Can TCM Help With Parkinson’s Disease?
Published | 8 min read
Parkinson's disease is best supported by a combination of Western and TCM treatments. Learn more about this progressive disease and what your best treatment options are here.
Although there is no cure for the disorder, treatment options are available to ease symptoms and slow the disease progression.
This guide can help walk you through how to use Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to support your Parkinson’s disease treatment.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a nervous system disorder that targets the brain and affects movement. It may cause uncontrolled movements, such as hand tremors, shaking, stiffness, or balance and coordination problems.
Most of the time, the disease will begin slowly starting with hand tremors. It may progress into more serious complications, such as having a hard time walking or standing and an increased risk of falling. This can be especially problematic with the elderly.
Parkinson’s disease may also cause mental complications, such as trouble sleeping, depression or mood disorders, poor memory, and fatigue.
What Causes It?
Parkinson’s disease occurs when the nerve cells located in the basal ganglia die or become impaired. These cells are located in the substantia nigra or the part of the brain responsible for controlling movement.
Normally, these neurons (also called nerve cells) create a brain chemical called dopamine. This is, in part, responsible for controlling movement. Health experts are not sure what causes these brain cells to die.
People with Parkinson’s disease also lose nerve endings that produce the sympathetic nervous system’s main chemical messenger: norepinephrine.
Norepinephrine helps control many body functions, such as blood pressure and heart rate. The loss of this chemical messenger may explain some of the signs of Parkinson’s disease that don’t involve movement, such as:
- Sudden drops in blood pressure upon standing up
- Decreased motility (fewer bowel movements due to sluggish digestion)
- Irregular blood pressure readings
Parkinson’s disease may also be heredity, due to certain genetic mutations, or caused by environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins.
Parkinson’s disease, according to TCM
From a TCM point of view, Parkinson’s disease may be caused by work stress, poor work-life/rest balance, and unhealthy dietary and other lifestyle habits.
These factors may cause the formation and accumulation of pathogenic factors like Wind, Fire, Dampness, Phlegm, Blood Clots, and Stagnated Qi within the meridian channels, muscles, and sinews.
According to TCM Physician Brandon Yew, “As Parkinson’s disease is a systemic disease, it also affects the five major viscera, namely the Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lungs, and Kidneys. Over time, as the disease progresses, deficiencies of the Qi, Blood, Yin (bodily fluids and cooling energy), and Yang (warming energy) will arise, too.”
Symptoms Of Parkinson’s Disease
Postural instability is one of the cardinal symptoms. Research shows there are about 4-6 cardinal symptoms. A good way to remember this is TRAP: T for Tremor, R for Rigidity, A for Akinisia/Dyskinesia, and P for Postural Instability.
Here are some other common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease:
- Tremors in the hands (known as a “pill-rolling” tremor), legs, arms, jaw, or head
- Muscle stiffness or rigidity (muscles can stay contracted for a long time)
- Slow movements (also known as bradykinesia)
- Impaired balance and coordination due to postural instability may lead to falls
- Depression and other mental health changes
- Difficulty swallowing, chewing, and speaking
- Problems going to the bathroom
- Skin problems
People with Parkinson’s disease may also have a Parkinson’s-like gait (also known as a shuffling gait). It is characterized by leaning forward while walking, taking small, quick steps, and not swinging your arms. Symptoms may start on one side of the body and then gradually move to the other side.
Western Medicine Treatment Options
Western medicine states that there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Treatment options seek to slow the progression of the disease and ease symptoms.
Commonly prescribed medications include:
- Enzyme inhibitors that increase dopamine by slowing down the enzymes that break it down in the brain
- Amantadines that help reduce involuntary movements
- Anticholinergic drugs to reduce muscle rigidity and body tremors
Your doctor may prescribe brain stimulation if you do not respond well to medications. During this process, your doctor implants electrodes into your brain and connects them to a device inserted in the chest.
The electrodes and the device in your chest stimulate certain areas in the brain that control movement. The idea is to stop many of the uncontrolled movements associated with Parkinson’s disease. This method is often painless.
How Can TCM Help Parkinson’s Disease?
TCM can help manage the various symptoms of Parkinson’s disease through TCM herbal medication, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, and tuina (Chinese manual therapy). These treatments are formulated carefully by the TCM physician to address specifically the unique body constitution of every individual patient. Hence, it’s best to always first consult a TCM physician for proper assessment.
Acupressure is an easy self-help remedy you can practice. Place fingers or a blunt object like a massage stick at certain acupoints. Apply an appropriate amount of pressure to elicit a tolerable sensation of soreness or tenderness. At the same time massage, in both clockwise and anticlockwise circular motion 20 times each. Repeat for at least three minutes per acupoint.
The acupoints that might help relieve symptoms are:
- Bai Hui DU20
- Yin Tang EX-HN3
- Tai Yang EX-HN5
- Jing Ming BL1
- Tian Tu RN22
- Shen Men HT7
- Da Ling PC7
- He Gu LI4
- Zu San Li ST36
- Tai Chong LR3
- San Yin Jiao SP6
- Guan Yuan RN4
- Qi Hai RN6
- Tai Xi KI3
Physician Yew warns, “Do take note that acupressure can only help to manage mild symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. It is still strongly recommended to seek professional TCM help, especially for those suffering from moderate to severe form of PD, in conjunction with the medical doctor.”
Below listed are some TCM herbal formulations to help:
- Di Tan Tang: Dispels Wind, Dampness, Phlegm and Qi Stagnation
- Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang: Dispels Dampness, Phlegm and Wind; strengthens Spleen Qi
- Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang: Dispels Fire and Wind; regenerates Blood and Yin to nourish Liver and Kidneys
- Tong Qiao Huo Xue Tang: Dissipates Blood Clots and unblocks the meridian channels for better Qi and Blood Circulation
- Xiao Huo Luo Dan: Dispels Wind, Dampness, Phlegm, Blood Clots; unblocks the meridian channels for better Qi and Blood Circulation
- Da Huo Luo Dan (more potent than Xiao Huo Luo Dan): Dispels Wind, Dampness, Phlegm, Blood Clots; unblocks the meridian channels for better Qi and Blood Circulation
- Bu Yang Huan Wu Tang: Regenerates the Qi of the Heart, Spleen and Lungs to restore meridian circulation; dispels Wind and Blood Clots
- Di Huang Yin Zi: Regenerates Blood, Yin and Yang of the Heart, Liver and Kidneys; dispels Wind and Phlegm
According to one study, Lingzhi Cracked Spores (also known as Reishi) have been shown to improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease when used as an add-on therapy in conjunction with levodopa medication. Reishi mushrooms may also support Parkinson’s patients as a stand-alone therapy, especially in regard to mental health help.
Physician Yew concluded, “As Parkinson’s disease is highly complex, sufferers are strongly advised against self-medicating with any TCM herbs or formulas lest they run the risk of aggravating their condition. They need to seek medical help with a TCM professional.”
- National Institute On Aging. 2022. Parkinson’s Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2021. Effects of Lingzhi on Disease Progression in Patients With Untreated Early Parkinson’s Disease.
- Journal of Medicinal Food. 2021. Self-Medication with Ganoderma lucidum (“Reishi”) to Combat Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms: A Single Case Study.
- Parkinson’s Foundation. Postural Instability (Trouble with Balance & Falls)
- Time of Care Online Medicine Notebook. 2017. TRAP: The Signs of Parkinson’s Disease.
- Parkinson’s Foundation. Rigidity (Stiffness).
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