Parkinson's disease is a neurological disease affecting the "substantia nigra," a small area of cells in the mid-brain. Degeneration of these cells results in a reduction in levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine and upsets the balance between dopamine and another brain chemical, acetylcholine. The most familiar signs of the disease are tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; a generalized slowness of movement, stiff limbs, rigid facial expressions, and problems with balance or gait. Mental function can deteriorate in advanced cases.
There's no cure for Parkinson's but progression can be slowed and symptoms managed with a variety of drugs including L-Dopa (Levodopa) and Sinemet (Carbidopa). L-Dopa is converted to dopamine in the brain. Sinemet prevents L-Dopa from being broken down before it reaches the brain.
Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10, a natural compound made by the body and found in most foods, improves use of oxygen at the cellular level, particularly in heart muscle cells. It is being studied as a treatment for a number of disorders including Alzheimer's disease, breast cancer, and migraine, as well as Parkinson's disease. Results from the first Parkinson's study suggest that CoQ10 can slow the progression of the disease in its early stages. But this was a small trial, involving only 80 patients, and its findings must be confirmed in larger studies before we can say for sure that CoQ10 helps.
In the small study, the patients were divided into four groups: one group received a placebo, the others were given one of three doses: 300 mg, 600 mg or 1,200 mg of CoQ10 per day. All of the groups also took vitamin E. The patients who took 1,200 mg had 44 percent less decline in mental function, movement function, and the ability to carry out such everyday activities as dressing themselves and feeding themselves. The two groups that used the lower doses developed slightly less disability than the placebo group, but the progression of their disease wasn't slowed as much as it was among those who took 1,200 mg daily. The placebo group had the greatest increase in disability.
While this research is promising, it falls far short of any claimed ability to "noticeably reverse symptoms in days." A contention that CoQ10 can do this is unproven and irresponsible. Also note the 1,200 mg is a very large dose of CoQ10, which is an expensive supplement to begin with.
I recommend CoQ10 to anyone concerned about heart health (and I take 120 mg daily myself). Anyone taking statin drugs to lower cholesterol should take at least 60 to 90 mg of CoQ10 daily because statins suppress the body's natural production of CoQ10 as well as that of cholesterol. I recommend it to Parkinson's patients as well, but have to tell them that we have nothing but suggestive evidence at the moment that it will slow progression of the disease.
If your symptoms are troubling, try breath work, yoga and biofeedback to reduce stress; stress always worsens tremors. Acupuncture may also temporarily improve muscle function, and bodywork (I particularly recommend Trager work and the Feldenkrais method) can relieve stiffness.
Andrew Weil, M.D.