By Dr. Mercola
Most spices have powerful medicinal properties, which is precisely why they've been used to promote healing for thousands of years prior to the advent of modern, synthetic drug-based medicine.
One such spice is turmeric, the yellow-pigmented "curry spice" often used in Indian cuisine. Turmeric contains curcumin, the polyphenol identified as its primary active component and which exhibits over 150 potentially therapeutic activities, which include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.1
Curcumin is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, which is one reason why it holds promise as a neuroprotective agent in a wide range of neurological disorders. Researchers have investigated curcumin for its potential role in improving Parkinson's disease.
Preliminary results indicate that it may hold even more promise than the drugs currently used for this disorder, many of which (ironically) have serious neurotoxic side effects, including dyskinesia – a movement disorder identical to the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Natural Curcumin Extract Outshines Parkinson's Drugs
Parkinson's is a neurodegenerative disease caused by a steady depletion of dopamine-producing nerve cells, particularly in the area of your brain referred to as the substantia nigra. Most of the current drug treatments for Parkinson's disease, known as dopamine agonists, focus on replenishing dopamine.
Although such treatments provide symptomatic relief during early Parkinson's disease, they are ineffective in the long term where they may actually increase symptoms such as tremor, postural instability and cognitive deficits that are common with this disease. They are also associated with motor complications and a laundry list of other strange and disturbing side effects, including:
Euphoria Nausea Hallucinations Insomnia Causing or worsening psychosis Unusual tiredness or weakness Orthostatic hypotension (a dizzy spell caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure) Dizziness, drowsiness, lightheadedness, or fainting Increased orgasmic intensity Twitching, twisting, or other unusual body movements Weight loss Pathological addiction (gambling, shopping, internet pornography, hypersexuality)
As researchers noted in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Design:2
"Most of the current pharmacotherapeutic approaches in PD [Parkinson's disease] are aimed at replenishing the striatal dopamine. Although these drugs provide symptomatic relief during early PD, many patients develop motor complications with long-term treatment. Further, PD medications do not effectively tackle tremor, postural instability and cognitive deficits.
Most importantly, most of these drugs do not exhibit neuroprotective effects in patients. Consequently, novel therapies involving natural antioxidants and plant products/molecules with neuroprotective properties are being exploited for adjunctive therapy."
Unlike Parkinson's drugs, curcumin is neuroprotective and several studies strongly support its use for the treatment of Parkinson's. For example:
- Curcumin showed neuroprotective properties in an animal model of Parkinson's disease; the beneficial effect was thought to be related, in part, to its antioxidant capabilities and its ability to penetrate the brain.3
- Curcumin alleviated the effects of glutathione depletion, which causes oxidative stress, mitochondria dysfunction and cell death – and is a feature of early Parkinson's disease.4
- The c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling pathway is involved in dopaminergic neuronal degeneration, which is in turn associated with Parkinson's. Curcumin prevents dopaminergic neuronal death through inhibition of the JNK pathway, and thereby offers a neuroprotective effect that may be beneficial for Parkinson's.5
- Slow-wriggling alpha-synuclein proteins can cause clumping, which is the first step for diseases such as Parkinson's. Curcumin helps prevent the proteins from clumping.6
Curcumin Is a Powerful Ally for Your Brain Health
For years now turmeric, and its active ingredient curcumin, have shown powerful benefits to your brain health. One of the ways that it works, similar to vitamin D, is modulating large numbers of your genes; in fact, curcumin has been shown to influence more than 700 genes.
The potential healing power of this spice, which is an important part of Eastern cultural traditions including traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, perhaps first came about when it was noticed that the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease among older adults in India is more than four times lower than the rate in the United States.
Why such a significant difference?
Some researchers believe the answer for this drastic disparity in Alzheimer's disease prevalence is a direct result of curcumin. Research has shown that curcumin may help inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta amyloids in the brain of Alzheimer's patients, as well as break up existing plaques. People with Alzheimer's tend to have higher levels of inflammation in their brains, and curcumin is perhaps most known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. The compound can inhibit both the activity and the inflammatory metabolic byproducts of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) and 5-lipooxygenase (5-LOX) enzymes, as well as other enzymes and hormones that modulate inflammation.
And that's not all. The growing interest in curcumin over the past 50 years is understandable when you consider the many health benefits researchers have found when studying this spice. According to an ever-expanding clinical body of studies, curcumin may help:
Support healthy cholesterol levels Prevent low-density lipoprotein oxidation Inhibit platelet aggregation Suppress thrombosis and myocardial infarction Suppress symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes Suppress symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis Suppress symptoms of multiple sclerosis Suppress symptoms of Alzheimer's disease Inhibit HIV replication Suppress tumor formation Enhance wound healing Protect against liver damage Increase bile secretion Protect against cataracts Protect against pulmonary toxicity and fibrosis
Two More Important Tools for Parkinson's: Vitamin D and Omega-3
There is a correlation between insufficient levels of vitamin D and the development of early Parkinson's disease, and research has suggested that long-term deficiency may play a role in the pathogenesis of the disease. There are three major points you want to remember about vitamin D:
- Your best source for this vitamin is exposure to the sun, without sunblock on your skin, until your skin turns the lightest shade of pink. While this isn't always possible due to the change of the seasons and your geographic location (and your skin color), this is the ideal to aim for. A safe tanning bed is the next best option, followed by oral vitamin D3 supplementation.
