How did I get Parkinson’s?

When Life Gives You Parkinson’s

How did I get Parkinson’s?

What are the different possible triggers for how people get Parkinson’s? Find out in this episode as I try to narrow down how the degenerative brain disorder was unleashed on…
February 5, 2020

How did I get Parkinson’s?

What are the different possible triggers for how people get Parkinson’s? Find out in this episode as I try to narrow down how the degenerative brain disorder was unleashed on me. After Niki and I chat about the “how,” my wife ,Rebecca and I begin to explore the “why?”

If you have Parkinson’s, you may want to play along at home while you listen. Here’s a handy check list to see what factors potentially triggered your onset of PD.

Check ALL that apply:

  • I am male.
  • I am older than 60 years old.
  • I have parents or siblings who have Parkinson’s disease.
  • Genetic tests show I carry a gene that is associated with the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Genetic tests show I carry a gene that is associated with brain degeneration.
  • I play or played a high contact sport (Football, Hockey, Rugby, Boxing, Martial Arts)
  • I have played or played high contact sports for more than eight years.
  • I have experienced several concussions.
  • I live or have lived near a major, busy road.
  • I have worked or lived near a chemical plant.
  • I have suffered Agent Orange exposure.
  • I have been exposed, over a long period time or at extremely high levels to pesticides.
  • I have been described as a workaholic, a Type-A personality, or stressed-out.
  • I do not exercise.
  • I have had a stroke.
  • I have injected the MPTP strain of synthetic Heroin and suffered spontaneous Parkinson’s.
  • I was born with damaged dopamine-producing brain cells.
  • I died. During my autopsy, Alpha-Synuclein was discovered clumping in my brain (Lewy Bodies).

I did not realize how much I was asking myself, “What did I do to get Parkinson’s?” until I started putting together this episode. The recent study by Cedars-Sinai Hospital in California that we discuss at the end of the episode was a real revelation for me. It suggests that people with Young Onset Parkinson’s may be born with malfunctioning dopamine producing brain cells, which leads to the clumping of the protein Alpha-Synulcein (Lewy bodies) and ultimately leads to the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

In the episode, we hear from many qualified professionals about different reasons how Parkinson’s onsets. Sohini Dhowdhury, Deputy CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation, discusses why she is so interested in Alpha Synuclein research. “We know it’s the hallmark of Parkinson’s. Research and therapies targeting this protein gets to the root biological process,” Chowdhury said.  

At UCLA, Dr. Jeff Bronstein, the head of the movement disorder clinic there and Dr Beata Ritz, professor of epidemiology at Fielding School of Public Health, collaborate on environmental factors that could trigger the onset of PD, like pesticides, both for the home and industrial use. Dr. Ritz has little doubt when she speaks on this topic, “Some pesticides are neurotoxic in a way that causes Parkinson’s disease when you are exposed over a very long time or very high levels.” In the episode, we examine the herbicide Paraquat, which is banned in many countries around the world, yet remains one of the most widely used chemicals to protect crops.

There are many ways people can trigger Parkinson’s and many reasons why someone is diagnosed with it. Dr. Bronstein believes every case is unique, “I think of it as a humungous Venn diagram in which there and many, many different factors.”

In the end, how I got Parkinson’s may not matter to anyone else, but me. But, for me, I’d be more comfortable knowing it was hibernating within me until I was ready for it, instead of me doing something to unnaturally cause it. In reality, I’ll likely never know what combination of things unlocked this disease. On the flip side, it’s brought me as much joy, friendship, perspective, and purpose in life  – and maybe more – than any one thing in my life.

Feel free to comment by leaving us a voice message here:

Follow me, Larry Gifford 

Twitter: @ParkinsonsPod


Instagram: @parkinsonspod

Follow Co-host and Producer Niki Reitmeyer

Twitter: @Niki_Reitmayer

Thank you to our special guests: 

Dr. Jeff Bronstein, Head of the Movement Disorder Clinic at UCLA

Dr. Beata Ritz, professor of Epidemiology at Fielding School of Public Health,

Dr. Malu Tansey, Director, Center for Translation Research in Neurodegenerative Disease

Dr. Matt Farrer, Program Director, Nuerology & Movement Disorders at University of Florida

Michael Brauer, professor, UBC school of population and public health

Sohini Chowdhury, Deputy CEO of The Michael J. Fox Foundation

Marty Gifford

Rebecca Gifford

The book referred to in the podcast was “The Case of the Frozen Addicts.”

Our presenting partner is Parkinson Canada

The toll free hotline 1-800-565-3000

Follow them on Twitter @ParkinsonCanada

Find the new Parkinson Clinical Guideline

Thanks also to our content and promotional partners

Parkinson’s IQ + You– A free, series of Parkinson’s events from the Michael J. Fox Foundation

Spotlight YOPD – The only Parkinson’s organization dedicated to raising awareness for Young Onset Parkinson’s disease and funds for the Cure Parkinson’s Trust. 

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