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Supplements to Help Parkinson's: Investigating the Potential of Antioxidants

Updated on April 13, 2023

Article Summary

  • Even as more people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s than ever before, conventional therapies remain limited in their therapeutic efficacy, and none help the disease from developing.
  • Research suggests that curcumin and glutathione, both powerful antioxidants, can offer supportive effects.*
  • High-quality curcumin and glutathione supplements might be used in concert to help individuals protect their health.*

The dreaded tremors and degenerative brain dysfunction of Parkinson’s disease are notoriously emotionally painful for individuals and caretakers alike. Clinically, Parkinson’s disease is marked by highly variable symptoms, like difficulties with voluntary motion and impaired executive functioning, which increase with intensity as the disease progresses. 

But individuals might be suffering from Parkinson’s-related depression, anxiety, or cognitive dysfunction for years before a diagnosis is made, significantly diminishing their quality of life before they are even aware of their condition. After being diagnosed, although individuals have an explanation for their symptoms, they often struggle with difficult side effects of treatment that only delays the inevitable; there is no cure for Parkinson’s.

Due to the significant suffering Parkinson’s brings and the lack of curative treatment options, there is widespread interest among practitioners and their patients in combating the condition. At present, there are no pharmaceutical interventions that purport to prevent Parkinson’s. 

On the other hand, several nutritional supplements have recently been investigated as potential options for providing nutritional support for Parkinson’s disease. Although these supplements are still being researched, their early promise in helping individuals maintain their health and well-being is undeniable. Individuals who want to take the initiative in responding to Parkinson’s disease rather than reacting to it after it has become established should follow the progress of these supplements closely and understand how they might be beneficial.

The Pathophysiology Of Parkinson’s and the Limits of Treatment

Parkinson’s disease is extraordinarily complex in terms of its pathophysiology and also its treatment strategies. This complexity stems from the disease’s protracted progression. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease have a gradual onset because Parkinson’s slowly damages the individual’s brain, starting with the dopaminergic motor neurons. As dopaminergic motor neurons begin dying, similarly afflicted neighboring neurons are unable to compensate for the absence of the dead cells and symptoms increase in severity.

As the disease progresses, individuals lose voluntary control over many of their body’s movements; voluntary motion becomes more difficult while involuntary tremors and stereotyped motions become harder for the individual to suppress. At the same time, the dearth of dopaminergic neurons can produce significant psychological and cognitive effects, including depression, executive dysfunction, anxiety, apathy, and dementia. 

Deaths caused solely by Parkinson’s are rare. Instead, Parkinson’s tends to increase the risk of other health problems, often as the result of diminished motor control. For example, individuals with Parkinson’s are highly vulnerable to falls and often struggle with basic self-care. Nonetheless, with early detection and intervention using the current standard of treatment, individuals who develop Parkinson’s can expect approximately 15 years between initial diagnosis and the need for constant medical aid. 

Individuals who don’t receive treatment will experience more rapid progression of the disease, although the speed will vary substantially from individual to individual. Significantly, while Parkinson’s progression can be drastically slowed with the right treatment regimen, no current treatment can cause progression to entirely stop. This underlines the need for adjunctive therapies that help preserve motor neurons.

The difficulty of treating Parkinson’s disease stems not only from the lack of curative therapies, but the fact that several of the most common pharmacological interventions cause lasting disability and an extensive number of intense side effects when they are used over the course of 10 or 15 years. 

These side effects range in severity. For example, artificially prompting dopamine secretion to replace the natural dopamine secretion which is lost when dopaminergic neurons die due to Parkinson’s is effective at allaying symptoms for a time, which is why dopamine precursors or dopamine agonists are typically used after initial diagnosis. 

After an extended course of these medications, however, the brain adapts to the artificially increased concentrations of dopamine, diminishing their responsiveness. At the same time, the brain has fewer dopaminergic neurons because they have continued to die over the course of treatment. This combination causes Parkinson’s symptoms to worsen and typically heralds the introduction of the next line of treatment.

The second line of treatment is anticholinergic drugs, which antagonize the acetylcholine receptors on neurons, preventing acetylcholine from interacting with the cell. When acetylcholine can’t interact with neurons, the neurons don’t transmit their acetylcholine-prompted signals as frequently or as strongly. This is important because cholinergic neurotransmission tends to also actuate dopaminergic neurotransmission. 

