Tag Archives: Health

Parkinson’s Awareness Month: The Science Behind How Exercise Slows Disease Progression

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” John Wooden

“To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise.” Gene Tunney

Précis: For Parkinson’s Awareness Month, let’s begin with an important reminder/statement that “Exercise is medicine for Parkinson’s disease.”  Coming soon in a future blog post I will review the benefits of vigorous exercise in human Parkinson’s.  In today’s blog post, using an established mouse model of Parkinson’s disease and exercise, the recent paper from Wenbo Zhou and collaborators in Aurora, CO will be described. 

The full citation to this open-access paper is as follows: Wenbo Zhou, Jessica Cummiskey Barkow, Curt R. Freed. Running wheel exercise reduces α-synuclein aggregation and improves motor and cognitive function in a transgenic mouse model of Parkinson’s disease. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (12): e0190160 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190160

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“Health is the thing that makes you feel that now is the best time of the year.”Franklin P. Adams

The Neuroprotective Role of Exercise in Parkinson’s, A Quick Look Back: In my own academic career (during the past 30-something years) studying deep-vein thrombosis (hematology) and breast cancer cell migration/invasion (oncology) we used many different types of experimental techniques, specifically: developing protocols to purify blood proteins; three-dimensional molecular modeling; site-directed mutagenesis and expression of recombinant proteins; blood plasma-based model systems; cell-based model systems of cancer cell migration, invasion, and cell signaling; immunohistochemical (pathology) evaluation of human tissues; mouse model systems of cancer cell invasion and metastasis; and mouse model systems of venous thrombosis, aging, and wound healing/repair. I was very fortunate to be able to recruit some truly amazing graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to perform all of these studies.

Likewise, there are a lot of ways to study a disorder like Parkinson’s disease including model cell systems, model rodent systems, and human clinical trials. However, Parkinson’s is not an ‘easy’ human disease to characterize; even with the four Cardinal motor symptoms, we express our disorder slightly differently from one other.  In the past 20-25 years, from reading the literature, much has been learned and advanced with various rodent model systems of Parkinson’s. Studies began in the early 2000’s evaluating the role of exercise in rodent Parkinson’s model systems.  Four such papers (out of many) are highlighted below; with evidence for neuroprotection, neuro-restoration and neuroplasticity. In a 2001 study, Tillerson et al. concluded “These results  suggest that physical therapy may be beneficial in Parkinson’s disease.” Importantly, recent human clinical trials/studies are clearly showing positive results with exercise in Parkinson’s (depending on the study they have shown neuroprotection, improved motor defect and cognitive function gains).

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“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” Jim Rohn

Highlights and Overview of “Running wheel exercise reduces α-synuclein aggregation and improves motor and cognitive function in a transgenic mouse model of Parkinson’s disease”:

  • Gene mutations that have been found to cause Parkinson’s include α-synuclein, Parkin, UCHL1, DJ-1, PINK1, LRRK2, and VSP35. These mutations result in loss of neuroprotection (e.g., DJ-1 and PINK1), or gain of toxic function (e.g., α-synuclein and LRRK2).
  • The protein α-synuclein is a major component of Lewy bodies that are the signature brain lesions in Parkinson’s. A mouse model that overexpresses human α-synuclein is very similar to the human condition.  The most neurotoxic form of α-synuclein are the α-synuclein oligomers, which implies that preventing α-synuclein aggregation could slow disease progression.
  • The focus of this research was the neuroprotective effects of exercise (running wheel) in mice and quantifying the effect from exercise; they found typically the mice ran >5miles/day.


  • They found that one week of running wheel activity led to significantly increased DJ-1 protein concentrations in muscle and plasma in normal mice (compared to mice not running).  Furthermore, using a mouse model with DJ-1 genetically deleted, running wheel performance was much reduced indicating that DJ-1 is important for normal motor activity.
  • They then studied exercise in a mouse model expressing a mutant human form of α-synuclein that is found in all neurons- they wanted to see if exercise could prevent abnormal α-synuclein protein deposition and behavioral decline.
  • Their results showed that motor and cognitive performance were significantly better in exercising animals compared to control mice not allowed to run.
  • They found that the exercising mice had significantly increased levels of DJ-1, Hsp70 and BDNF concentrations and had significantly less α-synuclein aggregation in brain compared to control mice not allowed to run.
  • Interestingly, they also found that blood plasma concentrations of α-synuclein were significantly higher in exercising mice compared to control mice not allowed to run.
  • They conclude that exercise may be neuroprotective. Their results imply that exercise may slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease by preventing α-synuclein aggregation in brain.
  • Below are presentation of interesting results from Figures 4, 5, and 6:

Figure 4 (above) shows that exercise in the aged over-expressing α-synuclein mice had increased levels of DJ-1 (panel B), HSP70 (panel C) and BDNF (panel D) in their brains, and also increased DJ-1 levels in both muscle (panel F) and blood plasma (panel G), compared to non-exercise control mice.

Figure 5 (above) shows that exercise in the aged over-expressing α-synuclein mice had reduced formation of oligomeric α-synuclein (panel C is specific for human α-synuclein protein and panel D is for both mouse and human α-synuclein protein) compared to non-exercise control mice.

Figure 6 (above) shows that exercise in the aged over-expressing α-synuclein mice had increased α-synuclein concentration in blood plasma (panel C is specific for human α-synuclein protein and panel D is for both mouse and human α-synuclein protein) compared to non-exercise control mice.

“I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” G.M. Trevelyan

Exercise Slows Progression of Parkinson’s: This was both a straightforward and elegant study that gives mechanistic insight into the positive benefits of exercise in Parkinson’s. Here is how it could hopefully be translated from mouse to man: (1) Exercise prevents α-synuclein oligomer accumulation in brain; reduced in brain and increased (monomers and dimers) in blood plasma.  (2) Exercise significantly improved motor and cognitive function.  (3) The benficial effects of exercise is partly related to increased levels of DJ-1, Hsp70 and BDNF, which are neuroprotective substances. (4)  It is not possible to totally define/describe how exercise alters brain function in Parkinson’s when exercise itself produces such widespread systemic changes and benefits.

In conclusion, this study clearly demonstrates the neuroprotective effect of exercise.  It almost seems that exercise made the brain behave like a molecular-sieve to filter out the toxic oligomeric α-synuclein protein and it accumulated in the bloodstream.  Exercise works by slowing the progression of Parkinson’s. 

“If you always put limit on everything you do, physical or anything else. It will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” Bruce Lee

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Neuroprotection with Taurine in a Parkinson’s Model System

“There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow.” Orison Swett Marden

“Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.” Helen Keller

Introduction: Many of us take levodopa/carbidopa for substantial symptomatic relief; however, this dopamine replacement treatment only relieves symptoms without offering either neuroprotection or neuro-restoration. We are still anxiously waiting for the study to be released that announces “We describe a new Parkinson’s compound and we’ve nicknamed it hopeful, helpful, and protective“.   Today’s post will review an interesting paper from Yuning Che and associates in Dalian, China recently published in Cell Death and Disease (open access, click here to download paper).  The ‘hopeful’ neuroprotective compound is the amino sulfonic compound taurine.  Before we get lost in all of the possibilities, let’s discuss the science and see what they describe, ok? First, we begin with some background.

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“I truly believe in positive synergy, that your positive mindset gives you a more hopeful outlook, and belief that you can do something great means you will do something great.” Russell Wilson

Neuroinflammation and Oxidative Stress are Pathological Processes that  Promote the Development of Parkinson’s:   Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder where we lose dopamine-producing neurons in the mid-brain substantia nigra.   There are several pathological patterns known to contribute to the development of Parkinson’s as highlighted below.  Related to this post is the negative-effect contributed by long-term neuroinflammation and oxidative stress.


