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Can We Protect Ourselves from Parkinson's?

The one disease that even conventional doctors now know is irrefutably linked to toxic chemicals is Parkinson's disease. This first came to light in 1979, when young drug addicts consumed heroin tainted with the toxin MPTP and developed Parkinson's. Michael J. Fox, Janet Reno, and Muhammad Ali have increased awareness of Parkinson's disease.

But Parkinson's is a bigger problem than most people think. It affects more than a million Americans, costs society $23 billion a year, and is second only to Alzheimer's as the most frequent neurodegenerative disease.1

Though genes influence the risk of getting Parkinson's, one study of one hundred ninety-three identical twin pairs found that genetic factors do not play a major role in causing typical Parkinson's disease.2

Then what causes it?

Over the years, even in my relatively small patient population (a few thousand people), the link between my Parkinson's patients and toxins has stared me in the face. My patients with Parkinson's all had clear, documented, and serious toxic exposures.

The owner of a vineyard loved to care for his grapes himself, showering them with the pesticides that he carried in a barrel on his back. He developed rapidly progressive Parkinson's and died.

Or the woman who grew up in a rat-infested apartment in the Bronx and had a phobia about pests. She had her house sprayed with pesticides monthly inside and out for years. And she kept tubs of the toxic and banned pesticide chlordane in her garage. Her Parkinson's started early: at age fifty-three.

And there was the woman who at fifty-one started to have a tremor. Her mouth was full of fillings, and her mercury level was over 300.

Another man was an endurance athlete who swam around Manhattan Island in the polluted Hudson River every year and developed Parkinson's disease in his early fifties.

Reams of research confirm this link–exposure to toxins from any source puts you at risk: pesticide exposure; living in a rural farm environment; consumption of well water that contains runoff from all the farms; exposure to herbicides; and living close to industrial plants, printing plants, or quarries.3 In fact, farmers now wear gasmasks, and farming is considered one of the most dangerous occupations.

But Parkinson's is not just a disease of slow-moving feet, or a tremor in the hand, or the lack of ability to show facial expression. Parkinson's also comes with depression, dementia, hallucinations, and even psychosis, all of which are linked to toxic exposures as well.3-4

Toxins must be excreted through the body's liver detoxification system. Detoxification happens in two phases, both dependent on different sets of enzymes to do the job. As we know, the effectiveness of the enzymes you produce depends on the genes that have the code for that type of enzyme.

It might be hard to imagine, but nature has given us the remarkable ability to detoxify compounds that were not around at the time humans evolved, such as medications and environmental toxins. Drugs are metabolized, or "detoxified," by enzymes, which are produced by ancient genes. Some of us are better detoxifiers than others and have an easier time getting rid of drugs and toxins.

Certain of those genes have been linked to Parkinson's. One particularly worrisome problem is the gene called 2D6, which controls one of the main enzymes for detoxifying drugs such as SSRIs (Prozac and Zoloft) and many other common drugs and most pesticides.

2D6 is slow in 5 to 10 percent of Caucasians. The gene that produces the slow form of 2D6 is the gene more common in patients with Parkinson's disease.5 So take someone with this gene, expose them to pesticides and antidepressants, and imagine what might happen.

While it is easy to despair about all the toxins we are exposed to from pesticides in our food and water, to plastics everywhere we turn, to mercury and lead from coal-burning power plants, there is a new strategy we can use to protect ourselves from these poisonous substances, and it is the foundation of The UltraMind Solution.

Some have called this strategy "neuroprotection."6 I am all for protecting our neurons, a proactive, optimistic strategy, and have used it successfully in patients all along the spectrum of mood, behavior, and neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's disease.