In other words, the second line of treatment tries to dampen neurological processes that utilize dopaminergic neurons indirectly. In contrast to the first-line drugs, anticholinergics carry a brutal side effect profile, which includes confusion, hallucination, blurry vision, decreased kidney function, dry mouth, and delirium. As a result, these drugs often incur a large penalty on the individual’s quality of life.

The difficult conditions of treatment for Parkinson’s, in addition to the disease itself, underline the necessity of effective support, but at present, there are only a very limited number of strategies. Studies indicate that getting plentiful exercise during the peak risk years and drinking coffee appear to be associated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s. 

These methods are not universally effective, though, and data regarding their efficacy is sparse. Thus, for individuals who wish to try to combat Parkinson’s or its progression, the current standard of treatment is woefully insufficient. Thanks to an emerging body of research, however, several supplements to provide nutritional support for Parkinson’s patients might soon offer critical new options.

The Potential Supportive Effect of Curcumin

Addressing Parkinson’s requires novel therapeutic approaches to the disease’s mechanism; in particular, supporting the preservation of dopaminergic motor neurons and dopaminergic activity. The natural substance curcumin, a biologically active compound isolated from turmeric, is one such promising avenue. In recent years, curcumin has been the focus of scientific inquiry owing to its confirmed diverse impact on cells, including its powerful antioxidant activity.* It is this antioxidant activity that might enable curcumin to respond to the rate of dopaminergic neuron death caused by Parkinson’s.*

Neurons are highly sensitive to environmental changes and the body produces many different compounds designed to keep their environment stable. However, a multitude of factors constantly disrupts this stability. One of the most common threats to homeostasis is reactive oxygen species (ROS), the remnants of metabolic reactions that remain circulating within the cell.

As their name implies, ROS react with cellular machinery like enzymes and DNA, preventing those pieces of machinery from doing their job with normal efficiency and causing cellular damage, otherwise known as oxidative stress, as a result.

Researchers believe that high levels of oxidative stress exist in the brains of individuals with Parkinson’s. The neurological level of oxidative stress is considered one of the major contributors to dopaminergic cell death and, thus, the disease’s progression. As such, nutritionally supportive antioxidants like curcumin are promising because they can potentially help healthy cells stay healthy by managing some of the burden of defending against oxidative stress.* 

Spending less energy on defending against oxidative stress might also benefit cells suffering from Parkinsonian-related degeneration.* Research into curcumin for the nutritional support of Parkinson’s is still in its nascent stages, but there is early evidence that it might offer these protective benefits.*

In a 2012 experiment conducted in rats, a group of researchers at the Medical College of Qingdao University in China found that a curcumin-based supplement could partially restore neuronal dopamine concentrations after an artificial induction of Parkinsonian symptoms. 

The researchers used three groups of rats: one group of rats was set aside as a control, and the other two groups were given 6-OHDA to trigger the development of irreversible Parkinson’s symptoms. 6-OHDA causes damage to dopaminergic motor neurons by creating extreme levels of oxidative stress. Then, one of the groups with Parkinson’s symptoms was given a curcumin-based supplement for 24 days. Measuring the concentrations of dopamine in the rat brains, the researchers found that the rats given the curcumin supplement had an average of one nanogram of dopamine per gram of tissue in their brains. The rats with Parkinson’s that hadn’t received the supplement exhibited an average of zero detectable dopamine. In comparison, healthy control rats had around six nanograms of dopamine per gram of tissue. 

In a clinical setting, the difference between one nanogram of dopamine per gram of tissue and none is significant. Even when dopamine concentrations are very low, neurons can adapt to the low level by down-regulating their receptors and can continue to perform dopaminergic neurotransmission, albeit at a reduced rate. If dopamine is entirely absent, then there is no way for neurons to adapt and maintain a semblance of their prior pattern of neurotransmission. 

These results indicate that curcumin might be an effective adjunct therapy for providing nutritional support in Parkinson’s disease.*

Curcumin supplements are already widely available to purchase. Most individuals who take a curcumin supplement find that the supplement is easy to tolerate, with transient nausea being the most common side effect reported.

