Alternative Treatments for Parkinson's Disease

Older man getting aupuncture

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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 central nervous system, Parkinson's disease also can 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 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 from a 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 also might help reduce the risk of Parkinson's-related complications, such as depression, sleep problems, urinary problems, constipation, and sexual dysfunction.

Standard Treatment

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 also may be advisable as part of treatment for some patients.

Lifestyle Changes

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

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 the following natural approaches may be of some benefit to Parkinson's patients.

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."

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.

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.

Using Alternative Medicine for 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. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care can have serious consequences.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstance or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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