“It’s hope as a decision that makes change possible.” Jim Willis

Macrophages in the Brain are Called Microglia Cells:  In many instances, the body initiates and uses the pro-inflammatory machinery as a host-defense response; in other words, we use it to protect ourselves.  When it gets highjacked and becomes detrimental to be host, we realize the sheer firepower of our inflammatory system.  The good-and-the-bad of inflammation is mediated primarily by the cells named neutrophils (along with the eosinophils and basophils), monocytes and macrophages.  The monocyte leaves the bloodstream and migrates to various organs/tissues where it can ‘mature’ into a macrophage, which is a ‘field commander’ type-of-cell.  Think of a macrophage as a General in the bunker of a battlefield, not only giving detailed marching orders but they are also leading the charging brigade of soldiers.  Macrophages in the brain are named microglia cells .  First, macrophages (microglia cells) are ‘phagocytic’ cells that are capable of engulfing foreign-damaged-invading substances/cells (phagocyte comes from the Greek phagein, “to eat” or “devour”, and “-cyte”, the suffix in biology denoting “cell”).  Second, macrophages (microglia cells) direct the inflammatory response by releasing all kinds of substances that give other inflammatory/immune cells their instructions.  Sometimes these cells and their instructions become bad to the neighboring tissue/organs; in our case, the dopamine-produing neurons in the midbrain.

activated_microgliaMicroglia-mediated neuroinflammation(Figure credit): Various substances initiate contact with resting unstimulated microglia cells.  This ‘activates’ the microglia cell into an cell of considerable fire-power by producing and releasing many substances [nitric oxide (NO), reactive oxygen species (ROS),  and several inflammatory cytokines (e.g., IL-1, IL-6, and  TNF-alpha)]. This collection of pro-inflammatory substances secreted by the activated microglia cells creates a hostile microenvironment that promotes neuronal cell dysfunction and potential death to the cell.

Depending on the need and response of the ‘environmental challenge’, macrophages (microglia cells) can be activated to become either ‘M1’ (focused on becoming a pro-inflammatory) microglia cell or ‘M2’ (transforms into an anti-inflammatory) microglia cell [see Figure below, credit].  In the setting of an invasion or infiltration by microbes, you would want the microglia cell to be activated to a M1 state’ they could attack, engulf and kill the invading microorganism. In this setting, the M1 microglia cell would be protective of you. By contrast, the role of M2 microglia cells would be to turn-off the resultant pro-inflammatory response.  This implies that long-term inflammatory events that promote inappropriate M1 microglia cell activation could lead to dysfunction and even cell/tissue death. This description of appropriate/inapproriate microglia cell activation illustrates the complex nature of these inflammatory cells. What this says is in Parkinson’s, chronic activation to M1 microglia cells could generate a detrimental neuroinflammatory environment able to attack host cells/tissues.


“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” Robert H. Goddard

Taurine: Taurine is an amino sulfonic compound (many erronously use the term amino acid) and it is considered to be a conditionally essential nutritient.  We do not use taurine in the assembly of proteins from genes; however, it participates in several physiological systems.  Taurine is apparently a popular additive/supplement in many different energy drinks.  Both WebMD (click here) and the Mayo Clinic (click here) have posted overviews of taurine and consider it mostly safe.  The structure of taurine is shown below (credit). Taurine is found in the brain, heart, muscle and in many other organs.  Good sources of dietary taurine are animal and fish proteins. An interesting overview for using taurine to stay healthy and to promote longevity has recently been posted (click here). Taurine has many proposed physiological functions that range from neurotransmitter to cell anti-oxidant, from anti-inflammatory to enhancing sports performance.  The ‘problem’ with having a multi-talented substance like taurine is actually studying these diverse functions individually and trying to test them in rigorous scientific studies, which leads us (finally!) to the paper introduced at the beginning.


“Hope is the mainspring of life.” Henry L. Stimson

Taurine protects dopaminergic neurons in a mouse Parkinson’s disease model through inhibition of microglial M1 polarization: Here are some key aspects to this  study:

  • It is becoming more evident that neuroinflammation and oxidative stress are likely key participants to the development of Parkinson’s.
  • Surrounding the substantia nigra are a lot of unactivated microglia cells, which when activated to become M1 microglia cells they secrete several cytotoxic compounds that can easily harm or kill dopaminergic-producing neurons.
  • In particular, these neurons are susceptible to ‘injury’ due to their low antioxidant potential, low levels of calcium, increased amounts of iron, and the oxidation-susceptible dopamine.
  • Taurine has been shown in several reports to be a neuromodulating substance, boosting intracellular levels of calcium, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory.
  • A recent report linked motor severity in Parkinson’s to low levels of taurine in blood plasma.
  • The authors tested a hypothesis that the supplementation with exogenous taurine might be neuroprotective in a Parkinson’s model sy\stem.
  • Previous studies have revealed a neuroprotective role for taurine in both glutamate-induced and hypoxic-ischemic brain models.
  • They used a mouse model of Parkinson’s caused by injection with paraquat and maneb [(P + M) a two-pesticide model of Parkinson’s], which showed progressive dopaminergic neurodegenera-
  • tion, gait abnormality and α-synuclein aggregation.
  • Taurine treatment protected the mouse from the detrimental effect of  P + Mu.
  • Their results revealed three effects of taurine in the P + M model of Parkinson’s (i) inhibition of microglia cell activation; (ii) reduced M1 microglia cell polarization; and (iii) reduced activation of cellular NOX2 and nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB).

“Losing the possibility of something is the exact same thing as losing hope and without hope nothing can survive.” Mark Z. Danielewski

Overview of Some of Their Results: Figure 1 presents the effect of P + M to promote a pathological state that resembles Parkinson’s.  Panels 1A and 1B show the loss of dopaminergic neurons by the staining of the brain with an antibody to tyrosine hydroxylase (a major dopaminergic neuron protein) following P + M injection.  Panels !C and 1D show that P + M treatment lead to expression of the toxic olgiometic α-synuclein.  Not shown here, but P + M treatment resulted in displayed abnormal gaits (Figure 2 in the paper). Screenshot 2018-04-05 11.18.39

Taurine protected against P + M-mediated neurotoxicity.  Using the same tests as done in Figure 1 above, taurine preserved neurons even with P + M present (Figure 3 panels A and B) and taurine reduced expression of oligomeric α-synuclein in the presence of P + M (Figure 3 panels C and D).  Not included here, the protective effects of taurine during P + M treatment was partly due to the inhibition of migroglia cell-mediated chronic inflammation.  Furthermore, the ability of microglia cells to become  ‘polarized’ or activated to either M1 (pro-inflammatory) or M2 (anti-inflammatory) was also studied in the presence of taurine plus P + M-treatment.  Both M1 and M2 microglia cells are present in the mid-brain of the mice treated with P + M; interestingly, taurine treatment reduced expression levels of damaging M1 microglia cell products (results not included here).  Finally, two key M1-linked gene products were studied, NOX2 and NF-kB.  They found that taurine was able to reduce expression of both NOX2 and NF-kB, which indicates that taurine blocked these key products important for neuroinflammation (NOX2) and polarization of the M1 microglia cell-type (NF-kB)

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“The present is the ever moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.” Frank Lloyd Wright

What do these results show? (1) In an interesting model of Parkinson’s, taurine showed  a potent benefit to the mice; (2) taurine reduced loss of dopamine-producing neurons in P + M mice; (3) taurine reduced oligomeric α-synuclein in P + M mice; (4) taurine treatment reduced neuroinflammation by suppressing M1 microglia cells to suggest a neuroprotectice effect; and finally, (5) taurine reduced expression of both NOX2 and NF-kB,  important genes for microglia cell activation. A similar neuroprotective effect was also found for taurine in an experimental model of Alzheimer’s disease, which resulted in improved coognitive ability. The Parkinson’s model clearly suggests that disease progression by P + M treatment is promoted by chronic neuroinflammation and M1-type microglia cells.  Under the test conditions used, taurine was shown to convincingly reduce dopamine-producing neuronal cell degeneration in the presence of the pesticides P + M.

