About one percent of Americans older than 65 have Parkinson's disease, which causes tremor, muscle rigidity and movement problems. An underlying cause is the slow loss of neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, a brain chemical involved in movement. Current Parkinson's therapy relieves symptoms but does not slow the progression of the disease.
What is Parkinson's disease and when does it appear?
According to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation:
"Parkinson's disease (PD) is a disorder of the central nervous system that affects between one and one-and-a-half million Americans. Because it is not contagious and does not have to be reported by physicians, the incidence of the disease is often underestimated. PD may appear at any age, but it is uncommon in people younger than 30, and the risk of developing it increases with age. It occurs in all parts of the world, and men are affected slightly more often than women."
What new treatments are being studied?
Recent research has raised the possibility that people with Parkinson's might have problems with structures called mitochondria, a spherical or elongated organelle in the cytoplasm of nearly all eukaryotic cells, containing genetic material and many enzymes important for cell metabolism, including those responsible for the conversion of food to usable energy. The researchers who performed this study found that Parkinson's patients have reduced levels of coenzyme Q10 in their mitochondria. This led the researchers to investigate whether the antioxidant would be useful in treating the disease.
How was the study conducted?
The study involved 80 people who had been diagnosed with Parkinson's but had not yet received treatment. The participants were randomly assigned to take a daily dose of 300 milligrams (mg), 600 mg or 1,200 mg of coenzyme Q10 or an inactive pill called a placebo. Patients were evaluated at the start of the study and after one, four, eight, 12 and 16 months.
What were the results of using coenzyme Q10?
The progression of Parkinson's disease was significantly slower in people taking the highest dose of coenzyme Q10. These patients experienced a slower decline in all areas measured by the researchers, including mental and motor skills, but the greatest effect was in the activities of daily living. Compared to placebo, the lower doses of the drug also seemed to slow Parkinson's, but the differences were not statistically significant.
What about side effects?
Treatment with the antioxidant seemed safe as side effects were similar in patients taking the supplement and the placebo.
What is coenzyme Q10?
In the U.S., coenzyme Q10 is classified as a dietary supplement rather than a drug, so it is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The antioxidant is available at health food stores, but the researchers advised Parkinson's patients not to take the supplement until future studies have been conducted. The coenzyme Q10 currently on the market may not contain enough of the supplement to be helpful to people with Parkinson's.
Were there any negative conclusions drawn from the study?
Although treatment with coenzyme Q10 seemed to slow the advance of Parkinson's, patients taking the supplement developed disability that required them to start taking conventional treatment as quickly as those on the placebo. The researchers do point out, however, that until near the end of the study, patients taking the highest dose of coenzyme Q10 tended to need to start conventional therapy later than those on the placebo. The greatest benefit was in daily activities such as feeding, dressing, bathing, and walking.
The results of the study support the idea that problems with mitochondria are involved in Parkinson's disease and provide an exciting forum to continue study. The National Institutes of Health funded the study, but Vitaline Corp. donated the coenzyme Q10 and placebo wafers.
Archives of Neurology October 2002; 59: 1523,1541-1550
While I am not a great fan of using supplements as Band-Aids, by the time someone has Parkinson's disease the horse is already out of the barn, and coenzyme Q10 appears to be a useful supplement. Co Q10 is normally made by the liver and is decreased when someone is placed on statin drugs. A prescription for lipid lowering statin drugs should always be accompanied with a recommendation to take Co Q10, because if one is deficient in it heart failure is more likely.
Co Q10 is also a helpful adjunct in many cancer therapies.
However, in terms of Parkinson's disease, prevention is clearly the best option. The single best thing one can do is avoid pesticide and insecticide exposure. The massive fogging for West Nile virus that occurred this summer will absolutely increase the future development of Parkinson's disease.
Increasing vegetable intake with its high folic acid levels whichis easily achieved by following the eating plan, is another highly effective proactive step to prevent Parkinson's disease.