Over five million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder whose symptoms typically progress from mild tremors to complete physical incapacitation. In the United States, an estimated 60,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year alone. There is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. Current treatments mask symptoms but do not alter or slow disease progression.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Substantia nigra, literally meaning “black substance” refers to a small region in the brain stem, just above the spinal cord. It is one of the centers that help control movement. Cells within the substantia nigra produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for transmitting signals from one nerve cell to another within the brain. Among other things, dopamine produced in the substantia nigra helps control movement and balance, and is essential to the proper functioning of the central nervous system. Loss of dopamine causes critical nerve cells in the brain to fire out of control, leaving people unable to direct or control their movement in a normal manner.
Parkinson’s disease is the direct result of the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra. The symptoms of PD emerge when the disease is well under way; when a person is down to the last 20 percent of dopamine producing cells. I am struck by how forgiving the body is!