Parkinson’s Disease and Photobiomodulation

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative condition that affects the part of the nervous system that controls movement. It can lead to muscular rigidity, tremors, or instability. It generally affects people over 50, but there are cases of younger people developing it. The most hopeful thing about Parkinson’s is that it isn’t fatal. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rates complications from PD as the 14th most frequent cause of death in the U.S. About a million Americans live with PD, and about 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Men are 1.5 times more likely to get the disease than women.

There is no cure for PD, but there are treatments that can help you live with it. One of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s is the reduction of dopamine in the brain, so medications used to treat the disease are those that can replace dopamine. There are also surgical options for controlling tremors, but these days surgery is usually reserved for patients who no longer respond to medication. Exercise, under the supervision of a physical therapist, can improve quality of life by increasing mobility, flexibility, strength, and gait speed.

The type of exercise is best prescribed a physical therapist, but I was interested to see that last February the Greater Scranton and Wilkes-Barre Family YMCAs in Pennsylvania sponsored an exercise class called “Pedaling for Parkinson’s.” It was led by a certified Parkinson’s cycling coach, and the promotional material for the class quoted an expert saying, “research has shown a 35 percent reduction in symptoms [of PD] by the simple act of pedaling a bicycle at a rapid pace – optimally, 80-90 revolutions per minute (RPM).” If you have PD, then, it may be a good idea to spend some time on a bicycle — and remember to keep your cadence up.

It is by no means a mainstream medical treatment, but research is just beginning to show that photobiomodulation (PBM) can help with Parkinson’s. The studies up to now have been in mice, but they have excited enough interest that a 2013 editorial in Photo Medicine and Laser Surgery asked, “Is It Time to Consider Photobiomodulation As a Drug Equivalent?” with particular reference to PD. PBM seems to help with PD at the cellular level, by relieving oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is one of the two principal hypotheses researchers are working on to explain PD. On this page, you can find a video that explains some of the chemistry of PBM.

If you are one of the million people with Parkinson’s, your doctor is very unlikely to prescribe PBM as a treatment. Fortunately, the PBM process is extremely safe, and it has no documented side effects, so you can do it on your own if you think relieving your cellular oxidative stress is likely to help. I want to point out that most of our users report that PBM sessions make them feel good. If it makes you feel good enough to pedal a bike, that’s even better! Our PBM sessions are generally 30 minutes, and you can book one here.

Photo: “Gym” by OIST. Creative Commons license.