Despite being a fairly rare disease, many of you will be affected yourself or personally know someone suffering from Parkinson’s disease during your life time. This degenerative disorder of the brain affects nearly 150,000 people within the UK alone and it is on the increase.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
A disease of the motor system, there is death of cells within the substantia nigra, part of the midbrain. This results in a lack of dopamine in the affected areas, which can reach a 70% decrease in severe disease. The brain is exposed to thousands of stimuli every second and in order to block out the majority of these and allow us to focus, the mid brain primarily acts to inhibit movements at inappropriate times. When the brain decides it wants to perform a specific action, dopamine is released in order to stop the usual inhibition and create a movement. A decrease in dopamine levels therefore leads to this inhibitory signal going unchallenged and a net reduction in motor output.
In early Parkinson’s disease, suffers may have difficulty commencing a movement, rigidity, reduced facial expressions and over a third will also suffer from depression, problems with sleeping and anxiety.
Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease
Initial treatment of Parkinson’s disease is typically with Levodopa, L-DOPA, a naturally occurring amino acid and precursor of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. L-DOPA is found throughout the human body and has a variety of functions.
Primarily, once it crosses the blood-brain barrier it is converted into dopamine by enzyme DOPA decarboxylase and acts to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The other actions of L-DOPA are visible more peripherally and contribute to many of the sometime intolerable side effects of Parkinson’s medications. Some of these side effects include nausea, arrhythmias, disorientation and hallucinations & vivd dreams. Carbidopa, a peripheral DOPA decarboxylase inhibitor is often co-administered to reduce these side effects.
L-DOPA gives Parkinson’s sufferers the ability to continue normal life for a number of years before the neurons in the midbrain are lost and the medication itself loses its effectiveness. However, many patients around the world do not have access to such sophisticated and expensive Parkinson’s medications.
Natural sources of L-DOPA
Mucuna Pruriens is a tropical legume growing on vines native to Africa and Asia. The seeds have appreciable quantities of Levodopa and they have long been used in ayurvedic medicine to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
A study researching the effectiveness of the powdered seeds of mucuna pruriens at treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease found that a single dose relieved the motor symptoms at both 90 and 180 minutes after administration.
Also known as the velvet bean, this medicinal plant is believed to have many other properties such as the treatment of scorpion stings, a potent anti-oxidant and of lowering blood pressure by its lineloic acid prostaglandin effect.
L-dopa has been identified in the seedlings and pods of broad beans. A small study by Rabey et al, showed a significant clinical improvement in motor symptoms after the ingestion of 250g cooked Vicia Faba. Whilst these cases at present remain anecdotal, there is significant literature to suggest controlled administration of the plant could indeed be an alternative to prescribed medicinal forms of L-DOPA.
To read more about the naturally occurring sources of L-DOPA, take a look at this update from Ramya Kuber B and SanthRani Thaakur
Some food for thought: studies have shown that regular consumption of plants contains L-DOPA can reduce the onset of wet and dry macular degeneration for up to 8 years.
Are you looking for ways to boost you health without taking any medications, try adding ginger to your diet. Ginger improves your gut health and helps to prevent some forms of cancer.