Doctor’s Tip: How not to die from Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s is the second most common degenerative brain disease, after Alzheimer’s. It affects 1 percent of the population, with around 60,000 new cases in the U.S. every year — mainly people over 55. Men and women are affected equally, as are all ethnic groups. The disease is slowly progressive, and typical symptoms include tremor, rigidity and difficulty initiating movement such as getting up from a chair and walking. Depression and cognitive impairment are common.
Head trauma can result in Parkinson’s, so the disease is relatively common in boxers (remember Muhammad Ali?) and football players. Some people have a genetic propensity to develop the disease, but as is the case with so many diseases, environment determines whether or not these genes are activated. So what can you change in your environment to protect against Parkinson’s?
Dr. Michael Greger in his book “How Not to Die” has a chapter about Parkinson’s, and his website nutritionfacts.org contains additional information. Dr. Greger presents compelling evidence that most cases of Parkinson’s are linked to environmental pollutants, many of which are neurotoxic (damage the brain and sometimes other parts of the nervous system). Some of these harmful chemicals are:
• Arsenic — the primary source is poultry.
• Mercury — the primary source is fish.
• DDT, which has been banned but is still found in meat.
• PCBs, which have also been banned but are still found in fish, fish oil, eggs, dairy (especially cheese) and meat.
• Dioxins accumulate in the fat of animals including chickens, in eggs, and in farm-raised catfish.
Unfortunately, these toxic chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment and in our bodies, and contribute not only to Parkinson’s but to many other diseases including cancer. Dr. Greger notes that the CDC measures levels of chemical pollutants in thousands of Americans every few years, and for example has found that “the bodies of most women in the United States are contaminated with heavy metals, toxic solvents, endocrine disrupting chemicals, fire retardants, chemicals from plastics, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCPs) and … DDT.” Men have even higher levels of some pollutants than women, and children from neonates on up are affected as well (e.g. DDT is detected in 95 percent of umbilical cord blood samples taken at birth).
What can we do to lessen our contact with toxins, and thereby lower our risk for Parkinson’s and the other diseases that have links to these toxins? It certainly helps if you buy organic, although organic often costs more and isn’t necessary if you’re buying something with a thick skin or peel, such as an orange, banana or avocado. By far the most effective action you can take, though, is to eat at the bottom of the food chain by eating only plant-based food. For example, a cow may eat 75,000 pounds’ worth of plants before being slaughtered for meat, and even if the cow is raised on an organic farm, pollutants blow in from adjacent farms and come down in rain. These chemicals are stored in the cow’s meat and fat. When you eat meat you get 14 times and dairy 5.5 times the pollutants than if you just ate plants, at the bottom of the food chain.
It’s interesting that nicotine has neuroprotective effects, and smokers have a 50 percent lower incidence of Parkinson’s. Tobacco is in the nightshade family of vegetables, and you can get the same neuroprotective effects, without the many harmful effects of smoking, by eating other nightshade plants — tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and peppers.
Caffeine in coffee and tea is associated with a 1/3 lower risk of Parkinson’s. Drinking 2 cups of coffee, 4 cups of black tea, or 8 cups of green tea a day improves symptoms of Parkinson’s. Uric acid is neuroprotective, and low levels are associated with increased Parkinson’s risk. High levels, though, cause gout, kidney and heart disease. The sweet spot seems to be a uric acid level of 5-7 mg/dL. Drinking cow’s milk lowers uric acid, which may be another reason (besides environmental toxins) that dairy is linked to Parkinson’s.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and other medical issues, and to help people with hospital or other medical bills they don’t understand or think are too high. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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