More than one million Americans are living with Parkinson's disease–a brain disorder that has common symptoms of tremor, slow movement and cognitive changes such as trouble with memory, planning and paying attention. While the exact cause is still in question, there are multiple factors that increase the risk and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share what to know about Parkinson's. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Who is at Risk for Parkinson's?
Dr. Tzviya Fay Karmon, a specialist at the Institute of Movement Disorders at Sheba Medical Center explains, "The risk of developing Parkinson's disease increases with age so that the older population is more at risk of developing Parkinson's disease. The disease also appears more in men than in women. There are certain genetic traits that can increase the risk of developing Parkinson's disease and family closeness to a Parkinson's patient increases the risk although most Parkinson's cases are not of a genetic background."
Melita Petrossian, MD, neurologist and director of the Movement Disorders Center at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA states, "The exact cause remains unknown. Most people who develop PD are over 50 years old consequently making age the most significant risk factor. In approximately 5% of individuals, genetics play a direct role and there are several known genetic mutations that cause Parkinson's disease. Genetic mutations may be the cause of PD in families with a history of multiple affected individuals or those who develop symptoms under 40 years of age."
Other Causes Include a Combination of Factors
According to Dr. Petrossian, "In most cases, PD is likely due to a combination of aging, genetic changes that confer susceptibility, and exposure to certain environmental triggers. Many triggers have been theorized to play a role such as repetitive head trauma, long-term exposure to chemicals such as pesticides or solvents, and other yet unknown atmospheric or dietary chemicals. What we know with certainty is that the brain and nervous system undergo changes such as the atrophy of specific brain cells, changes in brain chemicals, and an abnormal accumulation of misfolded proteins in the remainder of brain cells."
Environment Plays a Role
Dr. Karmon says, "There are also environmental factors that can increase the risk of developing Parkinson's including exposure to pesticides, heavy metals and other substances. Recurrent head injuries can also increase the risk of developing Parkinson's."
Lifestyle Factors that Increase the Risk of Parkinson's
According to Dr. Karmon, "Regular exercise lowers the risk of developing Parkinson's disease and delays its development. Studies have also shown an association between caffeine consumption and drinking green tea and the low incidence of Parkinson's disease."
How Parkinson's Affects Daily Life and Overall Health?
Dr. Karmon shares, "Parkinson's disease affects patients' lives in many ways. The most prominent effects are slowness, stiffness, vibration and disturbance in stability. These disorders can cause difficulty in daily functioning, difficulty in hand function, difficulty walking with the risk of falls, difficulty swallowing and difficulty speaking. In addition to these characteristics, there are also many non-motor characteristics – pain, constipation, urinary incontinence, falls, sleep disorders, poor mood and even impaired thinking."
What Should People Know About Parkinson's?
"It is important to know that Parkinson's disease has excellent treatments that greatly improve the lives of patients," says Dr. Karmon. "Fortunately, there are many medications that provide a good response to the symptoms and actually provide a replacement for the same dopamine that is lacking in these patients. In addition, for patients in whom the drug treatment loses its effectiveness, there are amazing technological solutions that have positive effects – surgical treatments such as pacemakers or intracerebral burn surgeries, as well as pump-based treatments that allow continuous administration of the drug."