August 23, 2021

Alternative therapies for Parkinson’s disease

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Treating Parkinson’s often requires a holistic approach, with some solutions found outside the doctor’s office.

Alternative therapies for Parkinson’s disease can complement medical treatments and procedures and help boost quality of life for patients with this movement disorder. From acupuncture and exercise to mindfulness and music, complementary therapies and lifestyle changes focus on easing symptoms and sometimes even slowing the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

“We are complex beings,” said Britt Stone, M.D., a neurologist in Vanderbilt’s Movement Disorders Clinic. “We have a mind and a body. We’re a whole person. And so when we’re thinking about how to treat someone with a medical condition, we’re not just thinking about the things in the body that are going awry, but the person as well.”

Exercise

Exercise can help ease or improve many of the non-motor-related symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as constipation, insomnia, mood disturbances and fatigue, Stone explained.

Exercise can also help slow the progression of Parkinson’s, she added. Parkinson’s symptoms often arise as a result of low or dropping dopamine levels, and movement helps your brain use dopamine more efficiently. Parkinson’s medications help boost dopamine. “So you get better impact from your drug therapy when you exercise,” Stone explained. She said yoga, tai chi, pilates, boxing and martial arts are all great options.

Diet

Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet as much as possible, and drink plenty of water, Stone said. Aim for more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods, meat and dairy. “You want to grocery shop around the perimeter of the grocery store,” she added. “The inside is where a lot of the processed things are.”

Protein consumption can impact how your body processes medication for Parkinson’s. If you find that your medications are less effective after having protein-rich meals, you can make adjustments. “You can adjust by either putting your protein as your last meal of the day,” Stone said, “or by taking your medicine about half an hour before you eat so that it can be absorbed without competition.”

People often ask Stone about alcohol consumption, and she recommends moderation. “If you do drink, one drink is OK,” she said. “If you don’t drink, don’t pick it up. And, of course, you just want to be careful with your other medications and other conditions.”

Topicals and supplements

Stone said she is a fan of using topicals for pain. “If people have muscle spasm and tightness,” Stone said, “some of the CBD oils that are balms and ointments are really great to rub on the places that are sore.”

Ginger or peppermint tea can help with nausea, she added. And passionflower or chamomile tea might help with sleep issues.

“Those are just some really handy over-the-counter herbs that are not going to be dangerous or impact your medicines or give you any other issue,” Stone said, “unless you just happen to have an allergy to one of those things.”

Massage and acupuncture

Massage therapy can also be beneficial if you have Parkinson’s disease. “Many of my patients have muscle stiffness, muscle tightness,” Stone said. “And they also just might be more isolated and don’t have a lot of therapeutic touch in their lives. And massage is really great for that.” In many cases it can be covered by insurance.

She also recommends acupuncture. “Whether it’s constipation, insomnia, chronic pain, seasonal allergies,” she said, “people have really found a lot of good benefit with it. I always say that it’s great to try, with really no obvious downside either.”

Mindful and creative therapies

Creative pursuits, such as singing, and relaxation techniques, such as meditation, can add continued life enjoyment while also helping to ease symptoms or anxiety. “A lot of times people have a soft voice or it can be hard for them to vocalize loudly,” Stone said. “So choir and music can be really helpful. Mindfulness and meditation or prayer, any of that is really good as well.”

Stone said the last 100 years have brought about incredible scientific breakthroughs, but treating any disease is about more than just medical therapies. “You need more tools than just a pill,” she said. “You need social connection, physical movement, a nutrient-rich diet and healthy rhythms of life, which together with medication, can increase well-being.”

Middle aged couple in soft focus sitting next to each other looking away in the distance.

The Movement Disorders Clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center provides comprehensive care to people experiencing involuntary and excess movement; problems with balance and coordination; muscle rigidity; slow movement; or other symptoms. We specialize in treating Parkinson’s disease, dystonia, tremors and spasticity resulting from stroke, multiple sclerosis and head injuries. Schedule your appointment online or call 615-678-0480.

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