For years I watched my grandmother’s health decline as a result of Parkinson’s disease. She had tremors, hallucinations, restless legs, and trouble talking, walking and writing. I watched a beautiful, strong and determined woman become trapped in a body that no longer worked. The medications did not really help, and I always wondered – what else could have been done to help her? After an 11-year battle with Parkinson’s, my grandmother passed away.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. It most commonly affects women and is often diagnosed in the later years, such as mid-50s/60s. The disease is characterized by declining or impaired motor symptoms such as tremor, joint stiffness, slow movement or difficulty executing movement. Postural instability, fixed facial expressions and gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation or difficulty swallowing can also occur (Pizzorno, Murray and Joiner-Bey, 2016).
While the pathophysiology of PD is unknown, there are implications that this disease is a result of environmental pollutants and toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals contributing to the degeneration of neurons dysfunction of mitochondria, and accumulation of proteins in the brain known as Lewy bodies. This all leads to a critical loss of dopamine – a neurotransmitter used to send messages between nerve cells. Genetics also play a role.
Is there a prevention strategy?
Currently, Parkinson’s Disease is uncurable. The common course of action is a drug called Levodopa (L-dopa) to control symptoms. Nutritional methods can slow the progression and reduce the severity of these stages. Removing the possible offending products like pesticides, medications with PD side effects, artificial sweeteners, and well water (it should be tested for heavy metals and pesticides) is the first step (Lipski, 2018).
It is also important to support the body with an abundance of antioxidants (colorful vegetables & fruits) to quell inflammation, vitamins and minerals for cellular and neuronal health, adequate hydration and regular exercise. Adding in foods that enable detoxification of heavy metals such as high-sulfur foods like onions, garlic, cilantro, broccoli and leafy greens will also help (Pizzorno, Murray and Joiner-Bey, 2016).
Additionally, foods rich in glutathione, your body’s super antioxidant, will protect against oxidation and free radicals. Glutathione is found in asparagus, avocado, spinach and okra and needs sulfur-producing foods for support.
What about green tea? I’ve heard that’s good…
Forming a defense line against PD with the above foods is the first place to start. Unfortunately, as with most illnesses, there is never a magic bullet. However, there is more you can do to prevent the development or progression of PD.
Studies have shown that drinking 3 cups of green tea daily protects dopamine receptor neurons against toxicity (Zhou et al, 2019). Green tea is protective due to its content of caffeine, a polyphenol named epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), and an amino acid called theanine (5g-glutamylethylamide).
Let’s look at this triad of support:
- Caffeine: Regular caffeine intake is associated with a decreased risk of PD. One reason is because caffeine chelates iron (iron accumulates in the brains of those with PD). Another is that caffeine can improve motor manifestations through neurotransmitter release and reduce gait “freezing” (Postuma et al., 2012). A cup of green tea contains 30 to 40 mg of caffeine (about 2-4%).
- Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG): Clinical studies suggest that EGCG has neuroprotective qualities and can significantly suppress toxicity of dopamine neurons through antioxidation, anti-inflammation, iron-chelation, cell death regulation and modulation of signaling pathways (Zhou et al, 2019). Therefore, EGCG can delay the onset of or halt the progression of PD (Caruana & Vassallo, 2015). One gram of green tea contains approximately 127 milligrams of antioxidants!
- Theanine: Theanine protects brain cells against damage from exposure to the pesticide rotenone, commonly linked with PD (Cho, et al 2008). It also shows general protection against neuronal death, specifically in the area of the brain that produces dopamine.
What kind of green tea is best?
Hot green tea (6-8oz) is the most powerful. It is best to avoid bottled and sweetened green tea beverages. Purchase organic, non-GMO teas to avoid exposure to pesticides, artificial ingredients and elevated fluoride levels. These components are especially harmful for PD patients. Some brands proven to be safe include: Numi, Rishi, Stash, Choice, and Traditional Medicinal.
Who shouldn’t drink green tea?
While green tea shows benefits for those with PD, it should be noted that those with caffeine sensitivities might want to avoid this remedy. Also, multiple drugs may interact with green tea, discuss with your doctor before trying out this intervention. Most common interactions occur with amphetamines and stimulant drugs, antibiotics, birth control pills, Tagamet, clozapine, estrogens, blood clotting drugs, depression drugs, and all others that interact with caffeine. For a full list see (https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-960/green-tea).
Caruana, M & Vassallo, N. (2015). Tea Polyphenols in Parkinson’s Disease. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 863: 117-37. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-18365-7_6.
Cho, HS., Kim, S., Lee, SY., Park, JA., Kim, SJ. (2008). Protective effect of the green tea component, L-theanine on environmental toxins-induced neuronal cell death. Neurotoxicology, 29(4): 656-62. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2008.03.004.
Kakuda, T., Hinoi, E. Abe, A., Nozawa, A., Ogura, M. Yoneda, Y. (2008). Theanine, an ingredient of green tea, inhibits [3H] glutamine transport in neurons and astroglia in rat brain. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 86: 1846-1856. Doi: 10.1002/jnr.21637
Postuma, R., Lang, A., Munhoz, R., Charland, K., Pelletier, A., Moscovich, M., Filla, L., Zanatta, D., Rios Romenets, S., Altman, R., Chuang, R., & Shah, B. (2012). Caffeine for treatment of Parkinson disease: a randomized controlled trial. Neurology, 79(7), 651–658. https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0b013e318263570d
Zhou, Z. D., Xie, S. P., Saw, W. T., Ho, P., Wang, H., Lei, Z., Yi, Z., & Tan, E. K. (2019). The Therapeutic Implications of Tea Polyphenols Against Dopamine (DA) Neuron Degeneration in Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Cells, 8(8), 911. https://doi.org/10.3390/cells8080911