Posted on May 11, 2020, 2 p.m.
Neurodegenerative diseases that affect the structure and function of the central nervous system are the largest cause of disability around the globe according to the 2019 Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study, of these diseases Parkinson’s disease is the second most common after Alzheimer’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive movement disorder for which there currently is no known cure, but in a recent study published in Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics from the Thomas Jefferson University the researchers are reporting a breakthrough finding that N-acetylcysteine has a positive effect on the dopaminergic system of those affected by the disease. NAC is a natural supplement that is used to boost antioxidant levels, specifically this amino acid increased dopamine levels and activity which are considerably reduced by Parkinson’s disease.
This neurological disorder is marked by what starts off as barely noticeable tremors and progresses to stiffness, muscle rigidity, slowed movements and continues to worsen overtime leaving patients with balance and cognitive issues as well as impaired motor functions. Annually around 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in America alone, of which the majority are males over the age of 50; an estimated 4% are diagnosed before reaching that age.
The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease has yet to be determined, but several factors are known to contribute to the development which includes age, specific genetic mutations, and exposure to certain toxins. Parkinson’s has been shown to result from the degeneration of certain brain neurons that produce dopamine chemical messengers used to send signals to the brain to help control body movements and emotional responses. Dopamine may also influence learning, memory, sleep, concentration, and moods; healthy levels promote physical and mental well being while low levels increase the likelihood of developing medical conditions.
In this study 42 patients with Parkinson’s disease were divided into two groups: one receiving 500mg twice daily oral treatment and 50mg/kg once a week of intravenous dose of NAC for three months in combination with standard treatment, and the second group receiving only standard treatment.
The UPDRS scale was used to assess symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including cognitive and motor functions. A brain scanning procedure was also used to measure dopamine transporter binding to determine the amount of neuron recovery in the basal ganglia which is most often affected by the disease; and these evaluations took place both before and after NAC treatment.
After three months the NAC treatment was found to have significantly improved the symptoms of the disease, and to have improved patient mental as well as physical abilities based on clinical evaluations. Compared with the group only receiving standard care the NAC group showed significant increases in dopamine transporter binding in the caudate nucleus and putamen, meaning that the NAC treatments increased dopamine productions and activity in the relevant brain regions.
N-acetylcysteine is a natural product that is used by many to increase glutathione levels, which is a known antioxidant produced by the body to fight oxidative stress. Studies have shown that aging, poor diet, and chronic disease decrease glutathione production, and this may be partially responsible for the destruction of dopamine producing neurons that triggers the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
“The results suggest NAC may positively affect the dopaminergic system in patients with PD [Parkinson’s disease], with corresponding positive clinical effects,” the researchers reported in their study.
Materials provided by:
Content may be edited for style and length.
This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.