What do these results suggest? There is still much to learn about taurine. There is much potential to taurine being neuroprotective.  However, there have been other seriously–convincing-positive mouse model results with other compounds that failed miserably in human clinical trials.  The data shown here uses an interesting mouse model of Parkinson’s with a simple yet elegant and solid set of data (that does not appear to be overly interpreted).  Taurine has been shown to be safe in treating other human maladies (diabetes and cardiovascular disease).  The results here are hopeful that taurine could provide neuroprotection in human Parkinson’s. Hopefully, clinical trials will be started somewhere soon to determine the ability of taurine to provide neuroprotection in human Parkinson’s disease.

“Every one of us is called upon, perhaps many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job…And onward full-tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute, driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another–that is surely the basic instinct…Crying out: High tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.” Barbara Kingsolver

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Living and Working with “HOPE” in the Presence of Parkinson’s

“Life is difficult. This is the great truth, one of the greatest truths-it is a great truth because once we see this truth, we transcend it.” M. Scott Peck

“Life is hard. Life is beautiful. Life is difficult. Life is wonderful.” Kate DiCamillo

Introduction: A student and loyal reader of this blog recently asked “What do I do with all of the advice/tips/suggestion posts from the blog?” My reply was they help me balance out my day-to-day life; especially for work and to protect my time for exercise and time to spend with the significant-people in my life.  I typically print out the 1-page summaries and keep them in a folder, or post them at work, as reminders to what I value.  “What about all of your supportive and descriptive statements about living well with Parkinson’s disease?  I bet your readers of the blog would enjoy having some of your statements compiled like your advice posts, don’t you agree?”  My response was you want me to make some 1-page handouts of my comments? Yes, I could do that. That kind of a handout could help me as well; they could also serve as a roadmap to where the blog has traveled.  Interesting questions/suggestions, thanks for asking them.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Yogi Berra

The tenacity of hope: There are 4 broad goals to this blog: i) describe living with Parkinson’s (“Life Lessons“); ii) report emerging medical strategies for treating/managing/curing Parkinson’s (“Medical Education“); iii) support mechanism to anyone with Parkinson’s or any of the neurodegenerative disorders (“Strategy for Living“); and iv) educate by presenting scientific aspects of Parkinson’s (“Translating Science”).  Throughout much of the posts here, I firmly believe that words/concepts like hope, positive, persistent, staying happy and healthy, exercise (a lot, daily if possible), and refuse to give up are all important ‘life-lines’ for us to adopt in our dealing with this disorder.  Today’s message returns to hope and “HOPE”.  Hope is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as “the feeling that something desired can be had or will happen”.  I use HOPE as an acronym in Parkinson’s and it stands for:

H = Hope/Health(y)
O = Optimistic/Positive
P = Persistent/Perseverance
E = Enthusiasm for life, for career, and for exercise

Steve Gleason said “Life is difficult. Not just for me or other ALS patients. Life is difficult for everyone. Finding ways to make life meaningful and purposeful and rewarding, doing the activities that you love and spending time with the people that you love – I think that’s the meaning of this human experience.”  I really like the sentiment of his statement and admire his courage through adversity.  It reminds me that we are a community with a shared theme; while we are spread out throughout the world, we understand one another because Parkinson’s has been sewn in to the fabric of our lives. I am also convinced that staying hopeful and using HOPE gives us tenacity to deal with the subtle changes being forced upon us by the ever present Parkinson’s.

“Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.” J.K. Rowling

Living and working with HOPE: This current post reinforces the meaning for HOPE.  It reminds me of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide where she sings “Can I sail through the changin‘ ocean tides? / Can I handle the seasons of my life?” We confront both of these questions daily with Parkinson’s.  My hope is you find reassurance that your life and world are still meaningful, and you are not battling Parkinson’s alone. We know and we understand what you are confronting each day; thus, be persistent and remain hopeful.

Here is a link to a SlideShare file that will allow you to easily read/view all of these 1-page handouts.  You do not need a login, it’s free. You can read, clip and copy individual slides (1-page handouts); it even will let you download the entire file: click here to view Living and Working with “HOPE” in the Presence of Parkinson’s. Alternatively, here is the URL: https://www.slideshare.net/FrankChurch1/living-and-working-with-hope-in-the-presence-of-parkinsons  And finally, in case the above link proves problematic, here is a copy of these 1-page summaries (click here to download PDF file).  I have enjoyed re-reading the old blog posts these were derived from (some of these were previously posted and several are new) and they are presented as follows:

  • Part 1: Some of Frank’s quotes about living with Parkinson’s (four 1-page handouts);
  • Part 2: Suggestions, character traits, and tips for the journey through life and career in the absence and presence of Parkinson’s (seven 1-page summaries);
  • Part 3: Health and exercise while living with Parkinson’s (five 1-page summaries);
  • Part 4: Historical time-line of Parkinson’s disease (six 1-page reports)

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein

Know that wherever you are in your life right now is both temporary, and exactly where you are supposed to be. You have arrived at this moment to learn what you must learn, so you can become the person you need to be to create the life you truly want. Even when life is difficult or challenging-especially when life is difficult and challenging-the present is always an opportunity for us to learn, grow, and become better than we’ve ever been before.” Hal Elrod

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Dopamine Agonist Withdrawal Syndrome (DAWS) in Parkinson’s

“Some remedies are worse than the disease.” Publilius Syrus

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.” Norman Cousins

Summary: Dopamine agonists are widely used in the treatment of Parkinson’s, especially as a first-line therapy. Some patients on a dopamine agonist experience side-effects that require either tapering or discontinuation of the drug.  First described in 2010, dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS) is a complication of ~20% of Parkinson’s patients who are either lowering or stopping the dopamine agonist.  DAWS presents as a cluster of physical and behavioral symptoms [e.g., agitation, depression, drug craving, and panic attacks (to give a few possible symptoms)]. There is no known standard-of-care in dealing with DAWS in Parkinson’s. Presented here is a brief overview of DAWS in Parkinson’s including dopamine agonists, clinical description, risk factors and prevalence, mechanism of action, treatment/management, and key publications.

“To heal illness, begin by restoring balance.” Caroline Myss

Dopamine agonists (DA): Dopamine agonists are ‘mimics’ of dopamine that pass through the blood brain barrier to interact with target dopamine receptors. Symptomatic treatment of Parkinson’s remains dopamine replacement, including the DA’s.  Dopamine agonists are frequently the first line of choice for therapy for the just diagnosed Parkinson’s patient. Dopamine agonists do help control motor symptoms in Parkinson’s although there can be significant side-effects (see Table below). Also below is a Table describing DA’s. The DA side effects can become intolerable for some people-with-Parkinson’s, and the decision to taper or withdraw the DA is made. Or maybe you’re a candidate for deep-brain stimulation (DBS) surgery and to calibrate the device you’ll be asked to stop your Parkinson’s medication for a short period of time.



“I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worth while.” George Bernard Shaw

First report of dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS): Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS) was first described in 2010 by Rabinak and Nirenberg on five of their patients with non-motor impulse control behavioral disorders (ICD) caused by the DA; thus, they were tapered. Two patients were further described in this publication. The first patient was a 67-year-old woman with a six year history of Parkinson’s, and she had been taking various drugs including a DA. She had developed a difficult ICD, and they elected to taper the DA; unexpectedly, she then had severe anxiety and dysphoria. They tried an increase in carbidopa/levodopa and they used other therapy for cognitive behavior control; to no benefit to the patient. They changed her back to the original DA dose and she had a rapid and dramatic improvement in all of her symptoms. This patient continues to use the DA and remains with the difficult ICD.

