What is Parkinson’s Disease?
It may begin with a barely noticeable tremor in a hand, a little stiffness or slowed movement. The condition affects nerve cells in the brain, which normally produce the chemical, dopamine. This chemical sends signals to the part of your brain that controls movement which allows muscles to move smoothly and function. When these nerve cells break down, dopamine levels are lower, inhibiting the body’s natural movement.
Signs and symptoms
A progressive disease, Parkinson’s is slow to develop. A tremor may be the first noticeable sign, but not everyone with Parkinson’s has a tremor and not everyone with a tremor will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
It is not clear what causes the brains’ nerve cells to break down. Ageing and poison in the environment (pesticides and herbicides) are possible causes and abnormal genes may affect some groups of people.
1. During the early stages:
- Your face may show little or no expression.
- Your arms may not swing as much when you walk.
- Your speech may begin to slur or become soft.
- You may experience slow movement, poor coordination and stiff muscles.
- Basic motor skills will be affected: handwriting, shaving, brushing teeth
2. In time, Parkinson’s can affect the muscles throughout the body, which can lead to:
- Problems swallowing
- Fixed or blank facial expression
- Joint pain
- Walking in a stooped manner with quick, shuffling steps
Signs typically begin between the ages of 50 and 60, but can become noticeable at an earlier age.
Diagnosis and treatment
If you think you have Parkinson’s, a visit to your doctor is in order. The doctor will ask questions about signs and symptoms, perform tests to determine how well your nerves are functioning. Although lab or blood tests can’t be used to diagnose Parkinson’s, they may be requested to rule out any other conditions.
Once diagnosed, it is very important to learn how to live with and manage your symptoms. The good news is that medication, diet and exercise can markedly improve symptoms, and surgery may be another treatment option.
Nutrition and exercise
Research has shown that higher levels of environmental toxins are typically found in the brains of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Paying attention to your diet is essential after a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
- Cut down on alcohol and caffeine to reduce the load in the body’s detoxification pathways.
- Take in plenty of antioxidants. Fresh fruit and veg contain all the nutrients needed to combat inflammation and support the body’s natural detoxification process.
- Identify any food intolerances and avoid them. Typical culprits may be gluten, dairy, soy and yeast.
- Keep your blood-sugar levels balanced. Sugar and refined carbs cause peaks and troughs in the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.
- Increase your intake of omega 3 fats. The richest dietary source is fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout, pilchards and anchovies.
- Up your magnesium. As a natural relaxant, magnesium can help you to sleep better, reducing spasms and anxiety.
Exercise can help with muscle strength and improve mobility and flexibility. It won’t stop the progression of the disease, but it will help to improve balance and joint discomfort.
When considering the best exercise for you, check with your doctor. What you can and can’t do will depend on the current state of your symptoms, fitness levels and overall health. Ask your doctor about:
- The types of exercise which are best suited for you, and those that should be avoided
- The right intensity and duration of your workouts
- What your physical limitations are likely to be
Tips to keep in mind:
- Always warm-up and cool down before and after any exercise routine.
- Begin with 10 minute sessions, working your way up to 30 minutes.
- Exercising your facial muscles will also help. Work your jaw and voice with singing or reading aloud, exaggerating lip movements.
- Water exercise, like water aerobics and swimming are often easier on the joints and require less effort to balance.
- Ensure that your workout environment is safe and free of slippery floors, poor lighting and rugs. Try and exercise where a bar or rail is safely within reach if you have difficulty balancing.
- If standing or getting up is difficult, exercising on a bed is a better option than the floor.
- Hobbies like gardening, walking, yoga or even tai chi also make for great exercise sessions.
For more information and support for Parkinson’s disease and other movement-related disorders, visit www.parkinsons.co.za.