What Supplements Should You Take For Parkinson’s?
Do you know of any good supplements to take for someone with Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson’s is a degenerative condition that inhibits your brain from producing dopamine, which results in impaired motor function, tremors, and facial contortions. Michael J. Fox is the most famous patient with the disease but it happens disproportionately among the elderly.
Right now it has no cure, only different ways to slow it down. It and alzheimer’s often go hand in hand. As much as 80% of Parkinson’s patients eventually develop dementia. They share a lot of the same underlying causes which include:
- Inflammation. This is a big one. It’s the physiological undercurrent among most neurological disorders.
- Broken mitochondria. This is likely due to an unbalanced redox state that causes an excessive amount of circulating free radicals.
- Excessive toxin buildup. Probably a side effect of the first two reasons listed. Parkinson’s patients have abnormally high levels of circulating heavy metals and very low levels of glutathione. 1
Supplementing to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease should be targeted at these root causes.
Let’s take a look at why these make sense.
If You Have Parkinson’s Disease, Your Brain Eats Itself
Inflammation is an underlying cause of many neurological disorders. Vin Cutty eloquently explains why. Excess inflammation causes your body to stop recognizing its own tissues and start attacking itself. Parkinson’s happens when your body pre-emptively destroys dopamine producing cells in its substantia negra. This is not normal.
The primary dietary element that controls your level of inflammation is your ratio of omega-3/omega-6 fatty acids. Ideally it should be around 1:1. Joe Sixpack has a ratio of about 10:1. People with neurological disorders have ratios as high as 30:1.
The omega-6 fatty acid known as arachidonic acid is primarily responsible for allowing your body to produce inflammatory compounds. The omega-3 fatty acid known as eicosapentaenoic acid opposes the function of arachidonic acid in the body. Not surprisingly, high dosing of EPA has caused substantial improvements in Parkinson’s symptoms in clinical trials.
The brains of Parkinson’s patients have unusually high levels of an enzyme called Cox-2. Cox-2 is an enzyme that promotes inflammation in all tissues, and has a special affinity for dopamine producing neurons that might allow the disease to accelerate if left unchecked.
And……surprise…….your body makes this enzyme from arachidonic acid.
When it comes to a supplement, remember that it’s EPA that’s primarily responsible for opposing arachidonic acid (and hence inflammation) within the body. An appropriate omega-3 supplement would emphasize purified EPA in its ingredients, which is why I recommended OmegaVia’s EPA 500. 2
Vitamin D is also important for keeping inflammation at bay, and directly works to inhibit Cox-2 within the body. The best way to get Vitamin D is by walking outside because your body makes it from sunlight. 15 minutes will do. The more skin you show the more you absorb. If you supplement, it’s best to take Vitamin D with vitamins A, E and K. That’s why the product I linked to combines the most available forms of A, D, and K (as MK-7). You can take Vitamin D by itself, but it’s probably best to do so with a meal.
How and Why To Get Rid of Toxic Metals
Parkinson’s patients have abnormally high levels of circulating heavy metals and abnormally low levels of glutathione. That’s not a coincidence. Glutathione is your body’s most potent antioxidant and it’s largely responsible for chelating these compounds and taking them out of the body. Your body’s levels of reduced glutathione is a good proxy for its overall levels of oxidative stress.
It would be great if there was a reliable supplement to increase glutathione levels, but there isn’t. If you take it orally it’s typically excreted out of your kidneys within 30 minutes. Garbage in, garbage out.
There was once a supplement called Ultrathione that had clinical studies showing its form of glutathione was absorbed by the body. Then they got shutdown by the FDA. Whoops.
However, there are additional ways to improve your body’s redox state, even though none of them are slam dunks.
CoQ10 was the first supplement used in the naturopathic community because it targets the mitochondrial processes that stop working in Parkinson’s patients.
Since then there’s been an on-again off-again consensus about whether or not it does any good. There are some clinical studies that show dosing with about 1000-1500 mg of CoQ10 helps reduce Parkinson’s symptoms. There are others that suggest it does no good.
