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Alternative Treatments for Parkinson's Disease

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Updated May 01, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

For people with Parkinson's disease, treatment typically involves the use of medications that help minimize movement problems and control symptoms. A disorder of the brain, Parkinson's disease can also be better managed with the help of certain lifestyle changes. Since many medications used in the treatment of Parkinson's disease can cause severe side effects, patients often seek alternative treatment options.

The Importance of Parkinson's Disease Treatment

As Parkinson's disease takes its course, nerve cells responsible for the production of dopamine (a brain chemical that helps control muscle movement) slowly die off. As more and more of these cells are destroyed, the patient suffers loss of muscle function. But by undergoing treatment for Parkinson's disease, it may be possible to better control the following symptoms:

  • problems with movement
  • difficulty swallowing
  • impaired balance and walking
  • muscle aches and pains
  • rigid or stiff muscles
  • shaking
  • slowed speech

Seeking treatment for Parkinson's disease may also help reduce the risk of Parkinson's-related complications, such as depression, sleep problems, urinary problems, constipation, and sexual dysfunction.

Standard Treatment for Parkinson's Disease

Standard treatment for Parkinson's disease often involves the use of medications that help boost the brain's supply of dopamine. Although these medications can help improve symptoms, many drugs prescribed to Parkinson's patients can cause severe side effects (including hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea). What's more, many symptoms stop responding well to drug treatment over time. Therefore, it's extremely important for Parkinson's patients to work closely with their doctors to monitor their symptoms and adjust their treatment programs.

In many cases, physical therapy can help improve mobility and range of motion for people with Parkinson's disease. Surgery may also be advisable as part of treatment for some patients.

Lifestyle Changes and Parkinson's Disease Treatment

Doctors often recommend the following lifestyle changes as part of treatment for Parkinson's disease:

  • good nutrition
  • regular exercise
  • regular rest and good sleep hygiene
  • stress management
  • use of assisting devices, such as special eating utensils

Alternative Treatments for Parkinson's Disease

The use of alternative medicine in the treatment of Parkinson's disease has yet to be extensively researched. However, a small number of studies suggest that these natural approaches may be of some benefit to Parkinson's patients:

1) Acupuncture

Early research indicates that receiving acupuncture (a needle-based Chinese therapy) may help improve symptoms of Parkinson's disease, as well as reduce depression and insomnia in Parkinson's patients. However, in a 2008 research review of 11 clinical trials, investigators concluded that "the evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating Parkinson's disease is not convincing."

2) Tai Chi

In a 2008 pilot study involving 33 people with Parkinson's disease, researchers determined that 10 to 13 weeks of tai chi practice led to some improvement in movement (as well as in well-being). But in a research review published the same year, scientists found insufficient evidence to suggest that tai chi could be an effective intervention for Parkinson's disease.

3) Coenzyme Q10

Because people with Parkinson's disease often have low levels of coenzyme Q10 (a substance essential for the basic functioning of cells), it's thought that taking dietary supplements of coenzyme Q10 might aid in the treatment of Parkinson's disease. In a 2007 clinical trial involving 131 Parkinson's disease patients, however, researchers found that taking coenzyme Q10 supplements for three months did not significantly improve symptoms.

Learn more about Parkinson's disease and coenzyme Q10.

Should You Use Alternative Medicine in Treatment of Parkinson's Disease?

As with conventional medicine, no type of alternative therapy has been found to stop the progression of Parkinson's disease. If you're interested in using alternative medicine as part of your Parkinson's disease treatment program, talk to your doctor about which alternative therapies might be helpful for you.

Sources:

Hackney ME, Earhart GM. "Tai Chi improves balance and mobility in people with Parkinson disease." Gait Posture. 2008 28(3):456-60.

Lee MS, Lam P, Ernst E. "Effectiveness of tai chi for Parkinson's disease: a critical review." Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2008 14(8):589-94.

Lee MS, Shin BC, Kong JC, Ernst E. "Effectiveness of acupuncture for Parkinson's disease: a systematic review." Mov Disord. 2008 15;23(11):1505-15.

MayoClinic.com. "Parkinson's disease: Alternative medicine". January 2009.

Shulman LM, Wen X, Weiner WJ, Bateman D, Minagar A, Duncan R, Konefal J. "Acupuncture therapy for the symptoms of Parkinson's disease." Mov Disord. 2002 17(4):799-802.

Storch A, Jost WH, Vieregge P, Spiegel J, Greulich W, Durner J, Müller T, Kupsch A, Henningsen H, Oertel WH, Fuchs G, Kuhn W, Niklowitz P, Koch R, Herting B, Reichmann H; German Coenzyme Q(10) Study Group. "Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on symptomatic effects of coenzyme Q(10) in Parkinson disease." Arch Neurol. 2007 64(7):938-44.

The National Institutes of Health. "Coenzyme Q10: MedlinePlus Supplements". August 2009.

The National Institutes of Health. "Parkinson's disease: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia". March 2010.

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