Dopamine plays a major role in a variety of mental and physical functions, including:
Parkinson’s now afflicts roughly 1.5 million people in the United States alone, with primary symptoms being body tremors, slow movement, rigid limbs, reduced memory, a shuffling gait and speech impairment. So we have to ask:
1.) What causes it?
2.) How do we prevent it?
Currently there isn’t a known cure, and it’s not fully understood what causes the dip in dopamine; however, we know that aging is the single most important risk factor for PD, with inflammation and stress contributing to cell damage. And we now know enough about the disease to understand the preventative measures that counter the aging and death of the neurons under attack.
Because there is no known cure, it’s critical that we prevent the disease before symptoms arise. Granted, thanks to recent advancements in modern surgical procedures, there are some safe surgeries that can mitigate some of the more severe symptoms associated with PD. The most common one now is deep brain stimulation, in which they implant an electrode into the brain that can stop some of the more severe symptoms of Parkinson’s.
But this article will try to keep it from getting to that point. The less drugs and surgery we can have in our lives, the better.
Pesticides and herbicides have been heavily implicated in causing Parkinson’s. Researchers have found high levels of pesticides/herbicides in the brains of Parkinson’s sufferers, compared to those with regular dopamine levels. Furthermore, agricultural workers who find themselves exposed to these pesticides have significantly higher rates of PD than the general public.
But while organic is generally a safer bet than conventional, there are still some pesticides and herbicides farmers can legally use on their crops while hanging onto that organic label. This is why knowing the origin of your food is more important than ever before, so get to know your local farmers, join community-supported agricultural programs (CSAs), or start your own garden patch – the best kind of local.
Plus, if you’re concerned about your carbon footprint, keep this in mind: The average foodstuff is shipped 1,500 miles before it finds itself on a supermarket shelf. That’s a lot of fuel to deliver what you can find in your backyard or around the corner.
If you needed more reasons to eat your vegetables, this should be the clincher. Studies show that increased amounts of the B vitamin folic acid, found primarily in vegetables, can significantly reduce the risk of Parkinson’s.
The best sources of folic acid are simultaneously some of the healthiest foods on the planet, namely dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, collard greens, brussels sprouts, asparagus and okra – all of which can be grown in your backyard! This B vitamin can also be found in avocado, legumes and lentils.
Parkinson’s is inflammatory in nature, so researchers have spent much of their time exploring the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the disease. Omega-3 fatty acids are strongly implicated in the prevention of cell degeneration and death, with their benefits going well beyond Parkinson’s prevention.
A 2008 study in Canada all but proved the effectiveness of omega-3 fats in preventing Parkinson’s. Researchers in the study gave one group of mice omega-3 supplementation for 10 months and kept one group of mice as a control before injecting them with a chemical that would cause PD.
The results? The control group experienced a steep decline in dopamine levels, while the group that received omega-3 supplementation experienced no decline in dopamine levels and exhibited no signs of Parkinson’s.
Omega-3s have the added benefits of balancing cholesterol levels, boosting immunity, and enhancing cardiovascular health. Your primary sources of this fatty acid are wild-caught fish (especially mackerel, salmon and cod), pastured eggs and walnuts.
Vitamin D comes from only two sources:
Without enough vitamin D, you can’t absorb the amounts of calcium or phosphorous your body needs to function properly, resulting in a host of negative effects that become more prevalent as we age.
Researchers have found that about 70 percent of early, untreated Parkinson’s patients have low levels of vitamin D – identifying this statistic as a strong correlation would be an understatement.
Other benefits of vitamin D:
The inherent antioxidant properties of green tea are well known, and the benefits of this tasty drink seem to be boundless:
Multiple studies have shown that the certain compounds in green tea have myriad protective benefits on the neural network of the brain. Green tea has also been shown to sustain dopamine levels in ailing brain tissue, reducing the severity of Parkinson’s symptoms for those already diagnosed.
When shopping for green tea, it’s important to choose a higher quality brand, as some of the lower quality brands contain excessive levels of fluoride, which has been shown to have degenerative effects on brain function.
In addition to physical benefits like increasing lung capacity, bone density and overall longevity, exercise has a distinct impact on brain health. Regular aerobic exercise reduces inflammation in the brain, helping to counter the inflammatory signals leading to the development of Parkinson’s.
A study conducted at the University of Illinois in 2011 clearly showed how modest but regular aerobic exercise can improve our overall cognitive health. Older adults who participated in the study took 40-minute walks three days per week in the course of one year. In that year alone, the participants saw a two-percent increase in the size of their hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in memory and learning. In contrast, without exercise, older adults can expect to see a decrease in the size of their hippocampus by about one or two percent each year.
Given Parkinson’s degenerative effect on cognitive function and memory, the importance of regular exercise cannot be overstated.
CoQ10 is a coenzyme found in the bodies of most animals, including your own. Your cells use it to produce the energy for more cell growth and maintenance, functioning as an antioxidant and protecting those same cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Deficiencies in CoQ10 have been shown to contribute to age-related neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and patients with PD have been shown to have low levels of this crucial coenzyme in their platelets, plasma and vital regions of the brain. A variety of studies have demonstrated that CoQ10 supplementation can slow the progressive deterioration of Parkinson’s and prevent dopamine loss.
CoQ10 is found in abundance in organ meats like liver, kidney and heart, as well as grass-fed beef and wild-caught fish. Some vegetables, including spinach, broccoli and cauliflower contain CoQ10, but nothing close to the amounts found in organ meats.
CoQ10 must be consumed along with healthy fat to enable absorption of the coenzyme, making the consumption of organ meats – high in healthy fats – a no-brainer. It can also be consumed as a dietary supplement.
The most important thing we can do for our long-term health, both physical and cognitive, is to reduce the stress in our bodies. All stress – physical, emotional and chemical – causes inflammation and long-term damage throughout the body.
Whether you’re seeking Parkinson’s prevention techniques or ways to alleviate symptoms, any of the above dietary and lifestyle practices can have long-term health benefits. Drinking green tea, eating organic, local vegetables, and regular aerobic exercise all significantly reduce the long-term cumulative damage done by stress.
Want more information on living a healthier, more vibrant life as you age? Check out more articles on staying healthy as you age >