Brain Health & Nutrition
"I write about the brain."
"Among neurologic diseases, Parkinson's disease is one of the nicer ones to get." You'd think after hearing someone say that, they were out of their mind. You'd be wrong.
What if I told you that Dr. Steve Blake, ScD, a nutritional biochemist at Hawaii Pacific Neuroscience made that exact statement? Would you take notice? Well, he did, and you should take notice. In fact, if you heard Dr. Blake's talk on the role 'protein' plays in the progression of Parkinson's Disease, you'd tip your hat and keep reading. If you haven't, you'll want to keep reading anyway.
I could go on all day about Dr. Steve Blake's credentials (literally). Heck, I'm no stranger when it comes to neuro-degenerative diseases. They run in my family. Which is why I'm drawn to Dr. Blake's work - particularly, the Hawaii Dementia Prevention Trial and his publication A Nutritional Approach to Alzheimer's Disease: Dietary Regulation of Dopamine, Stop Strokes Before They Start.
Well, I didn't write this article to go on all day about Dr. Blake's work. You'll have to Google him to get the inside scoop of all his offerings. In the meantime, in case you missed it, at the Silicon Valley Health Institute (2015), Dr. Blake, ScD had some interesting things to say during his talk - Neuroprotection of Brain Cells in Parkinson's Disease.
For starters, I've written quite a few publications on food and the brain. You can imagine how close to the edge of my seat I was when Dr. Blake, ScD began talking about the link between protein absorption, dopamine, and Parkinson's Disease. And yes, dopamine is more than just a 'feel good chemical'. In fact, Dopamine has much more to do with the beautification of our brains than just a jolt of inspiration. Allow me to explain.
Sticking with the theme of this article (Protein & Parkinson's Disease), I'd like to introduce you to the drug of choice most medical doctors use when treating Parkinson's Disease - that is Levodopa. Plainly put, levodopa (sometimes mixed with other drugs) "slow down the degradation of dopamine." Basically, when our body loses dopamine, things start to happen. Our ability to complete normal tasks such as feeding yourself, or go to the bathroom can become difficult. The more dopamine we retain in the body, the "less symptoms" associated with Parkinson's Disease - that's what levodopa is for. Shall we continue?
Ideally, medical doctors would love to send a dose of dopamine into the human bloodstream - thus sending the dopamine in the blood on past the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). Theoretically, getting dopamine across the BBB should do the trick. As most medical doctors agree that a shortage of dopamine in the body is linked to Parkinson's and other degenerative diseases. Except, there's a problem with that potential solution. To be straight-forward, dopamine can't crossover the BBB. Don't worry, there's still hope yet.
If you've read any of my work on the BBB, you know how vital the BBB is to the human central nervous system. If you're not familiar with my work on the BBB, I'd hunt those articles down (on this website or Lifesaving FAQs of How Food Reversed My Brain Damage). Moving right along.
Medical professionals could out-duel most degenerative if they could only get dopamine over that stingy BBB. Since transporting dopamine directly across the BBB isn't an option (that will change soon), medical doctors need another way. They've got a way actually - it's in our belly. Let's keep going.
Remember levodopa - well, it's "absorbed from the intestine into the bloodstream through the large neutral amino acid transporter". Don't wig out just yet. Those fancy words aren't as hard as you think. I'll help make sense of it.
The neutral amino acid transporter is like a special pathway that can receive certain chemicals. Sort-of like a tunnel you'd drive through. Like a tunnel or a bridge, the neutral amino acid transporter 'traffics' specific chemicals (like levodopa) to designated parts of our body. When levodopa 'flows' through the neutral amino acid pathway it goes on into the brain. The result - dopamine in the body isn't destroyed as fast. Again, more dopamine in the body, fewer symptoms related to Parkinson's. OK, let's keep going.
There are numerous studies that show the positive affects levodopa has on the body. However, there is another problem that must be overcome for all of this to click in the body. Do you know what that problem is? It's that 'P' word.
Did you guess it? If you said protein, you're right! That's where the problem lies. You see, when the human body has excess protein in the intestine, the neutral amino acid transporter "can get saturated" and levodopa is not absorbed as well into the bloodstream. Try picturing a sludge or slime oozing on top of your car battery - if not cleaned, the car won't run right. Well, excess protein causes the neutral amino acid transporter to malfunction due to saturated goo.
You're probably thinking, meat eaters don't stand a chance against Parkinson's. Well, don't bet your hamburger on it. There are 'safer' ways to get protein into the body other than from high protein animal meats. Plants, for example, are great sources of protein. In fact, Dr. Steve Blake, ScD cites a study done in Italy by researcher Luciana Baroni - a "very, very good" one according to Dr. Blake ScD. I'll write about that study in another article.
According to Dr. Steve Blake, ScD, "plant foods are lower in protein than animal foods." "They also have more antioxidants and more fiber. In the study conducted by Luciana Baroni, "most of the patients in were taking levodopa..." After one month of the plant-based diet, motor function scores were twice as good as the normal diet group. The study found that reduced protein increased the transport of levodopa into the brain. As stated earlier, increased levodopa in the brain is a key factor in improving motor skills for people diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
There are other studies that show the positive benefits of levodopa in the brain. I'll share those studies in future writings. While there are other dynamics to consider when pondering levodopa and Parkinson's Disease, every bit of information you can understand about this topic is a closer step to picking up your mat and walking.
Brain Health & Nutrition Writer