Patient #2 was a 61-year-old woman with a six-year history of Parkinson’s and likewise an ICD prompted by the DA; she began a DA tapering with increased carbidopa/levodopa medication.  During the DA taper, she developed depression and severe anxiety and became agitated; she also had fatigue and insomnia.  As with Patient #1, adding back the DA improved all of her non-motor symptoms. It took several years for her to successfully reduce her DA doseage. The figure below visually highlights some of the key symptoms of DAWS.


What both cases shared were prominent psychiatric symptoms, poor response to both additional carbidopa/levodopa (to take the place of the DA) and psychiatric medication; however, both had rapid improvement in their ‘new symptoms’ when placed back on the DA. The majority of DAWS symptoms are presented in the the Table below.Document5“The secret of learning to be sick is this: Illness doesn’t make you less of what you were. You are still you.” Tony Snow

Risk-factors and prevalence of DAWS: Since the original study in 2010, there have been several follow-up studies on DAWS. Some of the studies speculated that a large DA dose in the presence of pre-existing ICD are the most important risk factors for DAWS. The ‘number’ talked about frequently is something called the ‘levodopa equivalent daily dose’ (LEDD) of the dopamine agonist, where it has been suggested that >150 mg was linked to an increased risk of DAWS. Use this on-line program to calculate your LEDD (click here).  Here is an LEDD example: someone taking 14 mg ropinirole/day (with the online algorithm), the LEDD would be 280 mg daily.  What? OK, so what did you say?  This means if you wanted to replace the 14 mg/day ropinirole with carbidopa/levodopa you would need about 300 mg per day of levodopa based on this calculation.  I refer you to do the papers cited at the end of the blog post for more details about LEDD. What is interesting is several of the studies have compared the taper versus total withdrawal of the DA; it does not seem to alter the risk of DAWS.  Good news is if you’re not having any detrimental side effects from the DA, just continue on and you’re good to go. The bad news is if you are having some side effects and you want to try and eliminate them by tapering down need to carefully consult with your neurologist and work up a feasible plan.  Please remember I’m a biochemist, not a physician, and I just am interpreting data from publications.

The prevalence of DAWS has been reported to be between 15 and 19% in patients with Parkinson’s; it seems to be consistently about one-in-five.  As mentioned previously, there appears to be no difference in relative risk of DAWS comparing patients that discontinue DA completely or those that reduce the DA by taper. Based on the percentage mentioned above, this says ~4 out of 5 people-with-Parkinson’s can DA taper without any problems.

“It is in moments of illness that we are compelled to recognize that we live not alone but chained to a creature of a different kingdom, whole worlds apart, who has no knowledge of us and by whom it is impossible to make ourselves understood: our body.” Marcel Proust

DA mechanism of action to cause DAWS:  To recap, DAWS occurs in a subset of patients with Parkinson’s that have had difficulties managing the side effects of a DA, and the decision has been made to remove that DA from the patient’s regimen.  The simplest notion is that you would then replace the DA with an increased dose of carbidopa/levodopa (using the LEDD); however, this is Parkinson’s and this is the brain and it’s just not going to be that easy. The diagram below summarizes a very simplistic view of dopamine and DA’s in their interactions with motor and reward pathways.  There is no doubt that in treating Parkinson’s, the replacement of dopamine is crucial for many different physiological functions in the human body. Dopamine agonists and dopamine share similar binding properties to dopamine receptors. They are very important in improving motor symptoms (through the nigrostriatal pathway) but there is also some potential detrimental crossover to the reward center (through the mesocorticolimbic pathway).  It is this minor pathway that is linked to the increased risk of ICD in some patients being treated with a DA. It is not clear, however from the data published so far that there is a difference in this 20% of the patient population in their mesocorticolimbic circuitry system with the DA in comparison to the other 80% of the population.  In summary, what causes DAWS during DA tapering is not well understood.18.01.07.Dopamine_Motor_Reward“Medicine is intention. Those who are proficient at using intention are good doctors.” Sun Simiao

Treatment/management of DAWS during DA taper:  DAWS is a relatively recent phenomena related to DA withdrawal.  Patients with (i) a predisposition to ICD and (ii) a larger dose of DA are apparently at increased risk of developing DAWS. There is no well-delineated treatment plan that the neurologist can follow; best recommendation (from the papers cited below) is the patient should be tapered at a very slow dose reduction over a long period of time, and see what happens. Clearly, it is crucial that the patient and the neurologist carefully evaluate signs of ICD and DAWS at every visit, especially for patients at high risk.

“The treatments themselves do not ‘cure’ the condition, they simply restore the body’s self-healing ability.” Leon Chaitow

 Summary: As someone with Parkinson’s, I’ve done a lot of reading about treatment strategies (what’s good and what’s not so good). For someone my age there would almost always be a recommendation to begin the DA (the so-called sparing one of levodopa until it’s absolutely needed) and then as symptoms progressed, you would switch over and combine the DA with carbodipa/levodopa.  Had I read the opinions of Dr. Ahlskog in the beginning, I might have opted to start with carbidopa/levodopa without the DA (Ahlskog JE. Cheaper, Simpler, and Better: Tips for Treating Seniors With Parkinson Disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2011;86(12):1211-6. doi: https://doi.org/10.4065/mcp.2011.0443). Biochemically, DAWS is an interesting problem but there needs to be additional studies to delineate the mechanism of action. Finally  DAWS clinically is worrisome and definitely not well-understood; and likely, the scope of DAWS is under-recognized.

Key References:

  1. Rabinak CA, Nirenberg MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome in Parkinson disease. Arch Neurol. 2010;67(1):58-63. doi: 10.1001/archneurol.2009.294. PubMed PMID: 20065130.
  2. Nirenberg MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome and non-motor symptoms after Parkinson’s disease surgery. Brain. 2010;133(11):e155; author reply e6. doi: 10.1093/brain/awq165. PubMed PMID: 20659959.
  3. Cunnington AL, White L, Hood K. Identification of possible risk factors for the development of dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome in Parkinson’s disease. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2012;18(9):1051-2. doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2012.05.012. PubMed PMID: 22677468.
  4. Pondal M, Marras C, Miyasaki J, Moro E, Armstrong MJ, Strafella AP, Shah BB, Fox S, Prashanth LK, Phielipp N, Lang AE. Clinical features of dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome in a movement disorders clinic. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2013;84(2):130-5. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-302684. PubMed PMID: 22933817.
  5. Edwards MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS): perils of flicking the dopamine ‘switch’. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2013;84(2):120. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-303570. PubMed PMID: 22993451.
  6. Nirenberg MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome: implications for patient care. Drugs Aging. 2013;30(8):587-92. doi: 10.1007/s40266-013-0090-z. PubMed PMID: 23686524.1.
  7. Nirenberg MJ. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome: implications for patient care. Drugs Aging. 2013;30(8):587-92. doi: 10.1007/s40266-013-0090-z. PubMed PMID: 23686524.
  8. Solla P, Fasano A, Cannas A, Mulas CS, Marrosu MG, Lang AE, Marrosu F. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS) symptoms in Parkinson’s disease patients treated with levodopa-carbidopa intestinal gel infusion. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2015;21(8):968-71. doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2015.05.018. PubMed PMID: 26071817.
  9. Huynh NT, Sid-Otmane L, Panisset M, Huot P. A Man With Persistent Dopamine Agonist Withdrawal Syndrome After 7 Years Being Off Dopamine Agonists. Can J Neurol Sci. 2016;43(6):859-60. doi: 10.1017/cjn.2015.389. PubMed PMID: 26842385.
  10. Patel S, Garcia X, Mohammad ME, Yu XX, Vlastaris K, O’Donnell K, Sutton K, Fernandez HH. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome (DAWS) in a tertiary Parkinson disease treatment center. J Neurol Sci. 2017;379:308-11. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2017.06.022. PubMed PMID: 28716269.
  11. Yu XX, Fernandez HH. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome: A comprehensive review. J Neurol Sci. 2017;374:53-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2016.12.070. PubMed PMID: 28104232.
  12. Solla P, Fasano A, Cannas A, Marrosu F. Dopamine agonist withdrawal syndrome in Parkinson’s disease. J Neurol Sci. 2017;382:47-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2017.08.3263. PubMed PMID: 29111017.

“Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru.” Joko Beck

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Agitation- img.aws.livestrongcdn.com/ls-article-image-400/cme/cme_public_images/www_livestrong_com/photos.demandstudios.com/49/85/fotolia_4199215_XS.jpg
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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) and Over-the-Counter Therapies in Parkinson’s

With Parkinson’s, exercise is better than taking a bottle of pills. If you don’t do anything you’ll just stagnate.” Brian Lambert

“With Parkinson’s you have two choices: You can let it control you, or you can control it. And I’ve chosen to control it.” US Senator Isakson

Introduction: Having one of the numerous neurodegenerative disorders can be disheartening, difficult and life-threatening/ending; however, Parkinson’s remains in the forefront of treatment schemes and therapeutic options.  We may have a slowly evolving disorder, yet I remain firmly entrenched both in striking back to try-to-slow its progression and in remaining hopeful that new advances are on the horizon to throttle-back its progression.  Recently, several people have asked for an update on my strategy for treating Parkinson’s.  My plan consists of (i) traditional Parkinson’s medication,  (ii) supplemented by a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approach, and (iii) fueled by exercise. My philosophy is simple because I truly believe there are steps I can follow to remain as healthy as possible, which include having a positive mindset to support this effort, and to accept the axiom of the harder I try the better I’ll be.

“Life is to be lived even if we are not healthy.” David Blatt

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM):The National Institutes of Health defines CAM as follows: “Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care. ‘Complementary medicine’ refers to treatments that are used with standard treatment. ‘Alternative medicine’ refers to treatments that are used instead of standard treatment.”  Here is a nice overview of CAM (click here). The National Center for CAM (click here for NCCAM) gives five categories to broadly describe CAM (see below, and followed by some representative components for each of the 5 categories):


(1) Alternative medical systems include treatment by traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and naturopathic medicine;
(2) Mind-body interventions like mindfulness meditation;
(3) Biologically-based therapies include over-the-counter natural products and herbal therapies;
(4) Manipulative and body-based methods describe chiropractic and massage therapies;
(5) Energy therapies include techniques such as Reiki and therapeutic touch.

“My way of dealing with Parkinson’s is to keep myself busy and ensure my mind is always occupied.” David Riley

CAM and Parkinson’s: Published CAM clinical trial studies have yielded only a sliver of positive response to slowing the progression of Parkinson’s, several were halted due to no change compared to the placebo-control group. Regardless of these ‘failed’ studies, many have embraced a CAM-based approach to managing their disorder, including me. Please remember that I’m not a clinician, and I’m not trying to convince you to adopt my strategy.  I am a biochemist trained in Hematology but I do read and ponder a lot, especially about Parkinson’s.  We know a lot about Parkinson’s and we’re learning a lot about the molecular details to how it promotes the disease.  There is not a cure although we have a growing array of drugs for therapeutic intervention.  Without a  cure, we look at the causes of Parkinson’s (see schematic below), we consider various CAM options, and we go from there (see schematic below). If you venture into adding to your portfolio of therapy, it is imperative you consult with your Neurologist/family medicine physician beforehand.  Your combined new knowledge with their experience can team-up to make an informed decision about your herb, over-the-counter compound use and its potential benefit/risk ratio.

17.12.31.PD_Cause.CAM“I discovered that I was part of a Parkinson’s community with similar experiences and similar questions that I’d been dealing with alone.”Michael J. Fox

A strategy for treating Parkinson’s: The treatment plan I follow uses traditional medical therapy, CAM (several mind-body/manual practices and numerous natural products) and the glue that ties it all together is exercise.  Presented here is an overview of my medical therapy and CAM natural products. I only list the exercises I am using, not describe or defend them.  Due to my own personal preference for the length of a blog post, I will return to them later this year and include an update of the mind-body/manual practices that I’m currently using. Please note that these views and opinions expressed here are my own. Content presented here is not meant as medical advice. Definitely consult with your physician before taking any type of supplements.   The schematic below gives a ‘big-picture’ view of my treatment strategy.

18.01.01.Daily_Take. brain.druge.CAM.Exercise

To some, my treatment plan may seem relatively conservative. It has been developed through conversations with my Neurologist and Internist.  This was followed by studying the medical literature on what has worked in Parkinson’s treatment, the list of compounds to consider was defined/refined (actually, my choice of OTC compounds has been trimmed from several years ago).  My CAM drug/vitamin/natural products strategy for treating Parkinson’s goes as follows: a) compounds (reportedly) able to penetrate the blood brain barrier; b) compounds (possibly) able to slow progression of the disorder; c) compounds that either are anti-oxidative or are anti-inflammatory; d) compounds that don’t adversely alter existing dopamine synthesis/activity; e) compounds that support overall body well-being; and f) compounds that support specific brain/nervous system health/nutrition. [Please consult with your physician before taking any type of supplements.] The Table below presents a detailed overview of my strategy for treating Parkinson’s.

18.01.01.DailyTherapy4Note of caution: Most herbs and supplements have not been rigorously studied as safe and effective treatments for PD. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements; therefore, there is no guarantee of safety, strength or purity of supplements.

On a daily basis, I use a combination of Carbidopa/Levodopa (25 mg/100 mg tablet x 4 daily, every 5 h on an empty stomach if possible, typically 6AM, 11AM, 4PM, 9PM) and a dopamine agonist Requip XL [Ropinirole 6 mg total (3 x 2 mg tablets) x 3 daily, every 6 h, typically 6AM, noon, 6PM).  This treatment strategy and amount combining Carbidopa/Levodopa and Ropinirole has been in place for the past 18 months (NOTE: I stopped using the additional dopamine agonist Neupro transdermal patch Rotigotine). For an overview on Carbidopa/Levodopa, I highly recommend the following 2 papers:
[1.] Ahlskog JE. Cheaper, Simpler, and Better: Tips for Treating Seniors With Parkinson Disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2011;86(12):1211-6. doi: https://doi.org/10.4065/mcp.2011.0443.
[2.] 1. Espay AJ, Lang AE. Common Myths in the Use of Levodopa in Parkinson Disease: When Clinical Trials Misinform Clinical Practice. JAMA Neurol. 2017. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.0348. PubMed PMID: 28459962.

An FDA-approved calcium-channel blocker (CCB) named Isradipine penetrates the blood brain barrier to block calcium channels and potentially preserve dopamine-making cells. Isradipine may slow the progression of Parkinson’s. The primary use of Isradipine is in hypertension; thus, to treat my pre-hypertension I switched from the diuretic Hydrochlorothiazide to the CCB Isradipine.  A CCB is a more potent drug than a diuretic; importantly, my blood pressure is quite normal now and maybe I’m slowing the progression of my Parkinson’s. Please see this blog post for a review of Isradipine (click here). [Please consult with your physician before taking any type of new medication.

