I f you’ve been reading Nutrition & Healing for a while now, you’re aware that while I keep track of natural medicine treatments for many diseases, I have a special and personal interest when the treatment applies to Parkinson’s disease.
My own Parkinson’s disease was diagnosed almost 12 years ago. I’ve maintained a rigorous regimen of natural therapies that have allowed me to hold the disease at bay for all these years – but I’m always combing the literature for promising new treatments.
And I always try things on myself before offering them to my patients. I believe that, in most cases, Parkinson’s disease (and Alzheimer’s disease and other neurologic illnesses like MS and
ALS) are actually neurotoxic problems. Therefore, I’m particularly interested in the many natural therapies that are focused on ramping up the detoxification mechanisms in the brain and providing adequate antioxidant activity.
One of the primary antioxidants that keeps the brain healthy is called glutathione. It’s an effective chelating agent for the removal of toxic minerals – particularly when we are trying to remove mercury. Therefore, my programme for protecting the brain and reversing the damaging course of diseases like Parkinson’s disease relies heavily on glutathione enhancement.
While supplementing glutathione itself is one way this is done, it’s neither the only nor the best way. I’ve always been troubled by the fact that glutathione doesn’t easily get into the brain. Because of this challenge, researchers are now paying attention to other ways of enhancing glutathione in the brain. And some of the most promising research recently has been related to a compound known as N-acetylcysteine, or NAC for short.
Keep your brain from rotting in your head
Before we dive right into the latest scientific findings about NAC, it’s important to understand a little about how toxins affect the brain. You see, the brain is made largely of fats, or lipids – and many toxins affect the brain by damaging those lipids. In effect, the fatty portion of the brain can get rancid, like an oil sitting in a cabinet too long and exposed to oxygen.
In the body, such damages are called lipid peroxidation, and the build-up of lipid peroxides makes for a highly dangerous situation in the neurological system. Here’s where glutathione comes in. This antioxidant is a key ingredient in the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which counteracts the damaging effects of lipid peroxides on neurological tissue.
This is critical in Parkinson’s particularly, since there is research demonstrating that the content of glutathione in the area of the brain where the dopamine containing receptors affected by Parkinson’s are concentrated (called the ‘substantia nigra’) is diminished even BEFORE the other biochemical changes of Parkinson’s are detectable.Normally, your brain is
LOADED with glutathione. But several studies have identified as much as a 40 to 50 per cent loss of glutathione in this critical brain tissue when Parkinson’s is present. 1
As I mentioned earlier, glutathione isn’t easy to get back INTO the brain, once it’s gone missing. Even if it gets past the digestive tract (where it’s frequently needed), other tissues have a need for glutathione as well.
And then there is the blood brain barrier. The BBB (as it’s abbreviated) is a lipid-rich structure that filters everything that might enter the neurological system including, unfortunately, glutathione. The good news is that this isn’t complete or absolute, or else the strategy of giving intravenous glutathione and large doses of oralm glutathione wouldn’t work as well as it does.
To get around that, there are a couple of other things we can do:
• promote another antioxidant in the brain, like metallothionein, or
• give precursors for glutathione – ones that help your body produce its own supply of glutathione.
It’s the latter of these two that I’m excited to share with you.
Zero in where you need the most help
NAC is a form of an amino acid called L-cysteine, a protein that’s actually found throughout nature. The body naturally makes glutathione from this protein, and studies have shown that giving
NAC will increase glutathione levels in the body – and, more importantly, in the brain.
One particular small study in 2013 utilized a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to measure brain glutathione concentration in Parkinson’s patients before and after giving a single intravenous administration of NAC. In this study, blood glutathione increased soon after the start of the NAC infusion and maximized in about an hour.2
Brain glutathione also increased, taking about 30 minutes longer. But the good news is that the effect wasn’t fleeting – because even after two hours, the brain glutathione levels did not sink back to baseline. Now, a preliminary combination laboratory and clinical study has come out of Thomas Jefferson University that supports the use of NAC in Parkinson’s patients.
First, to mimic Parkinson’s disease, they grew tissue cultures of dopamine neurons and exposed them to a neurotoxin called rotenone. When the cells were pre-treated with NAC, they showed significantly less damage when exposed to the neurotoxin than the untreated cells did.3
But this was just preparation for the clinical part of the study. Patients with Parkinson’s disease were randomised into either a treatment group that would receive NAC or a control group that wouldn’t. For the treatment group, both intravenous and oral forms of NAC were used. The oral dose was 600mg twice a day, and the intravenous dose was 50mg per kilogram – which, for a 150 pound person, would come to about 3.4gm. Intravenous was given once per week for about an hour. The oral NAC was given daily on the other days.
Both groups of patients were then given scans to determine the severity of the Parkinson’s and the level of dopamine in their brains. They also answered questions from the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) to track their cognitive function, behaviour, mood, activities of daily living, and motor ability.
The results of NAC treatment were positive on both fronts – and both of these findings were highly statistically significant. 4
An exciting step toward progress
Make no mistake: glutathione is pretty much the most powerful antioxidant around. We even call it ‘the Master Antioxidant’! Sometimes I wonder if there’s any limit to what it can do.
The trick is just figuring out the best way to get it to the parts of your body that need it the most – in this case, one particular area of your brain. In my case, I have had (among other things) intravenous infusions of glutathione once or twice a week for the last decade. This is a protocol that was pioneered by the well-known neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter.5
I have also taken oral glutathione, mostly in the form of liposomal glutathione – a process where the glutathione is attached to a fat globule for better absorption. I’m excited to start working more closely with NAC supplementation and reporting the results back to you. I’ll be the first of my patients to try it out – and you’ll be the first to know how it’s going.
With this exciting research – and hopefully more research to come – we can add NAC to the growing number of natural therapies that give hope to those with Parkinson’s disease.Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.