PD and Your Sense of Smell

People with Parkinson’s have been shown to have an impaired sense of smell. In fact, the sense of smell can become impaired up to four years before the onset of PD symptoms. Strange, eh? I can testify to this personally.

The theory is that the olfactory bulb — the unit that sends information about smells back to the rest of the brain — is somehow involved in the process of making new cells in the nervous system. Scientists believe that certain kinds of stem cells travel a raceway from the back of the brain all the way forward to the end in one’s beak. Problems with this system start to show up around the same time that problems develop in the part of the brain affected by PD. That’s the idea, anyway.

So here comes a study of the sense of smell in people who have had DBS surgery (like me). It turns out that the sense of smell improves in people who had DBS, versus those who are sticking with meds. This adds to the allure of other random factoids about DBS supposedly having an ability to slow the otherwise steady progression of the disease. Here’s hoping. This article is a tough slog, but you can just skip down to the last page for a relatively clear summary:

Olfactory Symptoms in Parkinsons on ADVANCE for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.

DBS Basics: Dyskinesia

Dyskinesia is the writhing motion that most people associate with Parkinson’s. It is a side effect of the “gold standard” treatment for PD, which is a drug with the brand name Sinemet. Sinemet is basically dopamine, which is what our PD brains have stopped making.

The best example that you may have seen is Michael J. Fox, of course. When you see him interviewed, he’s moving around like a man possessed. That’s because he took his Sinemet and the levels (of the drug, and the stress of the interview) are too high. The alternative would be to see him in an “off” state, which in his case (and mine) means uncontrollable tremor, stiffness and rigidity, stooped posture and (for him) freezing — like a  statue, while walking or getting out of a chair.

Most people associate PD with dyskinesia, but that’s actually incorrect. PD is characterized by a lack of movement. I used to fluctuate between those two poles six times a day — the times when I had to take Sinemet. And that’s a different explainer altogether!

Why Black Friday won’t fix the economy

One of the best reads of the holiday weekend was this Washington Post op-ed piece, from the retail anthropologist who brought us the books Why We Buy and The Call of the Mall:

Consumer spending can’t drive us out of this recession. We have to adjust to lower, more responsible spending levels. We still will dress our children, maintain our homes and drive cars. We will eat, drink and have fun. But the transition to less will be painful.

Read more:  Why Black Friday won’t fix the economy

Sniffing out the source of new brain cells

Many people with Parkinson’s have a problem with their sense of smell. Scientists in recent years have identified the olfactory bulb as a place where new nervous system cells can be generated. Some think the two facts are related.

With the discovery that both GABA-ergic and, now, glutamatergic cells are generated in this area in mice, how long will it take to discover that, maybe, dopaminergic cells can be generated in this region, too?

The findings are significant because it would open up another possible line of attack toward a cure in humans: by stimulating the body’s own production of the specific type of cell that is being killed off in Parkinson’s. Converting stem cells in a laboratory is diabolically difficult, despite the headlines. Stimulating cell growth in the patient reduces the risk of tissue rejection and moots the whole stem-cell issue.

Read more:  New source discovered for generation of nerve cells in brain.

Dr. Hamill and the Soul of Neurology

I delivered these comments to 300 people at a testimonial dinner in honor of Dr. Robert Hamill, chairman of the neurology program at the University of Vermont, on Oct. 16, 2009. Both of the past presidents of the Vermont chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association (I’m one of them) and the current president, Michael O’Connor, spoke, as did two of his colleagues, his long-time nurse, Jean Baker, the national APDA president, and Dr. Hamill’s three daughters.

Read more: Dr. Hamill and the Soul of Neurology

Pesticides and Parkinson’s

Paraquat — used extensively in marijuana-eradication efforts sponsored in South America by our government — is now tied to PD. Apparently the molecular structure of this substance is similar to that of MPTP, the synthetic opiate that caused catastrophic Parkinsonism  in the unlucky grad students who cooked it up.

Should we then be seeing an epidemic of cases among people who smoked pot in the 1970s and 80s? I’m still waiting for the epidemic of PD among cocaine abusers of that era. My prediction is that herbicides and pesticides will be among the environmental factors that can lead to PD.

I think PD is an inflammatory response to a virus or some other unrecognized pathogen. No evidence, just a hunch, based on recent reports of a viral vector for chronic fatigue syndrome and, possibly, Alzheimer’s

Read more: Pesticides Linked to Parkinson’s – US News and World Report

Virus Found in Many With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – NYTimes.com

Cold sore virus might cause Alzheimer’s – New Scientist

Far Out! Far-Infrared Detox Foot Bath

It sounds pretty wacky, and it is, but in a good way. My long-time masseuse, Shelly, set me up with this spa treatment. Here’s what I experienced today:

With both feet immersed in a large bowl of clean water, an “ionizer” is placed in the bath. It’s connected to a control unit that also leads to a fingertip electrode and a “far infrared” belt that wrapped around my waist (clothes on). Lisa, the person setting me up, then handed me a laminated card with info on what I could expect.

During the course of the half hour, the bowl went from crystal clear to something I left in the toilet the last time I had the flu. Not pretty. I couldn’t see my toes a few inches down in the water, a color somehwere between green and brown with persistent bubbles and a cloudiness rather like chicken bullion. The laminated card had a legend that explained what the colors meant: brown means the colon is being detoxified, bubbles mean alcohol byproducts are being drawn out of the body, and so forth. I had a good number of bubbles, even though I’m not much of a drinker. The color of the water corresponded with muscles and joints being detoxified. But the turbidity — serious cloudiness — also correlates to “toxic overload.”

That water was seriously nasty, and there was no way it was being generated by some bit of trickery. To think of all that yuck being drawn out through the feet … what a mind-blower. Did I feel different afterward? Well, yes, I guess I did. I felt, and still feel, a little more clearheaded and alert. And besides, when it was over, my feet weren’t sweating any brownish goop, so what’s there to complain about?

Lisa said the electrode on the fingertip was part of a system of warming the viscera (internal organs, like liver, kidneys, etc) via the far-infrared belt. Far out! Only thing is that I’m not sure I’ll be able to do this after the DBS unit is installed — the electrical current might be a problem. Suzanne says I should go back a couple of times before heading down for the surgery. I’ll see what the schedule allows … and I can probably do the FIR sauna as an alternative.

A Google search turns up quite a few references, but not much in the way of science. But there is something there there.

Cluster headaches, and the agony of the insured

When you think you’ve got problems, along comes a reminder that they are probably not so bad, all in all. I consider myself extremely lucky that I don’t deal with significant pain on a day-to-day basis.

Imagine what those poor souls suffering from cluster headaches have to endure every day. Then get angry that DBS isn’t yet approved for cluster headaches by the FDA and Medicare, the usual prerequisites for private health insurance coverage. Until that happens, carriers can deny the procedure on the grounds that it is experimental.

A well-written article in the Framingham, Mass., MetroWest Daily News tells the sorry story.

Read more: Headaches and heartaches: Wife’s persistence leads to relief