Tag Archives: Parkinson’s

Prions, Misfoldings and Bears! Oh My!

Vacuoles caused by Prions
Background image shows the presence of vacuoles in brain tissue of a cow caused by a prion disease (BSE- Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy). Original image by Dr. Al Jenny [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There are many instances of diseases that are caused by a slight variation in the normal harmonious dance of cellular dynamics.  Take cancer as an example.  All healthy individuals have some malignant cells in their bodies inclining towards the cancerous state.  However in the everyday dance of cellular activity, these malignant cells are contained or destroyed by the immune system, and other harmonious cellular dynamics.  Only when the orchestrated cellular dance is off beat can these malignant cells evolve into full-grown tumors.

Prions  and misfolded proteins are another source of cellular miscoordination that can apparently result in many neurodegenerative diseases.    Although prions are considered infectious they are made of prion proteins (PrP) that  can exist in a healthy form (PrPc) and an infectious form (PrPsc).  Stanley B. Prusiner of University of California, San Fransisco purified prions in 1982 and won a Nobel Prize in 1997 for his work on prions.

PrPc is normally found throughout the body on the surface of cell membranes and has mainly an alpha-helical structure.   Although the normal function of PrPis very complex it appears to be important for cellular communication.  It is interesting to note that PrPbinds copper ions with a high affinity and recent studies performed in 2016 at Iowa State University by researcher Chi Fu Yen, et al., have revealed that exposure to copper can cause the misfoldings to occur.

Once the infectious prions begin to form (PrPsc) they interact with normal PrPand cause them to also misfold resulting in amyloid folds that aggregate into dense β- sheets that cause tissue damage and cell death.  Known human prion diseases include Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, Gerstmann–Sträussler–Scheinker syndrome, Fatal familial insomnia, and kuru.  These diseases are relatively rare, however, it is believed that more common neurodegenerative diseases such as  Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration may also be caused by misfolding in other mamalian proteins with prion-like domains.

The complex folding of proteins into elaborate configurations is a vital part of health and can be thought of as a highly sophisticated form of origami.  Prions act like a chain of dominoes in that a distorted molecule can become a template upon which the next normal molecule can become distorted.  The process can start with exposure to small number of prions that then replicate exponentially, that is, one prion creates another, then the two prions create four and the four create eight.  As we have seen in previous posts, exponential processes can initially go unnoticed but eventually have explosive consequences, and in the case of prion diseases ultimately lead to death.

How to Stop or Prevent the Prion March

If we knew for sure how to stop the infectious march of prions it is possible that many neurodegenerative diseases that currently have no cure would become reversible.  This includes ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.   Although scientists have not been able pin down a prevention strategy or a cure that would work for everyone with prion related diseases there are a couple of sources of evidence indicating the body has mechanisms for handling prions.  These sources are:

  1.  The progression of prion-like diseases such as ALS is not constant but rather appears to occur in spurts.  Thus there can be long intervals where there is no worsening of symptoms or in which symptoms improve.  This may indicate that processes normally used by the body to control the spread of prions are still functional.
  2.  There is evidence in the literature that spontaneous remission of symptoms in diseases with possible prion-like mechanisms has been observed by clinicians.   Spontaneous remissions of disease provide a wonderful ‘proof of concept’ that the body can unlock its ability to heal even diseases are said to be incurable.

One example of this is the case of Nelda Buss who was healed of ALS symptoms after progressing to a state of quadriplegia in 1985.  Her dramatic reversal occurred while being treated by a well-known Energy Healer named Dean Kraft.  Her case was investigated by ALS Untangled, an organization sponsored by the ALS Association  and the Motor Neuron Disease Association.

Dr. Richard Bedlack, Director and Neurologist at the Duke ALS Clinic in North Carolina led the investigation and found that Nelda Buss did in fact have ALS based on her detailed medical records and he states that today she has recovered at least 99% of her normal functionality.   In addition to her case Dr. Bedlack states in the video below that he has found an additional 15 cases of people who had ALS and appear to have been cured.