N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC; 600 mg x 3 daily) is a precursor to glutathione, a powerful anti-oxidant. In several studies, NAC has been shown to be neuroprotective in Parkinson’s (click here).  I have recently posted an overview of NAC (click here). Furthermore, the ‘Science of Parkinson’s disease’ has presented their usual outstanding quality in a blog post on NAC in PD (click here);
trans-Resveratrol (200 mg daily) is an antioxidant that crosses the blood-brain barrier, which could reduce both free-radical damage and inflammation in Parkinson’s. If you decide to purchase this compound, the biologically-active form is trans-Resveratrol. The ‘Science of Parkinson’s disease’ has an excellent blog post on Resveratrol in PD (click here);
Grape Seed (100 mg polyphenols, daily) is an antioxidant that crosses the blood-brain barrier, which could reduce both free-radical damage and inflammation in Parkinson’s;
Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum, 300 mg daily) and its active substance Silymarin protects the liver.  Dr. Jay Lombard in his book, The Brain Wellness Plan, recommends people with PD who take anti-Parkinson’s drugs (metabolized through the liver) to add 300 mg of Silymarin (standardized milk thistle extract) to their daily medication regime.
Melatonin (3 mg 1 hr before sleep) Melatonin is a hormone that promotes sustained sleep. Melatonin is also thought to be neuroprotective (click here);
Probiotic Complex with Acidophilus is a source of ‘friendly’ bacteria to contribute to a healthy GI tract.
Vitamin (daily multiple)
A high-potency multivitamin with minerals to meet requirements of essential nutrients, see label for content [I only take 1 serving instead  of the suggested 2 gummies due to my concern about taking a large amount of Vitamin B6 as described in a recent blog (click here)]:
IMG_2059 copyVitamin D3 (5000 IU 3 times/week) is important for building strong bones. Now we also know that vitamin D3 is almost like ‘brain candy’ because it stimulates hundreds of brain genes, some of which are anti-inflammatory and some support nerve health (click here). Supplementation with vitamin D3 (1200 IU/day) for a year slowed the progression of a certain type of Parkinson’s (click here). Furthermore, augmentation with vitamin D3 was recently shown to slow cognitive issues in Parkinson’s (click here).

NO LONGER TAKE Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), Creatine and Vitamin E because they did not delay the progression of Parkinson’s or they were harmful.
NO LONGER TAKE a high potency Vitamin B Complex (see label below) due to my concern that a large excess vitamin B6 could be detrimental to Carbidopa/Levodopa (click here for blog post):
Screen Shot 2018-01-02 at 11.39.56 PM
List of several recent PubMed peer-reviewed CAM reviews (includes a more comprehensive overview of all areas of CAM in treating Parkinson’s):
Bega D, Zadikoff C. Complementary & alternative management of Parkinson’s disease: an evidence-based review of eastern influenced practices. J Mov Disord. 2014;7(2):57-66. doi: 10.14802/jmd.14009. PubMed PMID: 25360229; PMCID: PMC4213533.

Bega D, Gonzalez-Latapi P, Zadikoff C, Simuni T. A Review of the Clinical Evidence for Complementary and Alternative Therapies in Parkinson’s Disease. Current Treatment Options in Neurology. 2014;16(10):314. doi: 10.1007/s11940-014-0314-5.

Ghaffari BD, Kluger B. Mechanisms for alternative treatments in Parkinson’s disease: acupuncture, tai chi, and other treatments. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2014;14(6):451. doi: 10.1007/s11910-014-0451-y. PubMed PMID: 24760476.

Kim HJ, Jeon B, Chung SJ. Professional ethics in complementary and alternative medicines in management of Parkinson’s disease. J Parkinsons Dis. 2016;6(4):675-83. doi: 10.3233/JPD-160890. PubMed PMID: 27589539; PMCID: PMC5088405.

Kim TH, Cho KH, Jung WS, Lee MS. Herbal medicines for Parkinson’s disease: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e35695. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035695. PubMed PMID: 22615738; PMCID: PMC3352906.

Wang Y, Xie CL, Wang WW, Lu L, Fu DL, Wang XT, Zheng GQ. Epidemiology of complementary and alternative medicine use in patients with Parkinson’s disease. J Clin Neurosci. 2013;20(8):1062-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jocn.2012.10.022. PubMed PMID: 23815871. 

Today we take control over our Parkinson’s:
Please stay focused on dealing with your disorder.
Please learn as much as you can about Parkinson’s.
Please work with your neurologist to devise your own treatment strategy.
Please stretch and exercise on a daily basis, it will make a difference.
Please be involved in your own disorder; it matters that you are proactive for you.
Please stay positive and focused as you deal with this slowly evolving disease.
Please stay hopeful you can mount a challenge to slow the progression.
Please remain persistent; every morning your battle renews and you must be prepared.


In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.  And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” Albert Camus

Cover photo credit: news.nowmedia.co.za/medialibrary/Article/109153/Wine-grape-crop-6-7-down-in-2016-800×400.jpg


7 Tips and Healthy Habits for Working with Parkinson’s

“Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou

“The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.” Elbert Hubbard

Précis: Over the past eight weeks, some loyal readers and several friends have asked me: “Is everything  okay?”; “Has my health taken a downturn?”; “Have you stopped writing your blog?”; “I have been worried about you because it has been well over six weeks since your last blog post.”  I responded to each that I was well and doing fine, my health has been steady. However, the fall semester (early August-early December) for me is over-flowing with my job/work (teaching, administrative and still trying to maintain some research) and other commitments (service) [let alone trying to find time to exercise and other personal time], which leads to very little spare time to even think about composing a blog post. I apologized to everyone who contacted me; and I do stand in awe of all of the bloggers I follow who are able to both write and work full-time at the same time.  Thus, the topic for the current post is about having a career/full-time job in the presence of Parkinson’s disease.

“The world is full of willing people; some willing to work, the rest willing to let them.” Robert Frost

There is an old saying that ‘there are people who work to live’ and that ‘there are people who live to work’: One of these phrases likely describes your attitude (or opinion) about your job/career.  One phrase is not more correct than the other phrase. Likely, one phrase will matter in which career path you follow and it will contribute to your overall satisfaction in work-matters.  Thus, an honest assessment will help you identify which of these beliefs you most are aligned with as your life and career unfolds.  Your happiness matters.

I have been in an academic medicine setting for the past 35 years and I am more closely linked with the phrase ‘live to work’.  I have never regretted this career choice.  It has taken me a long time to understand the how and the why of my academic career successes and advances mixed with the typical setbacks/compromises.  A dear friend recently told me she could not imagine me doing anything else career-wise, it’s a perfect match. Currently, I am still able to work 6 days/week with the following goals: educating future healthcare providers, serving on several committees, and planning that next experiment to get one more research proposal submitted/funded.  Then Parkinson’s happened.

“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” Vince Lombardi

The equilibrium between life and career: The “life-work equation” is now of primary importance to me.  My version can be summarized as given below (likely, you’d have different/additional variables in your own ‘personal’ life-work equation):

Health (exercise and living with Parkinson’s) + Living (importance of loved ones, family, friends, colleagues) + Career (teaching and research) = Life.

The spectrum of balancing life-work ranges from happy/positive/fulfilling to unhappy/unfulfilling/find something else to do/not enough time to manage my Parkinson’s.  Ultimately, at 64 years of age, and with Parkinson’s, I need to consider adding another possibility (or dimension) to my life-career equation, namely retirement.  Well, at least, the thought has been planted.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”  Steve Jobs

7 tips and healthy habits for working with Parkinson’s: Clearly, understanding and balancing your career is an important aspect to your life (something that has not always been obvious to me).  Taking care of your health and career, especially in the presence of Parkinson’s is of paramount importance and will contribute to your wellness and happiness.  These are straightforward suggestions for you to consider while working with Parkinson’s; hopefully, this list will serve as a reminder about their importance. Also shown below are several photos of me at work and at play. Here is a 1-page summary of the “7 Tips and Healthy Habits for Working with Parkinson’s” (Click here to download file).


