Parkinsons Disease is a neurological disease characterized by nerve cell damage and cell death related to overstimulation by chemical neurotransmitters.
The damage begins in a brain structure called the substantia nigra. As damage progresses, symptoms such as movement abnormalities appear, and eventually, most of the central nervous system is affected, resulting in a decline in thought processes and overall brain function as well.
Recent research on the causes of Parkinsons have provided evidence that cellular mitochondrial energy dysfunction is involved, and this dysfunction results in the development of severe oxidative stress. Oxidative stress involves the production of an overabundance of free radical and reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Normally, our cells have antioxidants such as glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD) in place to quell the free radical activity which is so damaging to surrounding cells, but when ROS are generated in large amounts, either through mitochondrial respiratory dysfunction or other causes, they can overwhelm cell antioxidant defenses and cause oxidation damage to the fatty myelin sheath or cell membrane covering the neurons. This membrane damage results in neuron dysfunction and the symptoms of Parkinsons.
Several investigators have demonstrated that the ketogenic diet can relieve some of the symptoms of Parkinsons because it helps the cell bypass the dysfunctional mitochondrial processes and repair mitochondrial respiratory damage, thereby reducing the amount of free radicals and ROS created.
A small feasibility study by VanItallie demonstrated that 5 out of 7 patients put on a ketogenic diet showed improved scores on a standard Parkinsons rating test. Although the study was small, the positive outcome will hopefully generate funding for a larger study.
Another study done in an animal model of Parkinsons showed that a ketone body called D-betahydroxybutyrate was able to block the damage done by a toxin added to a culture of neurons. The toxin should have damaged cellular mitochondrial function but the ketones kept that from happening.
The area of research on using ketogenic diets to treat Parkinson's disease is still in its infancy, but I have no doubt it will prove to be promising and useful for Parkinsons patients in the future.
These helpful community resources have been recommended to me by my friend Adrian:
You can get more information on how oxidative stress works, and on how ketogenic diets can reduce the damage of oxidative stress in my article "Ketogenic Diets: A Key to Excellent Health" which was published in the July/August 2012 issue of Well Being Journal.
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