This video is a “must see” for anyone interested in understanding how unexpected disease reversals can be studied to provide insight into healing.  Watch the video for more details.

Currently Dr. Bedlack also has  a website that directly focuses on understanding ALS reversals.

Clearly there is hope for preventing and stopping the prion and prion-like march that may be leading to neurodegenerative diseases like ALS.

Music+Dance=Festive Fitness

When auditory hair cells vibrate in your inner ear you perceive sound.  But when auditory hair cells dance you perceive music.

The relationship between music and dance is rooted at the sensory level.   Both music and dance result when space and time form an intimate bond that takes on a life of its own.   The power of music and dance on the brain and body has a profound healing potential that is part of the future of preventive and restorative health care.

In 1905 Einstein introduced the idea that space and time are not separate but rather form a spacetime continuum.   In his new book, ‘Reality Is Not What It Seems’, Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli explains that the past, present and future exist together in an ‘extended present’ that is interconnected by timeless light beams.  I say ‘timeless’ because if you were traveling on a light beam time would stand still for you.  For example, the sun that we see in the sky is the sun from 15 minutes ago, because it takes 15  minutes for light to travel 90  million miles to the earth.  However, the light is not 15 minutes old!  In essence we are witnessing a direct connection through time and the sun’s past is directly connecting to our present through spacetime energy fluctuations.

In a metaphorically similar way, music and dance also connect the past, present and future in the brain resulting in powerful stimulation and regeneration of brain cells.   In the 2014 film, Alive Inside, by  Michael Rossato-Bennett, Dan Cohen of Music and Memory discusses how music awakens elderly people suffering from dementia by reviving brain circuitry from the past that has remained dormant for long periods of time.

The Alive Inside video shows dramatic examples of the power of music for combating brain degeneration resulting from illnesses such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  One can only imagine the power of music, when used properly, to keep the brain vibrant, healthy, and free from illness.

Now consider that by combining music with dance we can magnify the beneficial effect on the brain in a way that is more than just the sum of the parts.  This approach is being promoted by a nonprofit organization named ‘Dance for PD.’   As shown below, this approach appears to trigger brain activation that allows Parkinson’s patients a greater degree of freedom to move.

Researchers led by neuroscientist Joseph DeSouza at York University in Toronto believe that dance can rebuild the brains pathways.  He states that dance is a very effective form of brain training because it involves complex brain functions associated with timing, movement, coding and decoding.

Participants claim that dancing helps them not only physically but cognitively as well.  In paper published in January 2015 by Prabhjot Dhami , Sylvain Moreno and Joseph F. X. DeSouza, it is argued that dance appears to be a tool that combines both cognitive and physical rehabilitation strategies.  The authors state:

“Not only does it incorporate physical and motor skill related activities, but it can also engage various cognitive functions such as perception, emotion, and memory, all while being done in an enriched environment.”

But of course, dance is not only a good tool for rehabilitation, and the authors also mention a study by Kattenstroth et al. (2010) in which elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activity were able to prevent cognitive decline when compared to non-dancing controls.

So what are we waiting for?  Let’s get our dancing on!

References

Kattenstroth, J. C., Kolankowska, I., Kalisch, T., and Dinse, H. R. (2010). Superior sensory, motor, and cognitive performance in elderly individuals with multiyear dancing activities. Front. Aging Neurosci. 2:31. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2010. 00031

Feed Me Fast

brain (1)Fasting and Brain Fitness

In some cases we can learn about the root cause of chronic disease by looking at how our environment and lifestyle has changed in the last few hundred years.  On an evolutionary time scale of billions of years, a few hundred years is a very short time, and is not long enough for the body design to catch up with environmental changes.

For example in our previous two posts we noted how the body evolved (or was designed ) for continuously challenging movements in the quest for finding food , finding mates, seeking safety from predators and fighting off competitors, and how our current sedentary lifestyle is at odds with our body.

