Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder that affects at least 500,000 people in the United States. It occurs when brain cells fail to produce enough dopamine, a chemical that helps to control movements, motivation, emotions, and sensations like pleasure. Symptoms of Parkinson’s begin gradually and become worse over time. They include trembling, stiffness, and poor balance and coordination. As Parkinson’s progresses, daily tasks like walking, talking, and chewing may become difficult. Depression and sleep problems are common. It’s unclear why some people develop Parkinson’s; genes may play a role, as well as exposure to chemicals in the environment.
For more information on Parkinson’s, visit the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Parkinson’s Disease Information Page.
What the Science Says
Researchers have studied the following complementary health approaches for Parkinson’s:
Mind and Body Approaches
- Tai Chi. There’s limited evidence that tai chi may help to improve balance in some people with Parkinson’s disease, but studies have had mixed results. In a 2012 study of people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s, the group assigned to do tai chi twice a week for 24 weeks had greater improvements in their balance, stability, and walking speed compared to the groups who did resistance training or stretching. The tai chi group was also more likely to continue exercising after the 24 weeks, a followup study showed. However, two or three tai chi classes a week over 16 weeks wasn’t associated with improvements in walking, a smaller, 2013 study funded by NCCIH showed.
- Massage and Acupuncture. The research on massage and acupuncture for people with Parkinson’s is limited. There’s no strong evidence that either helps to reduce symptoms.
- Dance. Compared to other forms of exercise, taking dance lessons, particularly Argentine tango, appears to help with some symptoms of Parkinson’s for at least the short term, research reviews of multiple, small studies show. In general, participants’ balance, mobility, and quality of life improved. The studies didn’t include participants with advanced Parkinson’s.
Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)
rTMS uses magnetic pulses to stimulate targeted areas of the brain. It’s been approved for certain types of depression, and a few (but not all) studies show that it may improve some symptoms of Parkinson’s. rTMS is non-invasive and differs from deep brain stimulation, a surgical procedure used to treat several disabling symptoms of Parkinson’s.
- No dietary supplements have been shown to reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s. Large, separate studies of the dietary supplements creatine and coenzyme Q10 for Parkinson’s were stopped early because the supplements were clearly not better than the placebo that some study participants received.
- Researchers are studying omega-3 fatty acids and a form of glutathione, an antioxidant that is found in the brain, for Parkinson’s.
- In addition to investigating a variety of complementary health approaches for Parkinson’s, researchers are studying how susceptible symptoms of Parkinson’s are to the placebo effect. For example, a placebo pill caused similar changes in brain activity as a standard Parkinson’s drug, a small NCCIH-funded study found.
- Tai chi, acupuncture, massage, and dance appear to be safe for most people with Parkinson’s, but check with your health care provider before beginning a new exercise program or complementary health approach.
- rTMS generally appears safe for people with Parkinson’s, but it may pose a risk if you have a pacemaker or experience certain types of seizures.
- Dietary supplements may have side effects and interact with drugs. For example, St. John’s wort, which is used for depression and other conditions, can increase how quickly many drugs break down in your body, making the drugs less effective. Some products may be poor quality and contain contaminants, including drugs, chemicals, or metals. Studies have found significant differences between what’s on the label and what’s in the bottle of some supplements.