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Two Nutritional Compounds Show Promise in Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's Disease research

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic progressive movement disorder that affects nearly one million people living in the US today. There is currently no cure. Two separate studies have looked into the possibility of nutritional components for improving symptoms or even potentially finding that long elusive cure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Parkinson’s disease is the 14th leading cause of death in America. PD is a neurodegenerative disorder where neurons stop communicating properly due to a buildup of a protein known as alpha-synuclein (also called Lewy bodies). When messages cannot be relayed between neurons, the brain’s function begins to deteriorate. Symptoms include tremors, speech changes, rigidity of the limbs and trunk, and impaired balance and coordination.

Two new research studies are looking into nutritional compounds that may impact the future of Parkinson’s treatment.

Brian Dranka PhD, Balaraman Kalyanaraman PhD and colleagues at the Medical College of Wisconsin have discovered that diapocynin, a synthetic molecule derived from a naturally occurring compound (apocynin) may protect neurobehavioral function in mice with Parkinson’s disease symptoms by preventing deficits in motor coordination.

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Apocynin is a natural organic compound structurally related to vanillin. It was first isolated from the root of Canadian hemp in 1883. Apocynin is being studied as a potential treatment option in many health conditions such as atherosclerosis, asthma, arthritis, bowel disease, and familial ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

"These early findings are encouraging, but in this model, we still do not know how this molecule exerts neuroprotective action. Further studies are necessary to discover the exact mode of action of the diaopocynin and other molecules with a similar structure," said Dr. Kalyanaraman.

Another molecule with Parkinson’s-fighting potential is mannitol, currently used as an artificial sweetener. The compound is also used as a prescription diuretic to reduce fluid buildup.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have found that mannitol may prevent alpha-synuclein molecules from sticking together. The team found that mannitol helped reduce alpha-synuclein clumps in the brains of fruit flies by 70%. The research was then reproduced in the brains of mice and found to decrease levels of the offending protein as well.

The researchers warn against people taking the results of this study and self-treating by ingesting large quantities of mannitol sweetener. There has been no research yet on if the same process would work in human brains, nor is there an indication on a safety level of ingestion.

Dranka BP, Kalyanaraman B, et al. Diapocynin prevents early Parkinson's disease symptoms in the leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2R1441G) transgenic mouse. Neurosci Lett. 2013 May 28. pii: S0304-3940(13)00469-2. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2013.05.034.
Shaltiel-Karyo R, Frenkel-Pinter M, Rockenstein E, et al. A Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) Disrupter Is Also a Potent α-Synuclein (α-syn) Aggregation Inhibitor: A Novel Dual Mechanism of Mannitol for The Treatment of Parkinson Disease (PD). The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 2013.