Around 60,000 US residents will receive the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in the next 12 months. The symptoms tend to be mild when the condition is first diagnosed, and can usually be managed with medications — particularly levodopa — quite effectively. As Parkinson's progresses and has a more invasive impact on a patient's quality of life, however, medications also stop working less well. It's no wonder that many patients turn to alternative medicine, including herbal medicine.
The term "alternative medicine" can, basically, be used to describe any therapy that your average doctor of medicine wouldn't typically recommend. This doesn't mean there's no research suggesting the therapy could just be effective at all, but it does mean a general scientific consensus is lacking, and in the herbal medicine realm, it also often means that the potential side effects, drug interactions, and risks haven't been studied to the standard we'd consider appropriate in this day in age. That doesn't mean modern medicine dismisses herbs as such; numerous medications use plant-based ingredients, with morphine and aspirin being just two examples.
Anyone with Parkinson's — or any other medical condition, for that matter — who is considering using herbal treatments should consider a few things:
- The fact that you can easily and legally buy a product in a normal, everyday, shop doesn't mean the product is safe for you.
- Herbal medicines can, in fact, be extremely potent, complete with their own side effects. They can also interact with pharmacological treatments you are using.
- The dosage can be hard to get right in some cases.
Ginseng has been used in traditional medicine in Korea, China, and Japan for a very long time — and research into its potential benefits is always ongoing. Quite a few studies suggest that Panax Ginseng has a protective effect against neurodegenerative diseases, Parkinson's among them, and some suggest that ginseng can help slow the degeneration of nerve cells seen in Parkinson's.
2. Ginko Biloba
Ginko Biloba, an extract from the Gingko tree, is another Asian remedy that can legitimately be considered "ancient" by now. The extract has been shown to reduce motor symptoms and behavioral issues while simultaneously combating some of the side effects of levodopa in rodent studies — acting somewhat like a MAO-Inhibitor. While case reports on the odd human trying this can also be found online, there's not currently any solid evidence that the remedy is effective for people.
3. Mucuna pruriens
Mucuna pruriens is a tropical legume that naturally grows in some regions of Africa and Asia, and which has been using in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. The legume is a natural source of levodopa. Hearing that an Ayurvedic doctor may prescribe Mucuna pruriens to people with Parkinson's and suffering from levodopa side effects yourself, you may find this more natural medicine appeals to you. Keep in mind, however, is that the active ingredient is identical to that found in the levodopa you get from the pharmacy. The main difference is that it's harder to determine what dose you're getting.
In short, Mucuna pruriens is a very viable alternative to levodopa if you don't have access to modern medicine for whatever reason — but otherwise, you will probably want to stick to your prescription. Never take Mucuna pruriens in addition to prescription medications without first consulting your doctor!
4. Bacopa monnieri
Bacopa monnieri — also simply known as Bacopa or brahmi — is another herbal medicine used in Ayurveda. There is some scientific evidence that it helps improve memory, lift mood, and reduce the loss of dopamine. Bacopa may further be helpful for anxiety, another thing many Parkinson's patients contend with. It may just be very useful in treating both Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, but further study is needed before this can be said for certain.
5. Black tea, green tea, and coffee
Black and green tea are both rich in flavonoids and polyphenol antioxidants that fight damage from free radicals, and the theanine found in green tea may also serve to boost your dopamine levels. They also both contain caffeine, just like coffee does. One study found that drinking black tea — even just a cup every day, though more is OK too — can reduce a person's risk of developing Parkinson's disease in the first place. That isn't very helpful for people who have already been diagnosed of course, but anything that contains caffeine can still help you reduce your motor symptoms slightly.
6. Cannabis to the rescue?
Medical marijuana is increasing in popularity, with new research into its benefits also emerging all the time. It's been found to help fight pain and give you a better night's sleep, and may also increase your psychological wellbeing. It is even possible, according to some research, that cannabis has neuroprotective benefits and could help you find some relief from tremor and slowness of movement, as well as reducing levodopa side effects.
While this sounds extremely promising, further study is needed to find out exactly what role medical marijuana can play in the treatment of Parkinson's disease — including research into who is a suitable candidate, what side effects may occur, and what the long-term results of using this remedy might be. So far, it's not a substitute for your regular meds, that's for sure — but it may help you with your pain and mood. Medical cannabis can be used in many forms, including as CBD oil, depending on whether it's legal in your jurisdiction.