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June 20, 2018  |  Login
Parkinsons Disease
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

A study published in the International Journal of ­ Epidemiology that analyzed data concerning pesticide use in California counties reported that there was an increased mortality rate from Parkinson's disease in counties that used agricultural pesticides. The same study also reported that California growers use approximately 250 million pounds of pesticides annually, accounting for a quarter of all pesticides used in the United States.


Parkinson's disease is a chronic, degenerative disorder of the nervous system, in which voluntary movement is impaired or lost. Although the disease may come to affect your entire body, it most noticeably weakens your ability to control motions categorized as semivoluntary: keeping your jaw in place so that the mouth stays closed; swinging your arms as you walk; moving your tongue so that your speech is clear and precise. Parkinson's disease rarely affects people under sixty years of age, and men are about 30 percent more likely to develop it than women are.

Although muscle movement is an extraordinarily complex process that involves millions of nerve cells, this disease pinpoints relatively small sections of the brain, called the basal cell ganglia. When the nerve cells there begin to deteriorate, they create a chemical upset that can ultimately render the whole body disabled. In a healthy brain, two neurotransmitters, called acetylcholine and dopamine, work in tandem to regulate muscle actions. Acetylcholine helps muscles contract-without it, we'd be limp, unable to stand or even sit down-while dopamine tempers acetylcholine's effect. But the brain deterioration of Parkinson's throws this chemical duo off balance, reducing the quantities of dopamine and resulting in muscles that are too tightly contracted.

The symptoms of Parkinson's develop gradually, usually over a period of ten or fifteen years. The first sign is usually a tremor in one hand, which disappears when you move the hand or go to sleep. As the disorder progresses, the trembling is more pronounced and spreads to other parts of the body, usually the arms, the legs, and the head. The arms and the legs, in addition to shaking, may feel heavy and rigid, and you gradually lose the ability to write smoothly and speak clearly. As your muscles tighten, you may have trouble moving your bowels regularly. You may shuffle as you walk, with your head, neck, and shoulders hunched over and your arms held to your sides. One or both hands develop the characteristic "pill-rolling" movement, in which the thumb and the forefinger rub against each other, one making a clockwise circular motion, the other moving counterclockwise.

Parkinson's often keeps the facial muscles in a nearly constant state of contraction; the face may take on a masklike appearance, with staring, unblinking eyes and a drooling mouth. Eventually, everyday tasks become difficult to manage. Simply getting out of a chair or speaking a clear sentence may be impossible. Although the muscular debility in these advanced stages is overwhelming, the person's mind is unaffected, and the affected body parts usually don't hurt or even feel numb.

Scientists still haven't determined exactly what causes the nerve cells of the basal cell ganglia to deteriorate, resulting in low dopamine levels, but we can base some tentative theories on several clues. For one, the incidence of Parkinson's is rising at an extraordinary rate: the percentage of cases in the United States has increased tenfold since the 1970s. This soaring rate suggests that the disease is strongly influenced by environmental factors. Finally, medications-both prescription and illicit-and environmental toxins are known to induce tremors in individuals.

Given these facts, it seems likely that a poisoned body system greatly increases the risk of incurring Parkinson's. Bodies can be made toxic from exposure to heavy metals, carbon monoxide, pesticides, insecticides, and drugs; they can also be poisoned by a poor diet or allergic responses to food. Finally, free radicals, which destroy or damage cells, are a suspect in any degenerative disease.

The most common therapy for this disease is levodopa (L-dopa), which is sold in the United States under the brand name Sinemet. Levodopa is taken up by the brain and changed into dopamine. For some patients, it significantly improves mobility and allows them to function more normally. As Parkinson's disease worsens over time, larger doses must be taken. more

Next: What are the Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease

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