Complementary, Alternative Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease the chronic neurodegenerative disorder with progressive is caused due to the deficiency of chemical neurotransmitter dopamine. This dopamine deficiency is the result of insult or injury to the nigrostriatal region of  the brain. People with Parkinson’s experience a myriad of premotor and motor symptoms including tremors, stiffness, rigidity,  slowness of movements, frequent falls and freezing of gait

Due to the absence of any specific disease modifying cure, the mainstay of the therapeutic treatment against Parkinson’s disease lies in the dopamine replacement. Parkinson’s patients may also seek relief from their symptoms using various types of complementary medicines. Scientists all over the world have done various researches which have lead to the evolution of our understanding towards the Parkinson’s disease in terms of both diagnosis as well as treatment. These therapies support or complement the western or traditional allopathic medicine. The main focus of complementary medicine lies on herbs, vitamins and supplements, and acupuncture interventions. In the eastern countries like Korea, the rates of CAM used are as high as 76%. Such therapies are scientifically proven to foster beneficial effects and reduce the disability related to the Parkinson’s disease. These delay the disease progression or might even enhance the motor function.

When considering any type of alternative treatment for Parkinson’s disease, one very important point needs to be kept in mind – there is as yet no cure for Parkinson’s disease. The various treatment options available can only help to treat the symptoms of the disease and provide some degree of relief.

Treatment by means other than conventional Western medicine (allopathic medicine) falls under the banner of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). These are considered as natural therapies. Many natural forms of treatment are based on ancient systems of healing as were practiced in India, China, Africa, Tibet, and the Americas.

The basic difference between conventional and alternative medicine lies in the understanding of disease. Conventional medicine considers health as absence of disease. Disease may be caused by aging, pathogens, or biochemical imbalances in the body and is normally treated by medication or surgery. Alternative medicine, however, considers health as a perfect balance between the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspect of a person. Any disturbance that upsets this balance results in ill health. Alternative treatment aims to restore this balance by enhancing the body’s own defenses.

Reasons for Trying Complementary Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease

When faced with a chronic, progressive, and debilitating illness such as Parkinson’s disease, which requires lifelong treatment with drugs, many people will consider alternatives. Some of the reasons for this include :

  • Natural treatments are thought of as being safe.
  • Conventional therapies are pursued in an effort to reduce the amount of medication intake, which in the long run causes debilitating side effects like dyskinesia (involuntary movements).
  • Conventional treatment is not providing much relief.
  • Unwillingness to continue with long term treatment as is necessary in PD.
  • The expense involved in long term drug treatment.
  • The mistaken belief that drugs stop providing relief from PD symptoms when continued for too long.
  • The Parkinson’s patients enjoy the social aspects of such therapy sessions. Having a group discussion in the form of yoga, meditation cheers up the spirit as the diseased individual gets a chance to have  a leisure time and pleasure of companionship. These therapies are relaxing and break away the stress, which sets up an adverse vicious circle in the patient’s life.
  • Unjustifiable claims in advertisements about the ability of natural products to cure the disease.

Caution in Treating Parkinson’s Disease with Natural Therapies

  • Stopping conventional PD drugs to try natural therapies is never advisable. Refer to Quitting Parkinson’s Disease Drugs.
  • Natural treatments may be tried along with conventional therapy only after consultation with the doctor. Inform the neurophysician before starting any herbal therapy, as some of the herbs might interfere with the metabolism of other drugs.
  • Treatment should be done only under the guidance of trained and experienced professionals in complementary medicine.
  • Herbal and natural preparations should be taken with caution as they may contain toxic substances or ingredients which may cause interaction with the PD drugs.
  • Some herbal preparations may contain natural forms of levodopa but this will not be in the purified form, neither can the exact dose be controlled.
  • Contrary to belief, certain natural remedies do have side effects.
  • Natural therapies that involve manipulation of the body may result in injury.
  • Many claims made about complementary therapies have not been substantiated with reliable clinical trials. The possibilities of side effects and long term complications from using these natural remedies have therefore not been verified.

Types of Natural Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease

  • Biologically based therapies include diet and herbal therapy, which consists of herbs, vitamins, minerals and probiotics.
  • Energy therapies include Reiki, Therapeutic touch, yoga, tai chi, and magnet therapy. Tai chi is an ancient form of Chinese exercise which involves slow, flowing movements that might improve the flexibility, balance and muscle strength of the patient of Parkinson disease.
  • Mind body medicine and techniques include meditation, relaxation techniques, acupuncture, hypnosis, biofeedback, and guided imagery.
  • Manipulative and body based therapies include chiropractic, massage, reflexology, physical therapy, and postural re-education. While physical therapy and chiropractic are based on sound medical principles, there are practitioners within these disciplines who practice alternative techniques that have not been scientifically verified. This might not treat the symptoms directly but can help to reduce some of the discomfort  caused due to muscle stiffness and rigidity that is commonly experienced by the patients.
  • Whole medical systems include Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese medicine, Homeopathy, and Naturopathy. Ayurvedic medicine have been practiced in India for the past 5000 years.  One of the drugs used in ayurvedic medicine called as Mucuna Puriens has been getting attention in the conventional therapies of Parkinson’s disease as it mimics the action of synthetic levodopa and restores the dopamine levels in the brain with fewer side effects.

It would hence be not unwise to include complementary regime as an adjunct to fight off Parkinson’s disease as it has offered a high rate of satisfaction to such patients. However, it must also be noted that these complementary therapies can in no way replace the conventional drug therapy entirely. A synergistic approach must be sought and exploited under a multidisciplinary expert guidance to extract out maximum benefit to the patient.

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