Although there is little conclusive scientific information on natural supplements, researchers are examining several substances to evaluate their effectiveness on slowing Parkinson's disease progression and managing its symptoms.
Nutritional supplements are not regulated with the same approval method for prescription drugs, and people with Parkinson's should discuss any medications (prescription or over-the-counter) with a doctor before taking them to avoid potentially dangerous interactions.
Since there is evidence relating oxidative damage of nerve cells to PD, some researchers are studying antioxidants:
- A 2002 study focused on the potential antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), which is believed to play an important role in mitochondria health. Mitochondria are the "powerhouses" of a cell, and some scientists think that abnormalities of mitochondrial function may play a role in Parkinson's. In 2011, a large clinical trial studying the potential beneficial effects of CoQ10 on reducing the progression of early PD was stopped because a mid-study analysis suggested that there was no improvement in the CoQ10-treated individuals in comparison to those receiving placebo (empty tablet) treatment and that continuing the program would have a very low likelihood of demonstrating any benefit from CoQ10 usage in delaying the progression of early PD.
- Scientists have also examined Vitamin E, Vitamin C and health foods to evaluate their oxidative properties. Vitamin E can fight damage in the brain caused by free radicals, and has been suggested to lower the risk of PD. However, researchers conducted an extensive and thorough study over 10 years ago (the DATATOP trial) and failed to find any evidence that Vitamin E slows the progression of Parkinson's or manages symptoms. Since Vitamin E has very few side effects, many Parkinson's patients continue to take it in high doses of 400 IU or more. Researchers are also examining health foods, such as fermented papaya and blueberries, to determine their role in slowing nerve cell death. Scientists are optimistic about the research but do not have enough conclusive data to recommend these supplements to treat Parkinson's disease.
- Creatine is another compound of scientific interest. It increases levels of phosphocreatine (an energy source in muscle and the brain). The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is conducting a multi-center clinical trial to determine if creatine protects against nerve cell damage. Researchers have also studied a compound called glutathione to determine its effect on nerve cell metabolism and its power as an antioxidant. Both compounds show promise, but the appropriate dosing is unclear, as are the most effective method of administration, side effects and long-term dosing risks.
Although nutritional supplements have shown some promising results in preliminary studies, it is important to remember that there is not sufficient scientific data to recommend them for Parkinson's disease. Over-the-counter medications can and do have side effects and interactions with other drugs. They tend to be expensive and they vary with different manufacturers. Before taking any over-the-counter medication, it is very important that a person with Parkinson's discuss the addition of these supplements with their doctor.
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