Is it REALLY Parkinson’s?

Is it REALLY Parkinson’s?

Colin Campbell is only in his 50s, but he has already been diagnosed with “early-onset” Parkinson’s disease. He followed his doctor’s advice and went to a support group. But what he saw there shocked him. All the other people were decades older than he was–and their symptoms looked nothing like his.

Could this be the difference between “early-onset” Parkinson’s and the disease in its later stages? Perhaps. But I’d like to suggest that in some cases it’s a different disease altogether. And at that early stage of the game–when the symptoms look suspiciously similar to another disease (which I’ll tell you about in a minute), that disease is at least something doctors should be testing for. Different diseases, after all, demand different treatments.

Lauren Neergaard covered this story for the Associated Press. Whether she knows it or not, she gave us plenty of between-the-lines reporting when she wrote: “Parkinson’s isn’t just an old person’s disease: A growing number of Americans are diagnosed before age 50, and their illness seems biologically somewhat different from the version that strikes seniors.” Somewhat different, indeed. Did anyone stop to consider that maybe it’s “somewhat different” because IT’S A DIFFERENT DISEASE?!?

You know, I grew up hopping from one mental institution to the next: from Augusta, Georgia; to Danville, Illinois; to Westwood, California; to Palo Alto, California; to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. No, I wasn’t committed –my dad was a psychiatrist in the Veteran’s Administration. Back in those days, the doctors were moved around like the military and wore naval officer uniforms like the Public Health Service.

As a child and through my teens, I saw a lot of veterans with symptoms of “waxy facies” (a wax-like lack of expression), tremor of the hands, dragging of the feet, slurred speech, and dementia. It was a weird environment to grow up in, but I came to see these tragic hulks of humanity as a part of life. What was their disease? Treponema pallidum, better known as syphilis. Interestingly enough, these are also the classic signs of Parkinson’s disease.

My point is, just because two diseases have similar symptoms doesn’t mean they’re the same disease. Two plus two doesn’t always equal four in the medical world. After all, there are only so many symptoms to go around. Colin Campbell’s impairment could be the result of anything from childhood immunizations to fluoride toxicity. He’ll never know. The doctors will never know, either, because they never dig deep enough below the surface of the symptoms to find the cause of the problem. And as long as the medicines they’re prescribing are suppressing the symptoms, they’re happy–and they think you should be too.

But playing mix-and-match with medications never did anybody any good– not in the long run, anyway. So if you’ve just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, get a second opinion–or a third and even a fourth. And in the end, if you–and your doctors–come to the conclusion that you have Parkinson’s disease, there are better alternatives out there to the patent medications that so many doctors are eager to load you up on.

Coffee and cigarettes–a sure bet against Parkinson’s

You know me. I support just about anything in moderation–including the outcasts of the natural medicine world: coffee and cigarettes. I’ve learned over the years that if I give any of my supposedly outlandish ideas enough time, research will start trickling in proving that I was right all along. And sure enough, some of the latest research on these two notorious misfits shows that that now-frowned-upon morning ritual from days of old–breakfast, newspaper, coffee, and a cigarette–could actually be the best formula for preventing Parkinson’s disease.

Let’s talk about coffee first. Based on the research I’ve reviewed, coffee just might be the next big name in prevention for Parkinson’s disease. Take a look at this: When researchers followed 8,000 men over a 30-year period, they found that the men who didn’t drink any coffee were five times more likely to develop the disease than the men who had more than three cups a day. It’s true that there’s a lot that researchers don’t know about Parkinson’s, but one thing they do know is that it’s caused by a lack of the neurotransmitter dopamine in one part of the brain. At this point, one theory is that the caffeine in the coffee interferes with certain neurotransmitters your brain produces, which would allow dopamine levels to increase as a result. Higher dopamine levels equals less chance of Parkinson’s. Makes sense to me!

On a slightly more controversial note, it looks as if smoking can also reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s. And if you do develop the disease, it seems to be able to relieve some of the symptoms as well. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that over the past 30 years cigarette smokers have consistently had a lower incidence of PD. I know a lot of you disagree with me on the cigarette issue, so you can do what you want to with this information. I’m just reporting the facts.