Exploring the Benefits of Glutathione

Aside from curcumin, there is another chemical that might also provide nutritional support for Parkinson’s: the antioxidant molecule glutathione. Glutathione (GSH) is naturally produced by cells to help control their level of oxidative stress. Much like with curcumin, glutathione can be thought of as a molecular sponge that absorbs ROS so it can be discharged safely in a controlled environment and thus not cause damage. Because glutathione is already a tool the body uses to manage oxidative stress damage, it has significant potential for providing nutritional support in the context of Parkinson’s.*

In a healthy body, cells constantly recycle glutathione such that there is always some glutathione on hand that is ready to accept ROS. However, in Parkinson’s this might not be the case. A very early (1992) post-mortem study into the role of glutathione in individuals with Parkinson’s found significant differences between Parkinsonian pathology and healthy controls. 

The healthy controls had between 92.8 and 12.6 micrograms of glutathione for every gram of brain tissue in the dopaminergic neuronal tracts the researchers examined. Furthermore, only two percent of the detected glutathione molecules were carrying ROS. In contrast, those with Parkinson’s had between 49.3 and 4.6 micrograms of glutathione per gram of tissue, and between 50-to-100-percent of glutathione molecules were laden with ROS. 

This finding most likely means that individuals with Parkinson’s exhibit high levels of oxidative stress in their brains. Additionally, the prevalence of ROS-laden glutathione molecules in those with Parkinson’s indicates their neurons might have been incapable of clearing all of the ROS

Although the cause of Parkinson’s and the impact of oxidative stress remains unclear, there is evidence that suggests glutathione might play a role. Significantly, researchers have found that a drop in neuronal glutathione concentrations is an early biochemical sign of Parkinson’s and that glutathione depletion can be partially remedied pharmacologically. 

At present, scientists believe that individuals who exhibit naturally high levels of glutathione have vastly improved neuronal survival.* 

Clinical data on participants using glutathione supplements for the nutritional support of Parkinson’s remains lacking, but it is an area of active investigation. Preliminary clinical trials have shown that glutathione is well-tolerated in Parkinson’s patients, laying the groundwork for ongoing investigations regarding its efficacy. Those seeking nutritional support for Parkinson’s can do so with the help of a high-quality glutathione supplement.*

A Novel Combination For Parkinson’s?

Currently available data suggests that glutathione and curcumin are both promising nutritional supplements for individuals interested in optimizing their health, particularly when used in concert. For example, researchers have shown in vitro that curcumin can work in conjunction with glutathione such that neurons are doubly protected. 

Curcumin appears to induce glutathione localization, with research indicating that glutathione levels were 64 percent higher in cells that received curcumin than those which did not. Indeed, while human clinical trials of both compounds are still forthcoming, the early evidence indicates that future use will likely operate in combinations to maximize their effectiveness.

If consumers are interested in using curcumin and glutathione supplements to provide nutritional support in Parkinson’s, it is most likely safe to do so.* There is no data that indicates these two supplements are unsafe when used in conjunction than they are individually or that either of the supplements are unsafe when used as indicated. 

Both supplements should be safe to use to provide nutritional support in conjunction with the first and second lines of pharmacological treatments for Parkinson’s, although individuals should consult with their clinicians to be certain that no interactions would apply. Notably, it’s very difficult to assess the efficacy of such supportive regimens. Individuals taking curcumin or glutathione or both should remain vigilant regarding changes in their health, and remain in consultation with their physician to achieve the best possible outcome.

The power of Tesseract supplements lies in enhancing palatability, maximizing bioavailability and absorption, and micro-dosing of multiple nutrients in a single, highly effective capsule. Visit our website for more information about how Tesseract’s products can help support your neurological health and healthy aging.*

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Al Czap, Founder | Tesseract

Al Czap has more than four decades of professional experience in preventative medicine. He founded Thorne Research in 1984 (sold in 2010) and he published Alternative Medicine Review for 17 years beginning in 1996. AMR was a highly acclaimed, peer-reviewed, and indexed medical journal. Al was the first to recognize the need for hypoallergenic ingredients and to devise methods of manufacture for and delivery of hypoallergenic products to underserved patient populations. His work has greatly impacted those with impaired immune and digestive systems and compromised health due to environmental exposures.

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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