Category Archives: Complementary Therapy

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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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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Does glutathione help Parkinson’s disease

Glutathione (GTH) is a molecule and potent antioxidant found inglutathione our cells. Glutathione is produced by our bodies and levels decrease with aging, many diseases and Parkinson’s disease.  The role of glutathione is to eliminate these free radicals; in essence, putting out a fire. It is unclear whether the low glutathione content in the PD substantia nigra is due to impaired production, or because the burden of free-radicals is excessive.

IV glutathione is a popular complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy for Parkinson’s yet the benefits are not clear, it is costly and side effects do exist.

In 2009, researchers in Florida conducted a study to determine whether IVGTH showed benefit compared to placebo. Over the four weeks of the study, individuals receiving IV glutathione had a mild improvement in symptoms, while those receiving the placebo did not. This benefit was lost when glutathione was stopped. (Hauser RA, et al. 2009). It is important to note that the differences between these two groups were not significant. While the study is small and only provides preliminary data, it is promising non-the-less.

Mechanism of Action

Continued interest in glutathione  explores this molecules anti-oxidant properties.   The loss of glutathione in the substantia nigra precedes PD symptoms by more than a decade, and occurs prior to the formation of Lewy bodies, considered a PD precursor. Just because low glutathione levels correlate with PD severity, doesn’t mean that the loss of glutathione causes the disease. This is highlighted by the fact that glutathione is decreased in many diseases including cancer, vascular disease and other diseases of aging. We have no idea whether glutathione has the potential to retard disease progression, as the study has not yet been done.

Future Research

More information is needed to determine if glutathione is helpful in Parkinson’s disease. Although studies to date showed no statistically significant difference between placebo treatments and  glutathione many questions are still unanswered such as the optimal dose, timing of treatment in relation to disease severity, and duration of treatment. Studies are on going and investigating other ways of delivery such as intra-nasal spray.

Caution about pills

Since GTH is made up of amino acid precursors (similar to proteins),it is broken down in the gut prior to absorption and therefore little is available for use. It is for this reason that treatments focus on intravenous or IV (administered directly into the bloodstream through the vein.

Safety and ADverse Events

  • Expense of treatment
  • Bruising and Infection at IV site
  • Rare cause of liver damage

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Can acupuncture help PD symptoms?

Acupuncture  is based on the belief that a certain life-force energy (“chi”) flows throughout your body along energy pathways called meridians. When the flow of chi becomes blocked or unbalanced at any point on a pathway this is what leads to illness. Acupuncture aims to ‘unblock’ these channels.

Little is known about the effect of acupuncture on Parkinson’s motor symptoms, mood, fatigue and well-being.  Our understanding of the potential benefits is mostly from anecdotal reports such as simple observations from people about how they feel after this therapy.  Because these reports often do not test the possible effect of placebo or the benefits of other therapies that are sometimes combined with acupuncture (such as relaxation techniques, physician or acupuncturist counseling, other lifestyle changes or changes in attitude), it is unclear how acupuncture truly affects Parkinson’s well-being.   One study did evaluate the effect of acupuncture performed at a specific point termed GB34. Using fMRI imaging, researchers measured the specific effects of needling acupuncture point GB34 (Yanglingquan) on areas of the brain related to Parkinson’s Disease. Acupuncture activated brain centers that suffer excess deactivation in Parkinson’s Disease patients.

What this means for acupuncture and PD is unclear. However, controlled replicated research studies support the use of acupuncture for pain and headache suggesting this is a valid therapy for health and disease.

Follow these guidelines if you try acupuncture

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about acupuncture and review any concerns and expectations together
  • Research your acupuncturist’s training and credentials.  Your state’s medical licensing board can provide certification information as many states require licensing. Visit the  American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine website for more information,
  • Talk about your goals before treatment. Discuss how many treatments are needed, the associated cost and at what point treatment will be re-evaluated for its effect.  Review when treatment be stopped if you do not notice a benefit?
  • Ask about other modalities commonly practiced with acupuncture such as herbal medicine, massage or similar relaxation techniques. Will they be used during your sessions? What are the added risks or costs?



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