Alternative and Complementary Treatments for Parkinson’s
No conventional treatment has been demonstrated to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Dopaminergic therapy, as in Levodopa is the gold standard for managing the motor disability associated with PD, but it falls short of managing all of the aspects of the disease that contribute to quality of life. Furthermore, prescriptive medications for PD often produce a variety of side effects such as nausea, involuntary body movements (dyskinesia), anxiety, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, obsessive compulsive behaviours and much more. Once you have started PD medications, it can be extremely difficult to come off. It is also very common to have to rely on taking more drugs as the years go by to gain effect. Taking medications can leave people feeling trapped or controlled.
Perhaps for these many reasons, an increasing number of patients are searching for a more holistic approach to healthcare. Parkinson’s Care and Support UK, is the only UK’s Parkinson’s charity that promotes natural and alternative therapies to reverse, slow or prevent Parkinson’s. PCSUK are dedicated to supporting researchers, professionals and scientists whose work is centred around natural remedies and therapies for people with Parkinson’s.
Natural and alternative medicine has been used for thousands of years and has been proven safe and effective. There is an increasing amount of evidence that shows more people with Parkinson’s are turning to complementary treatments and therapies to improve their health and quality of life.
Despite high rates of Parkinson’s medication side effects, utilization of complementary and alternative therapy data on efficacy is generally limited, restricting physicians in providing guidance to interested patients. At Parkinson’s Care and Support UK, we believe that after diagnosis with Parkinson’s, patients should be given a choice to explore all avenues to try natural and alternative therapies so that they can weigh their options and make an informed decision as to how they would like to approach their Parkinson’s journey.
Answering these questions could be a good start to determine whether you should consider adopting new lifestyle changes and whether alterative therapy could help you to improve your life with Parkinson’s, reverse some of your symptoms and to slow down your progression:
- When were you diagnosed with Parkinson’s?
- Were you given any advice on alternative treatments of therapies for your Parkinson’s so you could make an informed decision about treatment?
- What medication are you on?
- How many do you take in a day?
- How were your Parkinson’s symptoms before starting your medication?
- How are your symptoms now, is there an improvement?
- What side effects do you have?
- Are you in pain?
- How long do you intend to take these medications?
- What are your hopes for taking these medications?
- Are you aware there might be an alternative?
- How active are you?
- Are you doing any exercise?
- Would you consider trying natural and alternative?
- How is your diet?
- Do you know there are little or no side effects when using natural and alternative treatments?
After answering these questions, you find that your symptoms have been worse since starting medications, medications have brought about side effects, you are having to take more medications to get symptom relief, you need to slow down your Parkinson’s progression, you are experiencing pain or that you feel the need to improve your quality of life, then you should consider some of the many therapies out there and available to you.
Complementary and alternative therapies, lifestyle and diet changes all make up the holistic approach to tackling Parkinson’s. PCSUK encourage people with Parkinson’s to be as proactive about their health as possible by educating yourself on diet and nutrition and the effect they have on Parkinson’s, engage in new and challenging activities such as our online exercise classes and to get involved in as many social activities as possible. Virtual ones are just as good!
Evidence shows that diet plays a big part in people with Parkinson’s life. Diet can alleviate Parkinson’s symptoms, slow progression of Parkinson’s and help to prevent it. PCSUK encourage people affected with Parkinson’s to maintain a healthy diet rich in “high-power,” low-inflammatory foods, such as the Mediterranean Diet.
Exercise is now well-established as integral in the management of PD, but mind-body interventions such as Tai Chi & Qigong that incorporate relaxation and mindfulness with physical activity should be routinely encouraged as well.
Many PD patients also choose to try herbs, vitamins and supplements as part of a healthy lifestyle, with the added expectation that these products may lower free radical damage and protect them against further cell death. Many of these promising natural products have produced positive results in clinical trials. We believe that it is vital that the science of holistic medicine reaches a point where all nutraceuticals are investigated with the same rigor as conventional drugs.
What are Alternative Therapies
The term alternative therapy in general is used to describe non-pharmaceutical treatments or interventions that fall outside of mainstream healthcare. Alternative therapies are vast and have been used with great success for many centuries. Some of the most popular ones include, yoga, music/sound, aromatherapy, relaxation/ meditation, herbal remedies, massage, chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy as well as arts.
Alternative therapies can be extremely helpful in many ways with people affected by Parkinson’s and many testimonials have revealed relief of Parkinson’s symptoms, slowed progression and a better quality of life. Knowledge is Power and so the best way to evaluate your options is to become educated.
