Monthly Archives: July 2013

How can service dogs help Parkinson’s?

Service dog for independenceService dogs are specialty trained to help and protect people with vision, hearing, physical and emotional challenges. Some of the earliest and well-known use of service dogs is the use of guide dogs for blind or visually challenged persons. The majority of people with PD use a Mobility Assistance Dog.

Sometimes a special harness is worn by a Mobility Assistance Dog made for pulling objects, such as wheelchairs.

Service dogs can help a person with Parkinson’s disease in many ways. Here are just a few of the ways:

  • Help with physical tasks around the house such as turning on light switches, opening and closing doors, picking up objects.
  • Assist with walking by helping with balance, act as a support or help a person get up.
  • Hold a person up if they are dizzy.
  • Overcome freezing of gait. This can be done by clearing the way in crowded areas, by using gentle pressure on a person’s leg or leading a person away from a hectic and stressful area that can exacerbate freezing.
  • Exert a calming effect at times of stress and anxiety

Remember these are service dogs and not pets nor a guard dog. They are wonderful and amazing animals that can help you live better. Contact the following sources for more information:

Assistance Dogs International This site offers information on service dogs with FAQ.

Paws with a cause. This site offers general information.

Nationwide Assistance Dog Group and Training Listing. This site lists training and service dog programs by state.

Please tell us how your service dog helps you or share your experience in obtaining one by replying to this post.


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Filed under Community Programs & Updates, Comprehensive Care, Creativity, Encouragement, Inspiration and Motivation

Is your environment a high risk PD zone?

Dust-CropperIs there a toxin or something in the environment that causes Parkinson’s?

Epidemiological studies analyze large populations to understand trends, and identify certain risk factors  for develop of Parkinson’s disease.  It is important to note that these studies do not determine whether an increase risk is true for an individual person but simply the population at large.  Although epidemiologic studies identify several potential risk factors, they are clearly not the sole cause.  A combination of events or risks must take place to cause the disease such as exposure to a toxin and inheriting the genetic risk (either risk alone would not cause the disease

Are there certain areas where Parkinson’s incidence is increased?

Some studies show an increase risk of developing Parkinson’s in more rural farming communities and in areas with well water as a primary source of drinking water.  This may be related to exposure to pesticides in farming community.

Do certain occupations increase the risk?

Initial reports suggested welders had an increased risk of getting PD yet more recent reports dispute that claim.  Trichloroethylene (TCA) a chemical used in dry cleaning also was associated with a greater risk of getting PD.  Soldiers exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are now eligible for disability compensation from the Veterans Administration.

What about pesticides?

Probably the strongest link between Parkinson’s risk and the environment is the exposure to high level pesticides.  Paraquot, rotenone and permethrin (used to kill mosquitos) are under active study. It is important to realize that most people with everyday exposure and even higher level industrial exposure through their occupation do not develop Parkinson’s.  This reinforces the idea that these toxins increase ones risk and other factors such as genetics work together to play a causative role in Parkinson’s

Do Industrial chemicals and metals increase the risk?

Solvents such as TCA and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may be associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s. Manganese, lead and copper are examples of metals that are being studied.

What about the food we eat? Noted only in one small study, men who drink milk (but not cheese or other dairy) have a higher risk of Parkinson’s.  The problem does not appear to be due to calcium, vitamin or fat present in milk. Whether this is related to chemicals and hormones present in milk or the effect of milk on our body’s physiology is not known.  Drinking milk does not change your disease or rate of progression once you have Parkinson’s.

What should I do to reduce my risk?

  • Avoid exposure to pesticides. if you must use them be sure to wear gloves and a mask.
  • Wash all fruit and vegetables
  • Learn about the ‘Dirty dozen’ and ‘Clean Fifteen’. This is a list of fruits and vegetables published each year found to have the highest degree of contamination with pesticides and related chemicals and the safest, respectively
  • Reduce the amount of meat you eat in your diet
  • Eat a diet high in antioxidants (colorful fruits and vegetables.)


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Filed under Lifestyle, Parkinson's Research

Is natural dopamine better than Sinemet?

Mucuna PrurienMucuna pruriens or cowhage seeds are a natural source of Levodopa and its use to treat Parkinson’s symptoms can be traced over 4500 years ago when it was first used by Indian physicians practicing traditional Ayurvedic medicine. The benefit of cowhage seeds is due to the fact that these seeds contain 3-4% levodopa, the standard medical treatment for Parkinson’s. Interest in Mucuna pruriens has grown especially amongst individuals searching for a natural treatment.