Another anomaly driven by evolutionarily recent changes in food production is the over-abundance of food.  Our ancestors were more likely to face food scarcity, and a feast-or-famine type of existence.  When food was scarce, our ancestors bodies smoothly switched from using glucose as fuel to using stored fat for energy. This means that they were more likely to mobilize reserves of body fat resulting in a higher fat-free mass.

Now the over-abundance of food combined with sedentary lifestyles has created an epidemic of obesity in which the global population of overweight and obese people exceeds that of under-weight people.  Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers and emerging evidence suggests that it is also a risk factor for age related cognitive decline and possibly Alzheimer’s.  According to researchers like Mark Mattson (Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging)  and Bert Herring (Physician and Medical Writer), the root cause of the problem is not the excess storage of fat but rather, that the body needs fasting just like the muscles need exercise.

The idea of using fasting to improve health has existed for thousands of years as evidenced by the following quotes:

  • “Humans live on one-quarter of what they eat; on the other three-quarters lives their doctor.” – Egyptian pyramid inscription, 3800 B.C.
  • “Fasting is the greatest remedy– the physician within.”  Philippus Paracelsus, one of the three fathers of Western medicine
  • “A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can the best medicines and the best doctors.”  Mark Twain, in My Debut As a Literary Person.
  • “The best of all medicines is resting and fasting.”  Benjamin Franklin

There is evidence that fasting has positive effects on the whole body such as decreased inflammation, oxidative stress and asthma, increased insulin sensitivity and decreased risk of diabetes, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and increase in human growth hormone.

There is also evidence that fasting helps to improve cognitive function by stimulating the production of neurotrophic factors and can help prevent chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

According to Mark Mattson, the key to understanding how this works is to appreciate that our bodies have another mode of operation where energy is derived from fat metabolism (ketosis) rather than from glucose metabolism (glycolysis).  When we eat three meals a day our bodies never switch over to this powerful mode of operation, because it takes 10 to 12 hours of fasting before the bodies glycogen stores are used up.

Fat is the Wealth of the Body

Every-day-life analogies for these two modes of operation would be like work vs vacation  or like being employed vs unemployed.  When you are in work mode you  save cash for vacations or unexpected loss of income.   As you can see from this example,  each mode of operation  entails a different set of priorities and tasks.

Likewise, fat is the stored wealth of the body and the bodies priorities shift depending on whether it is storing wealth (glycolysis) or using it (ketosis).  Think of a short fast as a vacation mode for your body, while a longer fast may be more challenging (i.e. unemployment).

Mark Mattson promotes the idea that fasting is a challenge to the brain.  This challenge promotes adaptive stress responses and changes in the brain similar to what is seen with vigorous exercise or cognitively challenging stimuli.  This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Using our analogy, an unemployed person is challenged to learn new skills in order to compete for a new job.  Similarly the fasting brain responds to the challenge of acquiring more body wealth (fat), by generating neurotrophic factors that promote the development of new connections and that drive the transformation of stem cells into new brain cells in some regions of the brain.

The neurotrophic factor BDNF that is released during fasting also promotes the increase in the number of mitochondria inside cells.  Because mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells this increases the ability of neurons to grow and develop new connections.

How to Feed Your Brain Fast

Knowledge is power when properly applied, so what is the right way to incorporate fasting into your life.  Just like engaging in new physical activity it makes sense to discuss changes in lifestyle with your health care team.  Care must be taken if you have high calorie expenditure due to athletic endeavors, or if you are taking medications.

Fasting can generally be started by increasing the amount of time between your last meal of the day and your first meal of the subsequent day.  One could limit meals to an 8 hour window or less each day.  This is the approach that I have been using, although my window is currently more like 10 hours.

Another option is to skip the last meal of the day or the first meal of the day once or twice each week.  Just as an athlete must begin with light weights and progress to more difficult challenges in order to avoid injuries, so it is with fasting.  Learn more about it and proceed with caution in order to make sure the body is receiving its needed supply of nutrients.  It could be your ticket to a healthier you.