Researchers are lasered in on slowing and someday stopping Parkinson's disease (PD) in its tracks. Explore what they've discovered, see what the future might hold and learn how some of the strongest weapons in the fight against Parkinson's progression are practices you can put in place today.
This article is based on Can We Put the Brakes on PD Progression, a Parkinson’s Foundation Expert Briefing webinar presented by Joash Lazarus, MD, Multiple Sclerosis Center of Atlanta.
PD symptoms stem from a protein, called alpha-synuclein, that clumps and accumulates in certain areas of the brain. This process depletes dopamine, which is critical to many body processes, including smooth, coordinated movements. Though dopamine declines for everyone who lives with Parkinson's, each person experiences disease symptoms differently.
Parkinson's symptoms can impact your life in numerous ways. Using a range of therapies and supports as needed can make all the difference. Personalized medicines, social support groups, mental health care and participation in clinical trials have all shown benefit to people with Parkinson's.
But is there a way to slow Parkinson's progression? While scientists are evaluating everything from medications to mindfulness practice for clues, they've discovered some of the biggest benefits start at home.
Healthy Eating and Regular Exercise: A Powerful Combo
Making nutritious food the mainstay of your meals and enjoying regular exercise has countless proven benefits. Studies show targeted nutrition may slow Parkinson's advancement. Eating a whole-food, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet — including fresh vegetables, fruit and berries, nuts, seeds, fish, olive and coconut oils and more — may be linked to slower PD progression.
When you live with PD, exercise is also critical to optimal health. In fact, the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project shows at least 2.5 hours a week of physical activity can slow PD symptom progression. Research reveals regular exercise also shows neuroprotective effects in animal models with Parkinson's.
Exercise benefits people of all ages. As people get older, their risk for falls increase. For people with PD, the chance of falls is two to three times higher. Up to half of these falls can result in major injury. Exercise is the only thing to notably minimize a person’s risk of falling. Regular physical activity can also boost balance, improve heart and lung function, increase memory, thinking and problem solving, minimize depression and more.
Here's how to make exercise work for you:
- Maximize benefits by exercising moderately to vigorously 150 minutes a week.
- Plan a weekly routine that includes aerobic activity, strength training, balance and stretching exercises.
- Visit a physical therapist with Parkinson’s expertise for a functional evaluation and exercise recommendations.
- Reference this Parkinson’s Exercise Recommendations PDF in English or Spanish to help guide your physical activity plan.
Exploring Therapy Advances
People with Parkinson's take a variety of medications to manage symptoms. PD researchers have spent decades working to discover therapies powerful enough to slow or stop Parkinson's. Some of these include:
The 2009 ADAGIO study looked at whether rasagiline — a monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitor (these can minimize the enzyme MAO-B's breakdown of dopamine and ease movement symptoms) — could put the brakes on disease progression for people in early-stage Parkinson's. The results suggested the possibility that a 1 mg daily dose of rasagiline might hold disease-modifying potential, but a 2mg daily dose did not.
Despite the study's uncertainties, it still showed ample evidence that rasagiline better controlled symptoms for people with PD, which is why it's used in concert with levodopa, currently the most powerful medication for Parkinson's and a treatment mainstay since its discovery in the 1960s.
Levodopa is a proven effective therapy throughout the Parkinson's journey. In the past, people often delayed starting levodopa therapy based on the myth that it would stop working after a few years. A 2019 study looked at whether starting levodopa earlier or later could change the course of Parkinson's. While research showed levodopa didn't slow PD, it proved starting the medication early on in Parkinson's is safe.
Deep Brain Stimulation
When people who live with PD begin to experience severe motor fluctuations, tremors and dyskinesia, involuntary muscle movements that can't be controlled by optimal medication doses, a surgically implanted deep brain stimulation (DBS) device can deliver electrical pulses to the brain, easing symptoms and boosting quality of life.
Results of a 2020 study proved people with Parkinson's disease can also get long-term symptom relief with DBS. The research shows people who have DBS therapy early on — coupled with optimal medication — generally do better with dyskinesia control. Despite the profound benefits of DBS, it's not proven to delay disease progression.
As researchers work to solve the Parkinson's puzzle, empower yourself by prioritizing your well-being. Wholesome food paired with regular exercise habits and comprehensive team-based treatment are the building blocks of a better life with PD.
- The Parkinson’s Foundation Exercise Guidelines for People with Parkinson’s offers tips to stay in top shape.
- Learn more about PD therapies in Medications: A Treatment Guide to Parkinson’s Disease.
- Get moving with Fitness Fridays — Parkinson's Foundation PD-tailored at home workouts.
- Dig in to why what and how you eat matters with Mindfulness: Nutrition and Mindful Eating, part of our Mindfulness Mondays series.