My own opinion is that CoQ10 probably treats symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction and not its root causes which is why its effectiveness is so unpredictable. It’s not the best way to grab the bull by the horns. 1000mg of CoQ10 is also pretty pricey.
However, CoQ10 is well tolerated by the body. I have not read a study using high doses of CoQ10 that produced negative side effects and there’s a decent rationale for its use as a natural remedy so there is no harm in including it. 3
If you decide to use CoQ10 it’s best to take it as ubiquinol. This is the reduced form of CoQ10 that acts as an antioxidant within the body and is most readily absorbed. Kaneka is the most popular proprietary form of CoQ10 that has studies done on its effectiveness.
Curcumin is the biologically active compound found in turmeric, and is the reason people who eat lots of curry tend to live a long time. It protects against a wide variety of diseases by being a natural anti-inflammatory and improving your body’s detox machinery.
This allows it to improve your body’s ability to remove toxins. It also has shown signs of life when it comes to protecting the body against neurological self-destruction.
The problem with curcumin is that it’s not well absorbed by the body. It has to go through the liver to get turned into tetra-hydro-curcumin before it can be used for other things. It’s a good idea to use a curcumin supplement that delivers curcumin in this form. Sabinsa has developed a form of curcumin that does this. I know Innovix Labs uses it in its curcumin complex. There might be others.
Your body transforms a molecule called ATP to produce energy. It needs creatine to do this. People with neurological disorders often have increased needs for creatine, either due to an inability to produce enough of it on their own or dysfunctional mitochondria (where ATP transformation takes place).
Additional creatine can help slow down your brain’s degradation if it’s poisoned with toxins that produce Parkinson’s like symptoms. However, in clinical trials done with humans no effect has been observed for positive or negative benefit for patients with Parkinson’s disease.
This puts creatine firmly in the “there’s a decent rationale for using it, no proven effect, doesn’t cause any harm” category of supplements. Much like CoQ10.
Dopamine: Faster Than A Speeding Mind Bullet
Reduced production of dopamine is probably a side-effect and not a cause of Parkinson’s. It’s the inflammation and reduced anti-oxidant capacity of your mitochondria which causes your brain to eat itself, resulting in less dopamine. Not the other way around.
However, giving your body more substrate to produce dopamine may help reduce the progression of the disease.
Dopamine is made from the amino acid phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is then turned into l-tyrosine, which gets turned into dopamine. 4
It’s better to take L-tyrosine because it’s more selective for your brain. The process your body uses to make dopamine requires iron, zinc, and the B vitamins B6, B3, and folate. Read my post about B vitamins on how to take those effectively.
What about diet, exercise, and all that stuff?
My comparative advantage is supplements, so that’s what I choose to yap about. And the basic advice about eating well and exercising regularly applies as always.
I use the TMSNOGTFO method for writing blog posts: Tell Me Something New or Get the F*** Out. I don’t need to tell you to eat more spinach.
That said, here are a few additional tips to keep in mind:
1). Lower your protein intake. High protein meals interfere with phenylalanine uptake by the brain to make dopamine. Best to stay under 50g/day and eat a low protein meal when you take phenylalanine.
2). Eat lots of fava beans. They contain a dopamine intermediary called L-Dopa which your brain turns into dopamine.
3). Run, don’t walk. Weight lifting and high intensity exercise is good for increasing your mitochondrial output and might help improve certain symptoms.
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Glutathione is your body’s most potent antioxidant and is involved in most of your body’s detox reactions.↩
The other major types of omega-3 fatty acids are ALA, which is commonly found in plant foods like walnuts and flax, and DHA. EPA is primarily used to reduce inflammation. DHA is primarily used to provide structure to membrane and support various organs like your eyes. Your body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA but not very efficient. Read more about that here.↩
Keep in mind this is primarily my opinion. Use with caution!↩
For the nerds among you, it happens via the following pathway:
L-tyrosine + THFA + O2 + Fe2+ >>> L-dopa + DHFA + H2O + Fe2+;
L-dopa + pyridoxal phosphate >>> dopamine + pyridoxal phosphate + CO2↩