17.12.26b_7 Habits For Working with PD

[1] Executive Function. Executive function describes the group of mental skills that help you get things done. The frontal lobe of the brain controls your ability to execute these skills.  There are three key features to executive function: (1) working memory allows you to keep information in your mind and use it appropriately; (2) cognitive flexibility is being able to think about something in more than one way; and (3) inhibitory control  is being able to ignore something and resist temptation. Executive function allows you to manage time, pay attention, plan and organize, remember details and the ability to multitask.  Many with PD show a slow erosion of executive function. You need to recognize this aspect of your mind is partly responsible for your ability to work well (or not); therefore, keep going as best you can. 

executivefunctioncoaching3“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.“ Michael Porter

[2] Be willing to discuss your disease.  You have made the decision to inform others about your Parkinson’s and tell your friends and colleagues. Good for you!  In my case, I spent almost a year trying to avoid telling people about my Parkinson’s. Instead I just informed people who worked with me, my family and close friends. In hindsight, living openly with Parkinson’s is so much easier because everyone has been very supportive, receptive and very caring. To most people, Parkinson’s is a mystery. And it gets more difficult, not easier, when your colleagues (family and friends) acknowledge that they know about Michael J. Fox, Robin Williams and Mohammad Ali.  Educating your colleagues about you, your issues, your disease gives you so much credibility and bolsters respect among your peers.

This above all; to thine own self be true.” William Shakespeare

[3] Stay positive and go forward. At times, you live negatively and go backwards. Focus on staying positive and practice moving forward; your co-workers will appreciate the effort. A constant theme of this blog has been to try to remain positive and to live in a forward manner and not look backwards. We can reflect on today and you can plan for tomorrow all you can do is relive yesterday. It’s much better to stay positive and go forward.

List of positive words:


Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.” Michael Jordan

[4] Exercise, sleep and eat well. In the absence of regular exercise, adequate sleep and a healthy diet you’ll be unable to work effectively.  Just do all three each day; everyone around you at work will care for you even more, why?  Because you are now positively fueling your entire body-mind. Go here for a few additional blog posts on these topics: exercise (9 Things to Know About Exercise-induced Neuroplasticity in Human Parkinson’s; Golf And Parkinson’s: A Game For Life; Meditation, Yoga, and Exercise in Parkinson’s); sleep (Sleep Disturbances in Parkinson’s and the Eagles Best Song Lyrics; Sleep, Relaxation, And Traveling; 7 Healthy Habits For Your Brain); and nutrition (Diet and Dementia (Cognitive Decline) in the Aging; B Vitamins (Folate, B6, B12) Reduce Homocysteine Levels Produced by Carbidopa/Levodopa Therapy).


A lifestyle is what you pay for; a life is what pays you.” Thomas Leonard

[5] Stress reduction and mindfulness. Cortisol is produced as a by-product from stress.  Mindfulness reduces stress to reduce cortisol levels, a winning scenario for you at work and your brain will be healthier.  Take time during the work-day to practice mindfulness; even 5’ daily improves your body-heart-mind-soul axis.


Men for the sake of getting a living forget to live.” Margaret Fuller

[6] Gadgets can make a big difference.  Technology today is simply amazing; take advantage of it to keep going in your job. For example, if you type a lot on a keyboard/computer, use dictation with Dragon®. If your posture is poor from sitting all day at a desk, get the BackJoy® and help better support your back.   I  definitely have  a tendency to sit too long when I’m focusing on work and writing; one way I deal with it is to have Alexa (my Amazon Echo Dot®) set a timer for every 20 minutes to get me up and stretching.  I also have my Fitbit Charge 2® exercise watch set in silent alarm mode to vibrate every five and six hours, respectively, to remind me to take my medication. Just a few examples of many.

Technology feeds on itself. Technology makes more technology possible.” Alvin Toffle

[7] Have a career plan with accommodations. Let’s  be realistic and accept the notion that our PD symptoms may eventually interfere with our work.  Be self-aware of these small physical/mental changes; be prepared (proactive) and have a Plan B or a Plan C ready to implement. Consider that stopping work and being diagnosed with Parkinson’s are both typically at 60 something years of age, which makes the intersection of job and PD diagnosis/progression a very important “X marks the spot”.

I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.” Albert Einstein

Working while with Parkinson’s:  I have had Parkinson’s for the past ~6 years, and I am still working full-time.  No doubt Parkinson’s affects each person differently; it allows some to continue to work and others must stop.   For the past two years, I’ve been contemplating a couple of different plans once I stop working full-time. They consist of phasing-out retirement, exercise, PD outreach, teaching, and a few other ‘opportunities’ that I’m not yet ready to describe because they are still being developed. My future will likely be as busy as I am now but not necessarily all at the same place or at the same time.  When the full-time clock stops ticking it will be because either “it’s time, I’ve done enough” or my health has interfered with my schedule. My plan is still a couple of years away from being implemented. Like everyone with Parkinson’s, I’m acutely cognizant of my disorder. In the meantime, I have much left to accomplish with my education-science-service-outreach.

“Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is lightning that does the work.” Mark Twain

“Beingness, doingness and havingness are like a triangle where each side supports the others. They are not in conflict with each other. They all exist simultaneously. Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: They try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” Shakti Gawain

Cover photo credit: xinature.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/winter-trees-sun-lake-ice-dusk-sunshine-nature-water-snow-scene-landscape-sunrise-dawn-desktop-scenes.jpg

Executive function image: goosecreekconsulting.com/picts/executivefunctioncoaching.jpg

Stress response image: themeditatingman.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/stressresponse.jpg

Effect of Forgiveness on Health

“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.”  Bernard Meltzer

“The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.” Marianne Williamson

Précis: Recently had a friend go through a difficult break-up from a marriage. The notion of getting past the failed relationship, achieving forgiveness, and moving on without causing illness was of paramount importance. The implications of forgiveness/unforgiveness as it relates to health-illness crossed my mind. It started with assembling the quotes in this post. Next, I did a Google Scholar search for “forgiveness and health” and discovered a whole new area of psychology-science-medicine (well, it was new to me). Most of us would agree that forgiving yourself promotes wellness; whereas remaining unforgiven could disrupt your mental and possibly even your physical health.  This post reviews forgiveness and its positive impact on our health.

“Forgiveness is really a gift to yourself – have the compassion to forgive others, and the courage to forgive yourself.” Mary Anne Radmach

Forgiveness and Health: The Oxford dictionary defines ‘forgive’ as to stop feeling angry and resentful towards (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.  Positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Forgiveness is a big part of positive psychology regarding both physical and mental well-being.   Over the past 15 years, researchers have focused on 2 primary hypotheses: (1) forgiveness has important connections to physical health; and (2) this relationship is guided by an association between lack of forgiveness and anger.  Evidently, there is consensus in the field that these two primary processes form the basis of forgiveness: (i) letting go of one’s right to resentment and negative judgment; and (ii) fostering undeserved compassion and generosity toward the perpetrator.  The first process implies a person would reduce their negative emotions (i.e., anger and revenge); while  the second process involves increasing positive feelings and might even include reconciliation. Collectively, there is growing scientific evidence that links the positivity of forgiveness and health.

