Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years.
According to the National Health Service, the three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are:
• involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body (tremor)
• slow movement
• stiff and inflexible muscles
A person with Parkinson’s disease can also experience a wide range of other physical and psychological symptoms.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain called the substantia nigra. This leads to a reduction in a chemical called dopamine in the brain. Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating the movement of the body. A reduction in dopamine is responsible for many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
It’s not known why the loss of nerve cells associated with Parkinson’s disease occurs, although it’s believed to be a combination of genetic changes and environmental factors.
There is no cure, but there are treatments to reduce the symptoms and improve the quality of life.
So what can we do about environmental factors?
To prevent Parkinson’s, or at least reduce the odds, you can’t do anything about genetic factors, so what about factors that you can control?
The Mayo Clinic in the US:
Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk of later Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is relatively small.
Because the cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, proven ways to prevent the disease also remain a mystery. Some research has shown that regular aerobic exercise might reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Some other research has shown that people who drink caffeine — which is found in coffee, tea and cola — get Parkinson’s disease less often than those who don’t drink it. However, it is still not known whether caffeine actually protects against getting Parkinson’s, or is related in some other way. Currently there is not enough evidence to suggest drinking caffeinated beverages to protect against Parkinson’s. Green tea is also related to a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
The Parkinson’s UK organisation:
“There is some evidence that environmental factors (toxins) may cause dopamine-producing neurons to die, leading to the development of Parkinson’s. The term ‘environment’ refers to the world around you and the pathogens (viruses and bacteria), toxic chemicals and heavy metals that occupy it. In particular, there has been a great deal of speculation about the link between the use of herbicides and pesticides and the development of Parkinson’s.”
Johns Hopkins University in the US:
Medical experts believe that environmental causes may help trigger Parkinson’s disease. Exposure to farming chemicals, like pesticides and herbicides; and working with heavy metals, detergents and solvents have all been implicated and studied for a clearer link. That said, it’s unlikely that most people who develop Parkinson’s disease do so because of exposure to environmental hazards.
Head trauma: Repeated blows to the head likely increases one’s risk of developing Parkinson’s, but “at this point, we don’t know with 100 percent certainty that it causes the disease,”
Here are environmental factors that may play a role in the development of Parkinson’s disease:
• Pesticides/herbicides: Studies have shown a link between exposure to chemicals in pesticides and herbicides, and the incidence of Parkinson’s disease.
• Manganese and other metals: There’s a suggestion that exposure to various metals may be related to the development of Parkinson’s disease. High-dose manganese exposure is known to cause a form of parkinsonism. Exposure to lead may also be associated with a greater risk of Parkinson’s.
• Solvents: Trichloroethylene, a solvent, has been used in many industrial settings, such as metal degreasing and dry cleaning, and in paint thinners and detergents. Some studies have shown a link between long-term exposure to solvents and development of Parkinson’s.
• Organic pollutants: PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were used in various industrial processes until they were banned in the 1970s. Researchers have found high concentrations of PCBs in the brains of people who had Parkinson’s.
Although environmental exposure to these and other toxins is of continued research interest, it’s hard to determine if any one substance is a culprit. Most often, individual cases of Parkinson’s disease result from a complex interplay between genetics and environmental and other factors.
In “How Not To Die”, Doctor Greger has these observations:
Chemical pollutants may be a factor, in particular:
• Heavy metals: Arsenic from poultry and tuna. Lead from dairy. Mercury from seafood.
• DDT: from meat, particularly fish.
• PCB: fish and fish oil, followed by eggs, dairy and other meat.
• Dioxins: (in US) butter, then eggs, then processed meat.
• Pesticides: in food, dairy, and insect sprays.
Dairy seems to be a particular problem. PD risk increases by 17% for each daily cup of milk. Also cheese may be a long-term issue too.
But there seem to be protective factors:
• Nicotine: Stats show that smokers get less PD. So go for nicotine-rich vegetables: a lot in peppers and some in tomatoes, and a little in potatoes.
• Uric Acid: It’s an important brain antioxidant protecting nerve cells against pesticides. It may slow PD and also Huntington’s disease, and lower the risk of getting PD in the first place. Milk’s adverse effect may be more to do with its lowering of level of uric acid.
Too much uric acid = heart disease, kidney disease, crystals in joint (gout)
Too little = Alzheimer’s, PD, Huntington’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke.
The good news is that a plant-based, dairy free diet appears to get it just right.
• Berries: Flavenoids (in fruit and vegetables) may have protective effects. Harvard study: people who ate more berries have lower risk of developing PD. Blueberries and strawberries have been tested as effective in lab. Apples also protective for men.
• Caffeine: Consumption of coffee is associated with a 1/3 lower risk of PD. It seems to be the caffeine as tea is also protective, and decaf is not.
Doctor Greger’s advice overall is that to decrease your risk: avoid head injury, exercise regularly, avoid being overweight, eat peppers, berries and green tea, minimise exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, dairy, animal products.
So what do I do?
By going vegan, I’m already cutting out dairy and eggs, and the toxins in meat and fish, and I’m consuming a range of fruit and vegetables.
My BMI is low and I don’t smoke.
I’m careful anyway to avoid head (or any) injury, as I seem to take longer to heal these days!
I drink lots of tea and coffee.
Where I can, I buy organic, to avoid or reduce the amount of pesticides etc.
Parkinson’s UK: https://www.parkinsons.org.uk/
Link to my post on “How Not to Die”