After several years of watching my mother’s physical condition deteriorate with no apparent help from her doctor, she finally went to a neurologist last week and came away with the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. The name may not be on the tip of everyone’s tongue but the disease is out in the public eye – it’s what Muhammed Ali and Michael J. Fox have. Parkinson’s is due to a deficiency of dopamine – a chemical used by the brain to control smooth muscle action and cognitive functions. The overt symptom of tremors is the lack of muscle control through the nervous system.
In a way, it was a relief to finally know what is wrong with her. Parkinson’s can be confused with other conditions which is why it’s so difficult to diagnose. It is degenerative and progressive and there is no cure – yet. This is one of those times where integrative medicine comes into play. No herbal therapy that I am aware of will keep this condition at bay. However, synthetic medication combined with some herbs and other supplements, as well as some major lifestyle changes (for Mom, anyways), can prolong a decent quality of life for several, if not many years.
One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s, as well as one of the side effects of the medication prescribed for her is daytime sleepiness. While naps are always a nice thing, Gingko Biloba a couple of times a day may help alleviate some of her fatigue. It should certainly help with the blood circulation in her brain and since cognitive impairment is another symptom, she can use all the help she can get, there!
The medication she’s on is metabolized through the liver, so we want to help protect that organ. Therefore, Milk Thistle twice a day has been added to her regime. We added two to five cups of Green Tea to her daily diet – the polyphenols in Green Tea have a protective effect on nerves (it also has caffeine so we’ve reduced the amount of morning coffee). I added in a couple of other supplements for the antioxidant benefits as well.
The hard part for Mom: changing her diet. She grew up, as most of us did, as a meat eater. Unfortunately for her, animal protein interferes with the action of her medication so we’ve had to change her over to vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes and fish. I’ve been wanting to change her diet for many years and now I have the perfect reason to do so. She wasn’t happy but accepted the change more-or-less gracefully.
The other hard part: exercise. Mom is lazy and the thought of “exercise” is abhorrent to her (hence my “wide butt” reference last week). However, it’s necessary to improve mobility, flexibility and her balance. It will also help with that daytime fatigue. Like us, she lives in the country where there are no sidewalks and a lot of people around but only uneven, mostly-deserted roads. Going for a walk outside by herself, especially with her gait and balance impaired, isn’t really an option. She owns a treadmill and we moved it into the living room where it will stare her in the face every day. As I’ve said before, just a little bit at a time will lead to more. I want her to eventually exercise (walking, stretching and some light weight training) for an hour, three to four times per week.
Mom and I are both fighters and now that we have a known “enemy”, we’ll put up one hell of a fight. Eventually her medication will stop working and she will continue to degenerate. Hopefully before that happens they’ll come up with something new – not necessarily a cure (although that would be nice) but at least a better mousetrap.