Parkinson’s disease symptoms can become progressively worse with time. Yes, conventional medicine can slow symptoms.
And pharmaceutical-grade L-dopa (pharmaceutical levodopa) is often the drug of choice in conventional medicine for Parkinson’s patients. L-dopa can help many Parkinson’s symptoms, though it has its limitations.
Pharmaceutical L-dopa drugs can also cause numerous side effects, including nausea, hair loss, anxiety, hypotension, respiration disruption, disorientation, confusion, insomnia, hallucinations and others. Chronic use of L-dopa drugs also cause drug-induced dyskinesia – a loss of muscle control. (See below for discussion on natural sources of levodopa.)
Conventional doctors typically try to curb this effect of L-dopa with the addition of Carbidopa (lodosyn). This increases the metabolism of L-dopa drugs, allowing them to more easily cross the blood-brain barrier. This means the patient can be prescribed less L-dopa – possibly slowing down the dyskinesia eventuality.
Beyond these and similar drugs, there is little conventional medicine can do to stop the progression of Parkinson’s. We have discussed some potential herbal solutions and natural strategies to reduce Parkinson’s symptoms. Are there other natural strategies that can be employed?
Acupuncture effective for Parkinson’s symptoms
Acupuncture and herbs have been employed for thousands of years by Asian traditional doctors for nervous disorders. The benefits for the use of the acupoints LR3, GB34 and GV20 for nerve and motor conditions have been well-documented in Asian medical literature.
In a 2017 study, researchers from the College of Medicine at South Korea’s Kyung Hee University investigated the research evidence for acupuncture for treating Parkinson’s disease. After a deep search, the researchers found 25 randomized clinical trials that tested acupuncture treatment for Parkinson’s.
In this meta-analysis, the researchers scored for high-quality. And 19 of the 25 studies were found to be of high quality. This means they had enough strength to significantly remove bias and the placebo effect.
The clinical trials included 1,616 Parkinson’s disease patients. They were conducted between 2000 and 2014. Some of the studies compared acupuncture to no or sham treatment. Other studies compared acupuncture with conventional (drug) treatment to conventional treatment without acupuncture.
The meta-analysis of these studies found that acupuncture can significantly improve symptoms of Parkinson’s in all these cases: Whether being treated with drugs or not.
Some of the studies utilized Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scales (UPDRS) to gauge any improvements. The rating scales are:
• UPDRS I – nonmotor experiences of daily living
• UPDRS II – motor experiences of daily living
• UPDRS III – motor examination
• UPDRS IV – motor complications
In studies that compared acupuncture plus conventional treatment to conventional treatment alone, UPDRS scores were significantly higher in the acupuncture treatment patients. Their scores averaged 10.73 higher than conventional treatment alone.
Other studies used Webster scales to rate Parkinson’s symptoms. The meta-analysis found that acupuncture with conventional treatment was also significantly better – by an average of 35 percent – than conventional treatment alone.
Effective rates also found acupuncture treatment was more effective.
Those studies that investigated acupuncture versus no or sham treatment also found acupuncture significantly improved symptoms.
The researchers concluded:
“Our systematic review and meta-analysis suggested evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Acupuncture was more effective in relieving Parkinson’s disease symptoms than no treatment or conventional treatment alone. In addition, acupuncture plus conventional treatment had a significant effect compared to conventional treatment alone according to the UPDRS, Webster scale, and effectiveness rates.”
Different acupoints used
The researchers found that among the 25 studies, practitioners used 65 different acupoints. However, among these, the LR3 acupoint was the most used point. Here is the list of most used points, in the order of use:
The central reason for so many acupoints being used is important. An acupuncturist will typically employ those points that address the unique issues of each person. In this respect, most acupuncture treatments will vary from person to person. The therapist will analyze the various issues of the patient as an individual.
Still, common issues will typically include acupoints known to treat that symptom or condition.
Natural sources of levodopa
Back to levodopa. There are natural forms of levodopa – the amino acid dihydroxyphenylalanine. Levodopa is also found in many herbs and foods. The seeds or beans of the following plants will contain anywhere from less than 1 percent to more than 5 percent levodopa by weight:
• Fava beans, or broad beans (Vicia faba)
• Velvet beans (Mucuna pruriens)
• Mat beans (Vigna aconitifolia)
• Leadwort (Plumbago zeylanica)
• Cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata)
• Zombi peas (Vigna vexillata)
• Chilean mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)
• Purple orchard tree (Pileostigma malabarica)
• Chaste tree or horseshoe vitex (Vitex negundo)
• Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
• Maloo creeper (Phanera vahlii)
• Palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeate)
• Hairy Senna (Cassia hirsute)
• Other Cassia trees (Cassia spp.)
• Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)
• Birdwoodina beans (Mucuna birdwoodina tutcher)
• Hawaiian orchid tree (Bauhinia purpurea)
The seeds or beans of the above plants typically contain the most levodopa. However, the sprouts of these beans (such as Fava sprouts) can contain significantly more levodopa. Numerous studies on natural sources of levodopa have found few adverse effects in healthy animals given natural levodopa.
However, good long-term human clinical tests are not available on treating Parkinson’s with natural levodopa. Short-term studies have shown they do increase blood levels of levodopa, however.
After an initial stage of well-being from L-dopa drugs, a resistance develops, producing serious motor side effects and mood issues. This is considered abnormal motor control – mentioned above, also called drug-induced dyskinesia. This creates an increase in involuntary muscle movement.
So will natural sources of levodopa produce these effects as L-dopa drugs when given to a Parkinson’s patient? Will they create the dopa resistance that L-dopa drugs do?
It is currently unknown whether levodopa from natural food and herb sources also produces this response.
One might prefer to stay on the safe side. But it could certainly make for a good study.
On the other side of the coin, herbs containing the same constituents as some drugs have been found not to have the same side effects as the drugs. Take willow bark versus aspirin, for example. Aspirin can cause ulcers and stomach bleeding when used chronically. But willow bark has the opposite effect along with its pain-killing effects. Willow bark can actually be used to aid an ulcerative condition according to the research. Both contain the active acetylsalicylic compound.
The reason is because natural herbs and foods contain numerous compounds that have the effect of balancing or buffering potential side effects of other constituents. For example, outside of levodopa, fava beans also contain lecithin and choline. Both of these compounds have beneficial effects upon nerve and brain cells.
There is a history of velvet bean use for nervous system related conditions over 1,000 years ago in Ayurveda, with no mention of motor side effects. But there is simply not enough evidence to support a hypothesis that natural levodopa does not produce dyskinesia if used chronically in a Parkinson’s patient. Therefore, you should discuss levodopa use with your doctor.
Lee SH, Lim S. Clinical effectiveness of acupuncture on Parkinson disease: A PRISMA-compliant systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017 Jan;96(3):e5836. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000005836.
Cheng FK. The use of acupuncture in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Geriatr Nurs. 2016 Dec 29. pii: S0197-4572(16)30288-9. doi: 10.1016/j.gerinurse.2016.11.010.
Kuber B Ramya, Santhrani Thaakur. Herbs containing L- Dopa: An update. Anc Sci Life. 2007 Jul-Sep; 27(1): 50–55.
Jie Dong, Yanhua Cui, Song Li, Weidong Le. Current Pharmaceutical Treatments and Alternative Therapies of Parkinson’s Disease. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2016 May; 14(4): 339–355. doi: 10.2174/1570159X14666151120123025
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.