn’t appear to be happening.
They speculate that maybe these temperature differences are the result of ongoing disease-related activities in the brain, and they offer some well considered ideas as to why this maybe. But there are many other areas of the brain that are affected by Parkinson’s disease – why is there no change in temperature in those regions?
The researchers also ask whether cooling the brain may be considered as a therapeutic option. An interesting idea but this still needs to be tested. And the results of the current study also need to be replicated – independently validated by other groups.
In those replication studies it would be interesting to conduct the same experiment on people with Parkinson’s disease at different stages of the disease to see the effect is consistent or changing over time.
A curious result. Opening up new areas of research. And further evidence that it’s the ‘huh, that’s funny’ results that ultimately lead to the ‘Eureka!’ moments.