What is Parkinson’s Disease? Industrial chemical increases risk of disease

·3-min read
Parkinson’s is the second-most common condition of its kind after Alzheimer’s (Lauren Hurley / PA Archive)
Parkinson’s is the second-most common condition of its kind after Alzheimer’s (Lauren Hurley / PA Archive)

A new study suggests that an industrial solvent could be linked to Parkinson’s Disease.

According to research conducted at a marine military base in North Carolina, the risk of Parkinson’s Disease was 70 per cent higher in Camp Lejeune veterans compared with ex-service personnel stationed at a different Marine Corps base where the water was not contaminated.

The chemical, known as trichloroethylene (TCE), is used worldwide in industrial cleaning solutions, meaning that millions could potentially have been exposed.

What’s more, while it has been banned in food and pharmaceutical industries since the 1970s and removed from dry-cleaning operations in the mid-1950s, TCE is still used in metal cleaning and degreasing, and as an extraction solvent in the textile manufacturing industry. At times, it’s also been found in decaf coffee.

Doctors have not yet established a definitive cause of Parkinson’s Disease, but there are records of a growing number of people exhibiting symptoms around the world.

Read on for more about Parkinson’s Disease, its symptoms, and how it is treated.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease is a condition that causes parts of the brain to become progressively damaged over many years.

It’s a neurological disorder that affects the brain and nervous system, impacting movement, and causing motor symptoms, such as tremors, stiffness, and loss of balance.

Neurological diseases are conditions that affect the brain, spine, or nervous system and they may cause symptoms that are physical, psychological, or both.

The disease causes changes to the basal ganglia, nerve cells that usually produce dopamine, an important chemical messenger.

What causes Parkinson’s Disease?

Although the exact causes of Parkinson’s are unknown, there are a number of possible causes. These include:

  • The death of dopamine-secreting neurons in the brain, with the exact cause of this damage still unknown.

  • Environment and genetics.

  • Certain medications, toxins, and other diseases can produce symptoms similar to Parkinson’s Disease, known as secondary Parkinsonism, which can be reversible.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

The symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease are usually gradual at first, but there are many to be aware of.

The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease affect physical movement:

  • Tremor – Shaking, which usually begins in the hand or arm, and is more pronounced when the limb is resting.

  • Slowness of movement (bradykinesia) – Physical movements are much slower than normal, which can make everyday tasks difficult and result in a slow, shuffling walk and very small steps.

  • Muscle stiffness (rigidity) – Stiffness and tension in the muscles can make it difficult to move around and make facial expressions.

These symptoms can be caused by other issues, and are referred to by doctors as Parkinsonism.

How is Parkinson’s Disease treated?

Drug therapy is the main treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, and many people can maintain a good standard of life with the correct medication.

The main aim of drug therapy for Parkinson’s Disease is to increase the levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, as low dopamine levels are a characteristic marker of Parkinson’s and are responsible for the motor symptoms of the condition.

In addition, there might be other medications prescribed to increase the levels of other neurotransmitters in the brain that play a role in Parkinson’s, in order to treat other behavioural symptoms and non-motor symptoms.

These drugs include:

  • Levodopa and Carbidopa

  • Dopamine Agonists

  • COMT Inhibitors

  • MAO-B Inhibitors

  • Anticholinergics

  • Amantadine