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Many Parkinson's disease patients turn to alternative medicine, including supplements, in a bid to improve their symptoms. What might help, and why should you speak to your doctor even before starting on a simple supplement?

Are you living with Parkinson's disease — or is a loved one — and are you on the lookout for ways to decrease your symptoms and increase your quality of life? Besides "doctor-approved" approaches, like exercise, physical therapy, and of course medications, you may wish to explore the realm of alternative medicine. Some people turn to dietary supplements that contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids, which are currently being studied for the potential role they may play in managing Parkinson's disease. 

We'll take a look at supplements that show promise for Parkinson's disease patients — but always be aware that supplements are regulated less rigorously than medications, as well as that they may interfere with your medications or cause some other harm. This is why it is important to not only discuss a supplement with your doctor before you start taking it, but also to get their "green light". 

Having said that, what supplements may you want to explore?

1. Vitamin E

Vitamin E — an umbrella term for a group of compounds with antioxidant properties — plays a key role in the health and proper functioning of your skin, blood, reproductive system, vision, and brain. It is this last one that has a special meaning for Parkinson's patients of course, and one large study discovered that folks who get a lot of vitamin E through their diets have a markedly lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease. Other studies backed this research up after. 

While vitamin E can be taken as a dietary supplement, in pill form, the neuroprotective benefits may be greater when it comes from food sources. These include:

  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower oil
  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Cooked spinach
  • Raw dandelion greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Abalone
  • Lobster
  • Eggs

2. Vitamin B6

One of the functions of vitamin B6 is maintaining proper nerve function. It also helps regulate your metabolism of homocysteine, high levels of which may contribute to the loss of nerve cells in Parkinson's disease patients. The cause of high homocysteine levels is complex, as many other vitamins (including folate and B12) play a role in metabolizing it as well. Vitamin B6 is just one of the vitamins that can contribute to a lower risk of Parkinson's disease, then but there is research to suggest that people who take in more vitamin B6 have lower odds of developing Parkinson's disease.

You can find the vitamin, among other places, in:

  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Whole grains and fortified cereals
  • Peanuts
  • Soy beans
  • Potatoes

3. Caffeine

Caffeine — best loved in the form of coffee, but also found in tea, guarana, and mate — is famous for its ability to help people be more alert and concentrate better. It may be because of the fact that caffeine stimulates the central nervous system that some studies have found that drinking quite a lot of coffee or black and green tea reduces a person's risk of developing Parkinson's disease

Caffeine may also, however, help if you have already received the diagnosis — it may improve your motor symptoms slightly, one study suggests. Coffee, black tea, and green tea are all excellent choices if you want some caffeine.

4. Urate

Higher levels of urate (a form of uric acid) have been correlated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease, and it has also been suggested that people with higher urate levels enjoy slowed progression of the disease once it has been diagnosed. This may be because it acts as an antioxidant, and in turn helps prevent or slow neurodegeneration. 

Though you don't want too much, as that can lead to gout, dietary sources include:

  • Alcohol — go easy on it though!
  • Fish and other sources of seafood, like sardines, anchovies, cod, mussels, crab, and shrimp
  • Meat — bacon, liver, turkey, veal, beef, chicken, and ham

5. Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 seems to have a positive effect on the mitochondria, the "powerhouse" of your cells, as well as offering antioxidant properties. Coenzyme Q10, according to some studies, decreases the rate at which dopamine is lost in Parkinson's disease patients, though other research found no symptom reduction in people taking it.  While it is naturally present in the body, particular the heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas, you can find it through dietary sources or take a supplement as well. 

Coenzyme Q10 is present in:

  • Organ meats
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Trout
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Orange
  • Strawberries
  • Soy
  • Peanuts
  • Lentils

6. Octacosanol

Octacosanol, a compound present in plants like sugar cane, shares structural similarities with vitamin E and may make the way in which you use oxygen more efficient. Often used to boost athletic performance, octacosanol may also benefit Parkinson's disease patients. Wath out, though, as it can also interefere with levodopa. 

7. Citicoline

Citicoline is naturally present in the human body, and has neuroprotective properties when taken as a supplement. It may be helpful for people who suffered ischemic stroke, in people with glaucoma, and in patients who suffer from memory issues, including those with Alzheumer's and Parkinson's dementia. While citicoline is sometimes administered through an IV or by injection, it is available as an oral supplement in the US. 

In conclusion

Dietary supplements aren't held to the same rigorous scientific standards as pharmaceuticals, and are produced by many different companies. They can also interfere with the efficacy of prescription drugs you are taking for your Parkinson's disease in some cases. Although some supplements — like the ones discussed here — hold the potential to help you manage your symptoms, it is important to discuss taking them with your doctor before you do.

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