Dr. Jeffrey Cummings emphasized how important it is for us to focus on prevention and detoxification as a deliberate and careful strategy to deal with our current epidemics of brain problems. He explains:

"Advances in medical and surgical therapies have provided substantial improvement in the quality of life of patients with Parkinson's disease. Nevertheless, these approaches are largely directed toward symptom management and eventually must give way to identification of environmental hazards that can be eliminated and raising the level of public health, or to chemo preventive strategies that can be administered to exposed, at-risk, or minimally symptomatic individuals. The therapeutic nihilism traditionally implied in the term 'degenerative' is giving way to the dissection of the sequence of the molecular events that lead from the initial trigger to cellular extinction."

Wow. So here we have in the most conservative medical journal, the Journal of the American Medical Association, a call to action to eliminate toxins and protect our brains by understanding the underlying causes of cellular breakdown.

Another key paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, called "Neuroprotection in Parkinson Disease,"7 lays out the exact model we must address to protect ourselves not only from Parkinson's but from all types of brain damage.

The basic concept goes like this:

Environmental factors interact with susceptible genes to trigger this injury in the brain, and at each point of injury there are things we can do to stop or reverse the process.

Free radicals from toxins lead to oxidative stress, which damages the mitochondria, the cell's energy factory. This leads to overexcitation of cells and inflammation. Ultimately all this results in cell death and the symptoms we see as mood disorders and behavior problems as well as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

The authors of the study suggest that if we can use antioxidants, energy boosters, and anti-inflammatory treatments along with compounds that reduce the overexcitation (excitotoxicity) of brain cells that leads to cell death, then we can protect the brain and prevent, stop, or reverse this process.

These are exactly the same underlying factors that are the basis of the seven keys of UltraWellness on which The UltraMind Solution is founded.

The astounding fact is that changes in brain function can be seen on PET scans decades before the "disease" of Parkinson's occurs.8 "Pre-motor" symptoms such as depression, poor cognitive function, and poor sleep often occur years before doctors can make the diagnosis of Parkinson's.

By the time the clinical diagnosis is made, more than 60 percent of the neurons related to movement (in the substantia nigra, the part of the brain that controls movement and is damaged in Parkinson's) are degenerated! So waiting till then is very late. The good news is that we can protect the brain and must start before all the brains cells are dead.

I have applied these concepts over and over in patients with every type of mood, behavior, or degenerative disorder and am often witness to miracles. Not everyone can be helped completely, though many can. Nonetheless, using these tools, recovery is often possible.

To find out more about neuroprotective strategies that can help you prevent and even reverse the progress of Parkinson's disease, see Dr. Hyman's new book, The UltraMind Solution.

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Huse DM, Schulman K, Orsini L, Castelli-Haley J, Kennedy S, Lenhart G. Burden of illness in Parkinson's disease. Mov Disord. 2005 Nov;20(11):1449-54
Tanner CM, Ottman R, Goldman SM, Ellenberg J, Chan P, Mayeux R, Langston JW. Parkinson disease in twins: an etiologic study. JAMA. 1999 Jan 27;281(4):341.
Cummings, JL. Understanding Parkinson Disease. JAMA. 1999 Jan;281:376-8.
Ayala A, Venero JL, Cano J, Machado A. Mitochondrial toxins and neurodegenerative diseases. Front Biosci. 2007 Jan 1;12:986-1007. Review.
Kobal Grum D, Kobal AB, Arneric N, Horvat M, Zenko B, Dzeroski S, Osredkar J. Personality traits in miners with past occupational elemental mercury exposure. Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Feb;114(2):290-6.
Elbaz A, Dufouil C, Alpérovitch A. Interaction between genes and environment in neurodegenerative diseases. C R Biol. 2007 Apr;330(4):318-28. Epub 2007 Apr 9. Review.
Skaper SD. The brain as a target for inflammatory processes and neuroprotective strategies. Ann NY Acad Sci. 2007 Dec;1122:23-34.
Schapira AH, Olanow CW. Neuroprotection in Parkinson disease: mysteries, myths, and misconceptions. JAMA. 2004 Jan 21;291(3):358-64. Review.
Berg D. Marker for a preclinical diagnosis of Parkinson's disease as a basis for neuroprotection. J Neural Transm Suppl. 2006;(71):123-32.

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