In the largest prospective study yet on the subject, researchers followed 1251 participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study who developed Parkinson’s Disease. (JAMA Netw Open, Aug 19, 2022;5(8):e2227738). The average age at diagnosis was 73.4 years. During the 32-34 years of follow up, 942 patients died. They found that compared with those who had the worst before-and-after lifestyles:
• those with the healthiest eating and exercise regimens prior to diagnosis reduced their all-cause death rates by 49 percent
• those who adopted healthy habits after diagnosis were 65 percent less likely to die.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease usually starts as a barely noticeable tremor in one hand, followed by muscle stiffness and slow movement. The face may lose all expressions and speech may become slurred. Symptoms include:
• slow movements
• difficulty coordinating movements
• stiff muscles
• inability to blink or smile
• soft, slurred voice
• small and unintelligible hand writing
How Inflammation May Cause Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is caused by damage to dopamine-producing cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Dopamine helps to send messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination, so loss of dopamine makes it very difficult for you to control your body movements.
Parkinson’s disease starts with the abnormal accumulation of the protein alpha-synuclein into clumps known as Lewy bodies. This protein has a different structure than any other protein in your body, so it turns on your immune system in the same way that a germ invading your body does, to damage certain brain cells (Cells, July 14, 2020;9(7):1687). When a germ gets into your body, your immune system recognizes that the germ cells have proteins on their outer surfaces that are different from your body’s own cells. Your immune system produces cells and proteins that attack and kill these invading germs. However, as soon as the invading germs are gone, your immune system is supposed to slow down and stop producing all the proteins and cells that did the attacking and killing. Inflammation means that your immune system stays active all the time and uses the same cells and proteins that it uses to kill germs, to start attacking and damaging your own cells and the DNA genetic material inside them.
Parkinson’s disease has been associated with several viral infections including influenza A, Herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1), Ebola virus (EBV), varicella-zoster virus, Japanese encephalitis virus, vanilla necrosis virus, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), as well as with Helicobacter pilori (Front Neurol, 2019;10:652).
Healthful Lifestyle Reduces Inflammation to Help Treat Parkinson’s Disease
Scientists have not worked out all the mechanisms, but anything that damages cells in your body can cause inflammation, which is why many unhealthful lifestyle habits appear to promote chronic inflammation:
• drinking too much alcohol
• being overweight
• lack of exercise
• exposure to excess sunlight
• vitamin D deficiency
• pro-inflammatory foods such as red meat, fried foods and sugar-added drinks
Other sources of chronic inflammation include:
• exposure to X rays and other radiation
• exposure to harmful chemicals such as certain insecticides, herbicides or industrial chemicals
• a chronic infection anywhere in the body
Examples of Anti-inflammatory Foods
Some foods can turn on your immune system to cause inflammation, while other foods can dampen down your immune system and reduce inflammation. Foods that help to fight inflammation include those with lots of soluble fiber that also helps to lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure: fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole (unground) grains, beans and other seeds. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are also anti-inflammatory, as are tea and coffee.
Foods Cooked Without Water Can Cause Inflammation
When you cook without water, sugars can combine with proteins and DNA in food to form Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) that are pro-inflammatory (Curr Diabetes Rev, May 2008;4(2):92-100). AGEs are known carcinogens. Animal-derived foods that are high in fat and protein form the most AGEs during cooking. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy products form few AGEs. The formation of AGEs can be reduced by cooking with water, for shorter durations, at lower temperatures, and by including acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar (J Am Diet Assoc, 2010 Jun;110(6):911-16). Any cooking method that browns a food is pro-inflammatory.
How Exercise Reduces Inflammation
To make a muscle stronger, you have to exercise that muscle vigorously enough to feel burning in the muscle and damage muscle fibers. Then, when the muscle heals, it is bigger and stronger. Theoretically, damage to any cells in your body turns on your immune system and therefore can cause inflammation, but most studies show that in the long run, exercise helps to prevent or reduce inflammation. Exercise increases cell damage, and the greater the intensity, the greater the damage. Initially, exercise turns on your immune system, but your body quickly responds by producing large amounts of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory hormones to dampen down your immune system (Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, March 2017;61:60-68). Long after you finish exercising, your body still has anti-inflammatory hormones that help to protect you against future cell damage and infections (BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, Jan 6, 2022;14(5)).
A major source of inflammation is a high rise in blood sugar that causes sugar to stick to the membranes of cells and damage them. Exercise helps to control rises in blood sugar after meals and therefore helps to prevent inflammation. Your blood sugar rises after eating, and to prevent blood sugar from rising too high, your pancreas releases insulin which lowers blood sugar by driving sugar into your muscles and liver, the only places that store significant amounts of sugar in your body. When your muscles and liver are full of sugar, all extra sugar is converted to triglycerides that, in high levels, can cause inflammation. Exercising specifically increases insulin sensitivity (Curr Cardiol Rep, Dec 2016;18(12):117) that rapidly lowers blood sugar by driving sugar from your bloodstream into your muscles and liver to prevent high rises in blood sugar and triglycerides.
Today we have no drugs that cure Parkinson’s disease, but the same anti-inflammatory lifestyle factors that help to protect you from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and several cancers may also help to delay the ravages and progression of Parkinson’s disease.
Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle to Treat Many Diseases