With progressive conditions such as Parkinson’s it is always sensible to explore all avenues and options for treatment. Parkinson’s is such a personal condition where it affects everyone differently. You should therefore not dismiss any therapy which could improve your quality of life. Speak to people who have tried such therapies and you may wish to talk to your doctor. Although your GP may not have good knowledge on alternative therapies, they may be able to consider any possible interactions and/or side effects with your current treatments. Finally, talk to others in support groups, your family and friends; although they may not always be supportive, they can help you make an educated, objective decision. Parkinson’s Care and Support UK welcomes partners to all of our exercise classes including Yoga, Mindfulness Yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong.
We are living in forward thinking times where people want to be more proactive about their health. We are becoming more conscious of the side effects and toxins from medications and as a result many people with Parkinson’s disease are interested in trying to improve both their motor and non-motor symptoms with therapies that are not medications. This section aims to explore some of the complementary/ alternative therapies which have been proven to improve Parkinson’s.
Yoga is one of the most beneficial complementary therapies for Parkinson’s Disease. It can help to improve movement, increase flexibility, improve posture, loosen tight and painful muscles, rebuild confidence and through these benefits enhance quality of life. Yoga can energise the body and mind, improve concentration and reduce stress.
Mindfulness yoga mixes yoga with meditation and controlled breathing. It is different to many traditional yoga practices in that there is less of a focus on the exact posture achieved and more focus on body/mind awareness rather than the ‘perfect’ pose.
A recent controlled trial in Hong King has shown that intervention with mindfulness yoga can ease anxiety and depression in people with Parkinson’s, in addition to movement symptoms. Anxiety and Depression are very common symptoms in people with Parkinson’s and they can worsen movement symptoms.
Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese wellness exercise that can provide many benefits for people with Parkinson’s. It draws from the fundamentals of Chinese medicine combing physical body (involving posture and movement), breathing and the mind. It is an exercise that can be performed by anyone regardless of age or physical condition.
Qigong is a natural way to keep fit, drawing on the classical philosophy of the Yin-Yang theory and basic theories of traditional Chinese medicine regarding channels and collaterals, guidance, and breathing; the movements are perfect for patients with PD because they are simple, easy to learn, and strengthening.
Music has always been uplifting. Many people find that music helps them with anxiety, depression, sleep disorders. Music helps people with Parkinson’s manage their symptoms.
Singing is a form of exercise and is a great therapy for people with Parkinson’s. Loss of vocal strength is a common problem for people with Parkinson’ and as singing uses the same muscles for swallowing and breathing, it can work to strengthen these. Singing also improves posture and breathing when using the correct technique.
Speech and Sound Therapy
Parkinson’s Disease can cause Dysphagia (problems with swallowing), Hypophonia (low voice volume) and Monotonous Speech. Problems with speech and swallowing can be severely limiting symptoms of Parkinson’s but can be helped by seeing a speech pathologist or speech therapist.
Speech Therapy is an intervention therapy that can help people with Parkinson’s to improve impairments and maintain as many communication skills as possible. They also teach techniques that conserve energy, including non-verbal communication skills.
Reiki helps to promote harmony and balance. It is an effective, non- invasive energy healing modality that enhances the body’s natural healing ability whilst energising and promoting overall wellness. Reiki works directly on restoring balance on all levels.
Reiki has the ability to channel energy to the part of the brain that regulates dopamine levels. It has also been shown to help with pain relief, mood and depression.
Dance has proved to be very helpful in improving gait and balance in Parkinson’s patients. It has gained much interest over the years in providing social stimulation and support, which can be helpful in reducing depression and improving quality of life. Dance has the ability to stimulate cognitive functioning, an area that people with Parkinson’s often struggle with.
Herbal Medicines and Supplements
Herbal medicine (or ‘herbalism’) uses plants or plant extracts to treat, prevent or cure illness, and promote good health. Like most other complementary therapies, herbal medicine takes a holistic approach – it aims to treat the whole person, not just the symptoms, and to encourage the body to heal itself. The use of specific herbs have provided relief from the symptoms of people with Parkinson’s for decades.
All parts of the plant are used – roots, leaves, stems and seeds – as herbal practitioners believe the whole herb has a wider healing potential than the single active agent used by the pharmaceutical industry in traditional medicine.
CBD, Bacopa, Barley Malt Extract, Valerian, Artemisia and Mucuna Pruriens, are some examples of herbal medicines which have relieved Parkinson’s symptoms.
Massage and Aromatherapy
Massage aims to stimulate the body through skin, to relieve psychological stress and tension, improve circulation, manage pain, relax muscle spasms and eliminate waste and toxins from the body.
Acupuncture is a minimally invasive method to stimulate energy-rich areas of the skin surface in order to influence tissues, glands, organs and various functions of the body.