Because cowhage seeds contain the dopamine precursor levodopa, clinical studies have been preformed to study its use in Parkinson’s disease. One study showed that Mucuna helped Parkinson’s patients with on-off fluctuations and dyskinesia[1]. Motor symptoms improvement was faster with Mucuna 30 grams (Phytrix, manufacturer) than carbidopa/levodopa 50/200. However only eight patient’s were studied and more research needs to be done.

At present, there is no recommended dose as further clinical trials are needed.

The following general principles must be understood when investigating the use of Mucuna pruriens:

1.       The proposed active compound, levodopa, found in these seeds is chemically the same as that in standard medicine. Mucuna, therefore, can have the same side effects that are seen with levodopa.

2.      Mucuna pruriens seeds, like other natural substances, are made up of more than just levodopa. Proposed benefits could be due to other biologically active compounds not yet determined that are present in the seed. Although these compounds may add benefit they can also have additional side effects and drug interactions.

3.      Supplements are not regulated by the FDA so any single brand may not have the purity or strength claimed on the manufacturing label. Supplements are big business and you may not always be buying what you think you are buying. Toxic side effects from impurities in supplements have been observed. Look for supplements with the label ‘USP verified’ to insure potency, purity and bioavailability is appropriate.

4.      Natural supplements can interact with you medicines. Talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a supplement.

5.     The amount of levodopa present in beans can vary dramatically from on bean to the next based on age, where it is grown, etc; so it may be difficult to standardized a dosage.

Other names for Mucuna pruriens are: velvet bean and cowhage seed.

As always, it is important that you talk with your healthcare provider before changing your medical therapy.


[1] Journal Neurology Neurosurgery Psychiatry 2004. 75: 1672-1677.

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Filed under Complementary Therapy, Nutrition, Vitamins and Supplements

Is marijuana helpful for Parkinson’s?

Marijuana is used for medical purposed including beneficial effects on pain, chemotherapy related anorexia and nausea, anxiety and muscle spasm. Its role in brain disease is now being explored. For instance, researchers in Alzheimer’s disease are studying cannabinoids, the active chemicals found in marijuana, given that these chemicals have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant properties and immunosuppressive effects in the laboratory. Man

Interest in marijuana has spread to the Parkinson’s community. Unfortunately, research on the true benefit from marijuana or its cannabinoid isolates is limited. Although limited information and guidance is available, the following information is some of what is known about marijuana:

  • Brain receptors exist for cannabinoids. Central cannabinoid receptors are located in the basal ganglia suggesting a role in modulating nerve activity that controls movement.
  • Cannabinoids may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties both thought to be helpful for brain cell health.
  • Cannabinoids may have an anti-anxiety and euphoric  effects. Since stress reduces tremor, pain and dystonic spasm, blocking the physiologic response to stress can reduce these symptoms.

Be aware of the potential negative effects of marijuana and its chemical isolates:

  • No controlled studies are available that confirm the benefits of marijuana in movement disorders. In a study of Parkinson’s and dyskinesia, cannabinoids had no effect (Neurology 2005).
  • Marijuana does impair function. Specific concerns already impacted in people with Parkinson’s disease include driving. Slowed motor reflexes and thinking response can impair driving. Driving is noted to be impaired with occasional smokers (Clin Chem 2013). The combined effect of Parkinson’s, medications and cannabinoids is not known.
  • Marijuana can worsen existing symptoms. For example, apathy and depression are both a significant concern in Parkinson’s disease and these problems can worsen with marijuana use.
  • Psychosis can be caused by Parkinson’s medicines and can also be caused by marijuana. The combined risk is unknown.
  • Problems with cognition and thinking functions can occur with Parkinson’s and/or be caused by medicines to treat Parkinson’s. Marijuana use also negatively affects attention, memory, emotional processing and depression.
  • Apathy can lead to lifestyle changes or habits less helpful for brain health such as lower activity and exercise levels, poorer eating habits and social withdrawal.
  •  Stress certainly does worsen symptoms of these conditions. yet there are many other anti-stress techniques such as meditation, guided imagery, exercise and yoga that can reduce stress and enhance general health.
  • Finally, medical marijuana is legal in a few states but still is an unregulated drug with associated risks including contamination and impurities.

Like any therapy, pros and cons exist. Traditional medical therapies do not always adequately treat symptoms (for example, muscle pain and spasm causing continuing suffering) leading individuals to seek alternative therapies. A thoughtful discussion with your healthcare provider is important before considering any treatment.

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Filed under Complementary Therapy