Scientists are testing a possible new theory that vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” can help ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
The study appears in the journal Archives of Neurology.
It is estimated that 60,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, joining the 1.5 million Americans who currently have Parkinson's disease.
Parkinson's disease affects one percent of all those over the age of sixty-five and the condition can affect people much younger. Symptoms of Parkinson's include tremors and difficulty moving.
The disease occurs when production of the neurotransmitter dopamine is reduced. Dopamine is a substance that helps relay messages from the brain to the muscles, thus facilitating movements.
A team of U.S. researchers found 55 percent of Parkinson’s patients had deficient levels of vitamin D, compared to 36 percent of healthy elderly people. Researchers are unsure if the deficiency in vitamin D is a cause or result of having the condition.
“We found that vitamin D insufficiency may have a unique association with Parkinson’s disease, which is intriguing and warrants further investigation, said researcher Dr. Marian Evatt.
Earlier studies have found that the region of the brain most affected by Parkinson’s, the substantia nigra, contains high levels of the vitamin D receptor, suggestive that the vitamin may be essential for the normal functioning of these cells.
While vitamin D is in many foods, it is primarily formed in the skin by sun exposure for no more than 15 minutes a day without sunscreen with about 40 percent of the skin exposed. Going longer without sunscreen is not recommended.
The body’s ability to produce vitamin D lessens with age, making older people more prone to developing a vitamin D deficiency. Low vitamin D levels may possibly be related to the genesis and origin of the disease, according to scientists.
For the study, researchers at Emory University School of Medicine looked at vitamin D levels in 100 people with Alzheimer’s disease, 100 people with Parkinson’s and 100 healthy individuals.
Researchers found that for the Parkinson’s group, 23 percent had vitamin D levels that were considered deficient. In the Alzheimer’s group the rate was 16 percent and in the healthy group, 10 percent.
“Further research is needed to determine if normal levels of vitamin D could help improve Parkinson’s patients motor and/or non-motor symptoms. And if increased exposure to sunlight may help lessen the symptoms of the disease or have an effect on the rate of the condition’s progression, said Dr. Kieran Breen, director of research at Parkinson Disease Society.
Low levels of vitamin D have also been associated with an increased risk of several cancers and auto-immune diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. #