What are alternative therapies for Parkinson’s Disease?

Fryday, 28 August 2020 | Nina Klein

What are alternative therapies for Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson's Disease (PD) is one of the most common diseases of the nervous system. There is currently no cure for the disease. Common treatments aim at easing symptoms and reducing side effects as much as possible. A big part of the therapy usually includes medication. But are there other options? Can alternative treatments enhance the effect of typical PD therapies, or even stop the progression of the disease? Here we provide an overview of treatment options for PD.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson's Disease (PD) is a common diseases of the nervous system and usually begins insidiously. The first signs of the disease do not always clearly indicate PD. It can therefore often take years before PD is properly diagnosed.

PD is a chronic disease which permanently impairs the nerve cells in the part of the brain that is responsible for controlling movements. The nerve cells in this area, and this those which are affected, typically produce the messenger substance dopamine.

Dopamine is responsible for transmitting signals for movement control. If the nerve cells die, the dopamine level drops. In its course, the disease can therefore affect the coordination and mobility of those affected.

How is Parkinson’s Disease typically treated?

The combination of different forms of therapy is typically applied in treating Parkinson's Disease. An important component of Parkinson's therapy is drug treatment, which is supported by various accompanying therapies.

Since the disease itself cannot currently be cured, therapies primarily aim to alleviate symptoms and side effects. Every course of PD is different, and the symptoms can be very different in nature and severity. What is particularly troubling for one person may not even occur to the other.

In addition to the symptoms, the medical history, age and living conditions also play an important role. It is therefore necessary to tailor the therapy to the individual. Your treating neurologist is an important point of contact for your PD treatment.

Medication for PD

The symptoms of PD are usually treated with medication. Various drugs are available which can alleviate the symptoms. The aim of drug therapy is to compensate for the lack of dopamine in the brain as early as possible. Since every course of PD is different, it is important to tailor the drug therapy to you individually.

The list of common drugs to treat PD include Levodopa (L-Dopa), COMT-inhibitors, MAO-B-inhibitors, Dopamine-Agonists, Glutamate-Antagonists (NMDA-Antagonists). Read more about PD medication options here.

Complementary therapies

Exercise is generally good for you, and this does not only apply to PD patients. Exercise strengthens the muscles and the musculoskeletal system and has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. In addition, it also contributes to overall wellbeing. Those who exercise usually feel better.

Regular exercise is of particular importance for people with Parkinson's disease. In addition to therapy concepts that are well suited as accompanying therapy for Parkinson's, there are also training systems that have been specially developed for people with Parkinson's.

Some of the advised physical activities include physiotherapy, speech therapy, LSVT-BIG and LSVT LOUD therapy, occupational therapy, Tai Chi therapeutic training, and dance as movement training.

Psychological counselling

The diagnosis of PD can be associated with many uncertainties and fears for those affected. This can become a major emotional burden. In addition, poor coping with illness can increasingly lead to psychological changes, in the worst case to anxiety and depression. Psychological counseling can help you deal with your illness and develop positive strategies for coping with it. This strengthens you in dealing with your illness and can thus prevent social withdrawal and the loss of quality of life.

Surgical Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease

Surgical therapy is the most invasive form of therapy and can generally cause severe side effects compared to other treatment options. However, sometimes, in very progressed cases, it may be an option for patients.

Deep Brain Stimulation

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a method that has been used in around 100,000 patients worldwide for over 25 years. The indication for DBS should be made in a specialized center and can then be used if there are fluctuations in mobility in the course of the disease with overmobile (dyskinesia) or undermobile (hypokinesia) phases that lead to a reduction in quality of life and / or when tremor is becoming an overpowering symptom which cannot be adequately treated with drug therapy.

In DBS, electrodes are implanted stereotactically into deeper brain regions. With the help of an implanted pulse generator, individually controllable electrical stimulation takes place in the corresponding regions. This leads to a change in the pathologically disturbed activities of nerve cells, which is then accompanied by a reduction in movement fluctuations and / or tremors.

Although deep brain stimulation cannot cure PD, it can provide many years of symptom relief. Read more about DBS here.

Duopa therapy

Duopa therapy consists of a surgery, where a tube is inserted into the small intestine, through which a gel formulation containing drugs is delivered into the patient. It is thus an alternative to orally taking medication. Just like the previously described drug therapies, the treatment is used to treat the motor symptoms of PD. However, Duopa therapy is designed to improve absorption and reduce times where there are no active drugs in the system, by directly delivering the drug to the small intestine.

Other types of surgery

There are other types of surgery, though rarely performed today, which have been used to treat PD is advanced cases:

  • Thalamotomy: the thalamus is surgically removed
  • Pallidotomy: a tiny part of the globus pallidus is lesioned by creating a scar
  • Subthalamotomy: the subthalamus is surgically destroyed

Alternative Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease

Alternative therapies for PD aim to enhance the body’s own abilities to repair and regenerate itself. All of these are still newly developed therapeutic options and need more scientific research to be considered as standard of care. Still, they can be considered relevant treatment options which may, in combination with other therapies, help patients better cope with their disease.

Cellular Therapies

Cellular therapies, in particular stem cell therapies, are on the rise for diseases like Parkinson’s Disease, which currently do not have a cure. While stem cell therapies can currently also not provide a cure for PD, they are certainly being strongly investigated, because many studies have provided promising results. From more elaborate therapies which are still far away from being available health care, such as cell-replacement therapies, to easier to perform and already available treatments like intravenous stem cell secretome therapy, more and more treatment options are being developed. Stem cells are known to have regenerative, anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic properties, all of which can potentially help with PD. Read more about stem cell therapy for Parkinson's disease here.

Nutrition and Supplements

A healthy and nutritious diet can improve overall wellbeing and help the body repair itself to some extent. While there is very little conclusive data on supplements for the treatment of PD, scientists are investigating several substances of interest to determine the effects they can have on PD, the disease’s progression and managing PD symptoms.

Diets containing Vitamin C, E and D, Calcium and Coenzyme Q-10, amongst others, are amongst those substances under investigation for the treatment of PD, with promising results. Antioxidant rich diets (such as the Mediterranean diet) and diets that include green tea or ginger are known to provide many health benefits and are currently being researched for their interaction with PD.

Medical Marijuana

Some countries allow the consumption of medical marijuana. Research is currently investigating if the use of medical marijuana can help ease the symptoms of PD and even provide protective properties, but currently studies are showing mixed results. Further research is necessary to understand the mechanism of active compounds of marijuana and their role in the treatment of PD.

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