Parkinson’s in the Spotlight
The Michael J. Fox Show debuts on NBC this fall. In it, Fox plays a version of himself: a beloved TV star returning to the small screen despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Fox, who was diagnosed with young-onset Parkinson’s in 1991 at the age of 30, has become a prominent spokesperson for the Parkinson’s cause.
Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder, afflicts as much as 2 percent of people age 62 and older, and 5,000 people in the Sarasota-Manatee area alone.
Neurologist Dr. Dean Sutherland of Sarasota’s Neuro Challenge Foundation, a nationally known resource for Parkinson’s patients and their families, points out that while young-onset Parkinson’s progresses differently, and Fox is in a “unique situation” to have his medications constantly monitored, Fox’s success with managing the disease has come via the same medications and treatments available to everyone. Those treatments include medications to treat specific symptoms and to address Parkinson’s underlying cause, a lack of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Some patients also undergo brain surgery for deep-brain stimulation.
Dr. Sutherland adds, “Exercise is as important as anything you can do” to treat Parkinson’s.
Sutherland and Neuro Challenge executive director Judith Bell emphasize that a patient’s quality of life extends beyond medications and therapies. “Because it has visible symptoms, people [with Parkinson's] can become reclusive, and friends become uncomfortable,” explains Bell. The hope is that widespread education efforts, not to mention the prominence and popularity of a celebrity like Fox, will help encourage everyone to “be comfortable with it,” says Bell. “People with Parkinson’s are more than their disease.”
How Parkinson’s works: A malformed protein, which spreads by corrupting the healthy proteins around it, causes the progressive death of brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine.
What causes it: Approximately 95 percent of cases stem from environmental causes—pesticides and herbicides may be among the culprits. Only a small percentage of cases are genetic.
Average age of onset: 62
Possible early symptoms: Stiffness, tremor in one hand, softness of voice, weakened facial expressions.
Possible later symptoms: Loss of mobility, hallucinations, memory loss, dementia.
Treatments and therapies: Medications; exercise, especially stationary bike riding, weightlifting and tai chi; deep-brain stimulation via a surgically implanted device.
For more information and local Parkinson’s resources, visit neurochallenge.org.
Don’t let summer be a drain on your fitness plan: July is National Parks and Recreation Month—a great excuse to walk, hike, jog, bike, skate and even paddle through the beautiful (and, in many cases, shady and breezy) local parks. For a complete list of Sarasota County’s more than 100 public parks and preserves, go to scgov.net/parks. (And don’t forget to pack a blanket and healthy snack for after your exercise; July is also National Picnic Month!)
“Simply telling someone with a broken arm that it’s more likely to heal faster if they stop smoking is frequently the magic pill.” —Sarasota orthopedist Dr. Adam Bright
“The latest and greatest food or treatment on Monday may be heralded as the worst thing for you by Friday,” says Sarasota’s Eve Prang Plews, a licensed nutrition counselor and host of No Nonsense Nutrition on WSLR. Plews, who’s treated and counseled local patients for 25 years, emphasizes small improvements in diet and lifestyle that can make huge differences over time.
Potential improvements are everywhere. Here are just a few of Plews’ tips and observations.
• “You can’t eat too many vegetables. No single thing acts protectively for the body like vegetables.”
• “Cholesterol was never the enemy. My liver has to manufacture cholesterol 365 days a year; if I deliver some cholesterol, I give it a break. And there is no cholesterol in the plant kingdom.”
• “Egg yolks have phosphatidylcholine, which is primarily available in organ meats. If it were up to me, we would have been eating the yolk and throwing away the white from the beginning.”
• “Coffee reduces the risk of Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes, pancreatic cancer, dementia. Of course, we’ve got big problems when you’re at your fifth cup. But four cups and less, we’ve got beautiful research on it.”
• “Just take a step. Instead of chips, have cole slaw. Because at the end of the year, all those cole slaws are going to make a big difference in your cancer risk.”