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An Overview of Parkinson's Disease

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by loss of dopaminergic neurons in the top part of the brainstem - the midbrain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for initiation of purposeful movement, cognition, motivation, pleasure and reward.

Why Do People Develop Parkinson’s Disease?

The cause of Parkinson’s Disease is unknown, however, only 5 to 10 percent of the individuals affected are considered to have a genetic predisposition. Most cases of Parkinson’s Disease have a multifactorial cause, meaning it is a combined effect of environmental and genetic factors.

Proposed reasons for the onset of Parkinson’s Disease include environmental factors, such as pesticides, herbicides and a rural lifestyle, multiple head injuries, consumption of dairy (possibly due to toxicant concentrations in milk), and neuroinflammation. Genetically, variants in the genes encoding alpha-synuclein may be a contributing factor.

What is Alpha-Synuclein?

The accumulation of alpha-synuclein is a reason for the degeneration and loss of dopamine observed in Parkinson’s patients. The clumps of alpha-synuclein, called Lewy bodies, leads to selective loss of neurons. In Parkinson’s patients, the Lewy bodies first accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract, then migrate up to the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus nerve (which controls parasympathetics to the gut and heart), to the sleep centers of the brainstem, and finally to the substantia nigra of the midbrain where dopamine is made.

What Are Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

The accumulation of Lewy bodies lead to what are called non-motor symptoms. These non-motor symptoms often precede the motor symptoms that are normally associated with Parkinson’s disease by up to 15 to 20 years. Some of the first signs of Parkinson’s disease are constipation, loss of smell and frozen shoulder.

As the disease progresses, other signs such as sleep disorders, orthostatic hypotension, urinary disturbances, mood disorders and cognitive changes may arise. By the time Lewy bodies make it to the midbrain where dopamine is made, motor symptoms develop, which include resting tremor, shuffling gait, an expressionless face (hypomimia), difficulty with balance, rigidity, slow purposeful movements and flexed posture.

In addition to the above signs and symptoms, from a functional neurology standpoint, we see signs of Parkinson’s Disease that include slow velocity when looking at vertical targets, failure of optokinetic nystagmus in the vertical plane and difficulty with convergence.

Holistic Approach to Treatment

When taking a holistic approach to the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, our goal is to maintain as much function as possible, reduce symptomatology and slow the progression of the disease process through neuroplasticity.

Neurorehabilitation such as autonomic retraining, neuromodulation, eye movement therapy, balance therapy, cognitive therapy, red and near infrared light therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and Bemer therapy are some of the ways we can target the areas of the nervous system affected. Taking care of the body is one of the most important steps in reducing the risk of Parkinson’s Disease.

If you or a loved one are living with Parkinson’s Disease, please contact us to schedule a consultation and discuss treatment options.


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