6 Medication-Free Ways to Feel Better with Parkinson’s Disease
Medication, nutrition, and surgery are among the traditional treatments available to help people manage Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that has no cure. But some people living with Parkinson’s are exploring non-medication therapies to hold off the worsening effects of the disease as long as possible.
Parkinson’s disease is the second-most common neurodegenerative disorder in the United States, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The institute further reports that approximately 500,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease. Since many individuals are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, the actual number is likely much higher. About 5 to 10 percent of people are diagnosed before age 50, but most people diagnosed are 60 years or older.
Symptoms are mild during the early stages of the disease, but walking, talking, and sleeping become more difficult over time and begin to disrupt a person’s daily living activities.
Scientists believe Parkinson’s disease is caused by a lack of “dopamine,” a chemical released in the brain that plays a role in controlling balance and movement. Nerve cells that die or become impaired lose their ability to produce dopamine, resulting in symptoms such as tremors, slowness of movement, and gradual loss of balance and coordination. Studies have shown that Parkinson’s symptoms develop in patients with an 80 percent or greater loss of nerve cells in the area of the brain that produces dopamine, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Scientists do not know what causes nerve cells to die.
Since the nerves are not functioning properly in people living with Parkinson’s disease, a surgical procedure known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is sometimes used to stimulate the nerves. DBS uses implanted electrodes and electrical stimulation to make neurons in the brain that control movement and other functions more active. DBS aims to reduce the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as stiffness, slowness, and tremor.
In addition to focusing on nerve cells, treatments for Parkinson’s mostly include medication, nutrition, and exercise to ease the symptoms. For example, eating a balanced diet alone cannot treat Parkinson’s, but studies have found that certain foods promote brain health and help to improve a person’s ability to handle the symptoms of the disease. Some of the foods, such as berries, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish tend to be rich in antioxidants. Fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), whole grains, and nuts are good sources of fiber. Drinking plenty of fluids and eating more fiber can help with constipation, a common symptom of Parkinson’s.
When it comes to exercise, one activity growing in popularity among people with Parkinson’s is Rock Steady Boxing, a non-contact exercise that uses the mechanics of boxing to focus on balance, hand-eye coordination, and agility, most of which are affected by Parkinson’s. The opponent in this exercise is not human, but Parkinson’s disease.
Another effective exercise is riding an indoor, stationary bicycle. According to the Parkinson Association of Central Florida, riding a stationary bike has been shown to reduce Parkinson’s motor symptoms by as much as 35 percent.
6 Non-Medication Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease
While medication, nutrition, and exercise are traditional methods included in a medical care plan for Parkinson’s, there are six medication-free treatments that people living with the disease are exploring:
1. Nutritional Supplements
There is evidence that suggests certain dietary supplements, such as vitamins B, C, D, and E, may help in treating Parkinson’s. For example, vitamin D helps to keep bones strong and reduce the risk for fractures. Vitamin E is known to fight damage in the brain caused by free radicals.
It was once thought that a long-term, high-dosage of the antioxidant coenzyme Q10, also known as Co-Q10, could slow down the progression of Parkinson’s, but researchers say more studies are needed to determine whether Co-Q10, actually benefits people with the disease.
2. Tai Chi
Studies show that consistent physical exercise can slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease while decreasing pain. One form of exercise that comes highly recommended for people with Parkinson’s is Tai Chi, primarily because of its concentration on balance and coordination.
Researchers in a 2012 study randomly assigned people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease to one of three exercise groups: Tai Chi, resistance training, and stretching. The study showed that Tai Chi helped to improve balance and stability and reduced falls more than resistance training and exercise.
Like Tai Chi, yoga is a low-intensity activity that involves slow, continuous movement. Yoga helps to build muscle tone and strength, and helps to improve balance. One study found that, when adapted to the needs of people with movement disorders like Parkinson’s disease, yoga can increase mobility, flexibility, balance, and strength. Yoga has also been shown to reduce stress, and improve mood, concentration, memory, and sleep.
4. Movement Therapies
Movement therapies are used to help counteract the progressive reduction of motor skills and balance. The Alexander Technique, for example, focuses on how to improve posture and movement and may help people with Parkinson’s retain mobility. Also, a therapy called the Feldenkrais Method, focuses on retraining the body to do difficult movements. This method is designed to increase a person’s flexibility, coordination, ease and range of motion. Activities such as yoga, Tai Chi, dancing, and strength training are also viewed as movement-based practices that promote mobility and flexibility while relieving tension and stress.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese practice that involves inserting fine, metallic needles into the skin to stimulate specific points, or “acupoints” in the body. Acupuncture is commonly used in China and other countries to relieve pain, headaches, and other ailments. There’s also increasing evidence that shows acupuncture can alleviate and delay the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms and allow for a decrease in the dosage of medications for Parkinson’s disease.
6. Massage Therapy
Clinical studies and anecdotal evidence shows that massage therapy reduces many Parkinson’s disease symptoms, such as stress, pain, and depression, and promotes relaxation.
A 2002 study found that a group of adults with Parkinson’s disease who received two massages a week for five weeks had improvement in daily functioning, increased quality of sleep, and decreased stress-hormone levels. In addition, a 2016 review of studies showed a measurable reduction in muscle stiffness and rigidity and resting tremor immediately after a 60-minute massage.
Research is still underway on medication-free therapies and their effectiveness on Parkinson’s disease. Health experts, however, recommend people living with Parkinson’s disease consult with their doctors before trying any new treatments