- If you do supplement with vitamin D, you'll only want to supplement with natural vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Do NOT use the synthetic and highly inferior vitamin D2, which is the one most doctors will give you in a prescription most of the time unless you ask specifically for D3.
- Get your vitamin D blood levels checked! The only way to determine the correct dose is to have your blood tested since there are so many variables that influence your vitamin D status. I recommend using Lab Corp in the U.S. Getting the correct test is the first step in this process, as there are TWO vitamin D tests currently being offered: 1,25(OH)D and 25(OH)D.
From my perspective, the preferred test your doctor needs to order is 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which is the better marker of overall D status. This is the marker that is most strongly associated with overall health. You'll want to optimize your levels according to the chart below. If you currently have Parkinson's disease you will want to keep your vitamin D level in the higher 70-100 ng/ml range to help fight the disease.
Animal-based omega-3 fats are also a powerful defense against Parkinson's, as they contain two fatty acids crucial to human health, DHA and EPA. Most of the neurological benefits of omega-3 oils are derived from the DHA component rather than the EPA component.
In fact, DHA is one of the major building blocks of your brain. About half of your brain and eyes are made up of fat, much of which is DHA -- making it an essential nutrient for optimal brain and eye function. Your brain activity actually depends greatly upon the functions provided by its outer, fatty waxy membrane to act as an electrical nerve-conduction cable. In your brain alone, DHA may help to ward off Parkinson's by:
- Reducing brain inflammation
- Stimulating neuron growth, and development and repair of synapses. (Your brain is a vast complex system of nerve cells sending and receiving electrical impulses across junctions called synapses. The small space between the two cells is where the action occurs. One neuron may synapse with as many as 1,000 other neurons.)
- DHA protects your brain's function by supporting optimal glutamate function. Glutamate and GABA are considered your brain's 'workhorse' neurotransmitters. They work together to control your brain's overall level of excitability, which controls many body processes.
I believe krill oil is your best option for getting animal-based omega-3 fats because of the fact that the omega-3 is attached to phospholipids that dramatically increase its absorption, especially into brain tissue.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Prevent Parkinson's
Parkinson's disease is related to lifestyle factors, including the following:
Environmental toxins and pesticides Aspartame consumption Petroleum-based hydrocarbon solvents, like paint and glue Deficiencies in vitamin D and vitamin B folate Excess iron in your body Pasteurized milk
In addition to avoiding these toxic exposures, I recommend lifestyle adjustments including:
- Exercise regularly, including high-intensity exercise like Peak Fitness. It's one of the best ways to protect against the onset of symptoms of Parkinson's disease
- Get plenty of sunshine to optimize your vitamin D levels
- Avoid pesticide and insecticide exposure (as well as exposure to other environmental toxins like solvents)
- Eat more organic vegetables, which are high in folate, the natural form of folic acid (folate after all comes from foliage)
- Make sure your body has healthy levels of iron and manganese (neither too much nor too little of either)
- Consider supplementing coenzyme Q10, which may help to fight the disease. But remember, the oxidized form of coenzyme Q10 called ubiquinone or plain CoQ10 is actually found in elevated levels in neurodegenerative conditions involving enhanced oxidative stress, as it is a residual marker of lipid peroxidation (brain rancidity). This is why ubiquinol, the reduced form that is capable of donating electrons to quench brain-damaging free radicals, while at the same time providing a boost to brain mitochondrial function, is the only logical choice in Parkinson's disease and related neurodegenerative conditions.
As for getting the full benefits that curcumin has to offer, look for a turmeric extract that contains 100 percent certified organic ingredients, with at least 95 percent curcuminoids. The formula should be free of fillers, additives and excipients (a substance added to the supplement as a processing or stability aid), and the manufacturer should use safe production practices at all stages: planting, cultivation, selective harvesting, and then producing and packaging the final product.
Unfortunately, at the present time there really are no formulations available for the use against cancer. This is because relatively high doses are required and curcumin is not absorbed that well. There is much work being done to provide a bioavailable formulation in the near future.
In the event you need higher doses (such as in the case of treating cancer), use the curcumin powder and make a microemulsion of it by combining a tablespoon of the powder and mixing it into 1-2 egg yolks and a teaspoon or two of melted coconut oil. Then use a high-speed hand blender to emulsify the powder (be careful when doing so as curcumin is a very potent yellow pigment and can permanently discolor surfaces if you aren't careful).
Another strategy that can help increase absorption is to put one tablespoon of the curcumin powder into a quart of boiling water. It must be boiling when you add the powder; it will not work as well if you put it in room temperature water and heat the water and curcumin. After boiling it for 10 minutes you will have created a 12 percent solution that you can drink once it has cooled down. It will have a woody taste. The curcumin will gradually fall out of the solution, however. In about six hours it will be a 6 percent solution, so it's best to drink the water within four hours.