There are a lot of different treatments available for Parkinson's but at the moment there are none that will stop or slow the condition but there are a number of research projects underway that show a lot of promise.
Most current drug treatments aim to either replace the Dopamine that is no longer produced in adequate amounts the brain, prevent the breakdown of the Dopamine that is being produced or mimic the effect of Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) that allows neurons (brain cells) to communicate with each other.
We cant just give people dopamine because it will cause vomiting/nausea and it does not cross the Blood-Brain Barrier to get to where it is needed. The Blood-Brain Barrier is a special membrane that separates the blood from the brain and protects the brain by only allowing certain substances to pass through it.
Instead of Dopamine we give Levodopa, or L-Dopa, which can get through the Blood-Brain Barrier and can be converted to Dopamine. It is actually a little more complicated as we also need to stop the L-Dopa being converted to Dopamine outside of the brain as it will also cause side effects such as nausea and it will be used up more rapidly. To do this we add another drug, Carbidopa, which helps stop the conversion of L-Dopa to Dopamine outside of the brain but Carbidopa does cross the Blood Brain Barrier so does not impact the conversion of L-Dopa to Dopamine in the brain. This means that most of the L-Dopa is available to the brain and the side effects such as nausea are minimized.
L-Dopa in the most common treatment for Parkinson's and whilst science has known about the compound for over 100 years it was only in the 1960s that it was used to treat Parkinson's.
Over the next couple of months we will cover a range of other treatments and therapies. To learn more about Parkinson's treatments please visit our new website www.parkinsons.org.au or call the infoline 1800 644 189 to talk to your local Parkinson's organisation.