“He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The more you know yourself, the more you forgive yourself.” Confucius

Forgiveness vs. Unforgiveness: It is probably apparent (to you) that forgiveness is generally associated with improved mental and physical health, as opposed to someone unable/unwilling to forgive.  Modeling the relationship between forgiveness and health, based on the hypothesis that forgiveness reduces hostility (and this would be considered healthier), 6 paths linking forgiveness and health have been described: (i) decrease in chronic blaming and anger; (ii) reduction in chronic hyper-arousal [“a state of increased psychological and physiological tension marked by such effects as reduced pain tolerance, anxiety, exaggeration of startle responses, insomnia, fatigue and accentuation of personality traits.”]; (iii) optimistic thinking; (iv) self-efficacy to take health-related actions; (v) social support; and (vi) transcendent consciousness (“state achieved through the practice of transcendental meditation in which the individual’s mind transcends all mental activity to experience the simplest form of awareness“).

What does this mean? The majority of studies on forgiveness indicate a reciprocal relationship to hostility, anger, anxiety and depression.  Forgiveness may directly alter sympathetic reactivity, which is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. These responses include increases in heart rate, blood pressure, cardiac contractility, and cortisol.  This implies that unforgiveness could promote an acute, stress-induced reactivity that could be associated with general health problems.  However, it is much more complicated than this simplistic flow of events: anger is a component of unforgiveness; anger is a health risk; therefore, unforgiveness is a health risk.  This is really interesting reading but way beyond my training as a protein biochemist (If interested, look over the references listed below)

Forgiveness and Mental Health: Let’s take a different angle by looking at mental health. We begin with unforgiveness as being associated with stress from an ‘interpersonal’ offense and stress is associated with diminished mental health. Furthermore, unforgiveness due to an ‘intrapersonal’ wrongdoing may lead to shame, regret and guilt, which could also negatively affect mental health. The positive impact of forgiveness may help correct the downturn in mental health that resulted from either interpersonal or intrapersonal stress.  In many instances, mental health is linked to physical health. This suggests that practicing forgiveness would positively influence mental health and could therein bolster physical health.

To summarize the ability of forgiveness to bolster mental health, I have re-drawn the figure from Toussaint and Webb  (2005) as a 4-piece puzzle. It begins with the ‘direct effect’ of forgiveness as told through unforgiveness with emotions of resentment, bitterness, hatred, residual hostility, and fear. The negative emotions of unforgiveness could contribute significantly to mental health problems.  By contrast, the emotion of forgiveness is positive and strong and love-based that could improve mental health. The ‘indirect effect’ of forgiveness through social support, interpersonal behavior and health behavior are all positively-linked to good mental health. The ‘developmental stage’ describes the recognition of the problem, need for an alternative solution, and ultimately the effect of forgiveness augments mental health.  The final piece to the puzzle is the ‘attributional process’, which suggests that being able to forgive bolsters personal control of one’s life, which is perceived to be positive.  By contrast, unforgiveness blocks this life-controlling process by consumptive negative emotions made worse in the individual through rumination.  Due to my own internal word limit and time-period to read/understand the topic, I have not included the religious or spiritual basis of the forgiveness of God, feeling God’s forgiveness, and seeking God’s forgiveness in the narrative of this post.  For many people, these would be integral components to the discussion here on forgiveness and its overall impact on both mental and physical health.


“I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all.” Maya Angelou

9 Steps to Forgiveness (Fred Luskin, LearningToForgive.com): Dr. Luskin is a noted-researcher in the field of forgiveness. His belief is that by practicing forgiveness, your anger, hurt, depression and stress will all be reduced and it will increase feelings of hope, compassion and self confidence. Furthermore, he believes that practicing forgiveness contributes to healthy relationships and to improved physical health; here are the 9 steps to forgiveness:

  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not OK. Then, tell a trusted couple of people about your experience.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
  3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
  4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
  5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
  6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.
  8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” Lewis B. Smedes

Forgiveness in the Presence of Parkinson’s:  Receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, a lifelong chronic progressive neurodegenerative disorder is a real shock.  The diagnosis comes with a variety of emotions. After a while, acceptance takes over; no, not your identify, just ok, I’ve got Parkinson’s, live through it, make the most of this experience. Eventually I had to put forgiveness into part of this living-life-equation. There were two self-involved events where I might have contributed to the development of my own disease.  The first was as a young boy in the summertime riding my bicycle behind the DDT trucks spraying for mosquitoes on our Air Force bases [Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) is a colorless, tasteless, and almost odorless crystalline organochlorine known for its insecticidal properties]. DDT is one of the known chemical inducers of Parkinson’s. Second, in graduate school before OSHA took over regulating lab safety, I routinely used many different noxious compounds for the benefit of science and for the completion of my PhD. Both events caused me to pause and ponder; however, I decided to forgive myself. I truly believe had I remained unforgiving, I would have paved a path of ill health.

This whole process of dealing with the emotion from diagnosis to acceptance (and forgiveness) of Parkinson’s reminds me of the opening verse of “We Are The Champions” by Queen: “I paid my dues/ time after time./ I’ve done my sentence/ but committed no crime./ And bad mistakes-/ I’ve made a few./ I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face/ but I’ve come through./  (And I need to go on and on, and on, and on)

The vast majority of people with Parkinson’s are 60-years of age or older (although there is a group of early-age-onset). Interestingly, in a recent study with an elderly population, forgiveness showed positive and significant association with mental and physical health.

“You cannot travel back in time to fix your mistakes, but you can learn from them and forgive yourself for not knowing better.” Leon Brown

“Accept the past as past, without denying it or discarding it.” Mitch Albom

Forgive Ourselves: Dr. Elaine in her post “The-healing-power-of-forgiveness” nicely summarized self-forgiveness: “We tend to believe that forgiveness supports the transgression that has been committed against us. But forgiveness is not an endorsement of wrongdoing; rather, it’s an act of releasing the pain and hurt it caused through love, the root of forgiveness—and it is not love of the other but of the self. We must forgive ourselves as well as others in order to be whole and healed.”

Effect of Forgiveness on Health: The sum total of our health is a complex formula that differs slightly for each one of us.  Those of us with a progressive neurodegenerative disorder like Parkinson’s increases the complexity of this life-equation.  Thus, dealing with the axis defined by forgiveness/unforgiveness in the matter of health (both mental and physical) clearly could complicate our health.  Truly we need to add forgiveness as a filter to our life-lens; the benefits from this addition should favor our health in the long-run.

“If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self.” Maya Angelou

Cover photo credit: https://orig05.deviantart.net/0a42/f/2015/095/1/6/painted_wallpaper___fog_on_lake_by_dasflon-d8oiudk

Useful References:

Lawler KA, Younger JW, Piferi RL, Jobe RL, Edmondson KA, Jones WH. The Unique Effects of Forgiveness on Health: An Exploration of Pathways. Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2005;28(2):157-67. doi: 10.1007/s10865-005-3665-2.

Akhtar, S., Dolan, A., & Barlow, J. (2017). Understanding the Relationship Between State Forgiveness and Psychological Wellbeing: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Religion and Health, 56(2), 450–463. http://doi.org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1007/s10943-016-0188-9

Lawler-Row KA, Karremans JC, Scott C, Edlis-Matityahou M, Edwards L. Forgiveness, physiological reactivity and health: The role of anger. International Journal of Psychophysiology. 2008;68(1):51-8. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.01.001.

Rey L, Extremera N. Forgiveness and health-related quality of life in older people: Adaptive cognitive emotion regulation strategies as mediators. Journal of Health Psychology. 2016;21(12):2944-54. doi: 10.1177/1359105315589393. PubMed PMID: 26113528.

Toussaint, L., J.R. Webb.  Theoretical and empirical connections between forgiveness, mental health, and well-being E.L. Worthington Jr (Ed.), Handbook of forgiveness, Brunner–Routledge, New York (2005), pp. 207-226