What are the Genetic and Environmental Factors that are Linked to Parkinson’s Disease

What lies behind Parkinson’s disease? Here, we discuss genetic and environmental factors that contribute to Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition characterized by difficulty walking, tremors, muscle stiffness, and rigidity. These symptoms become noticeable when more than half of the dopamine-producing cells in a specific brain region known as the Substantia nigra are lost. While the exact cause of this cell loss remains unclear, researchers have identified various factors contributing to the condition. These include genetic and environmental factors.  

This article will briefly delve into these two critical factors.

The role of genetics

Genetics is a crucial risk factor in Parkinson’s disease, especially in cases diagnosed at a young age.

Recent studies have highlighted the importance of genetic factors in this complex condition.

Scientists have identified 15 specific genes linked to Parkinson’s, with six genes being directly implicated in disease progression. These six genes include  SNCALRRK2PRKNPINK1DJ-1, and ATP13A2. Researchers have found that mutations in a single copy of SNCA or LRRK2 alone are sufficient to trigger the disease’s symptoms. In all other cases, they observed that a mutation in both gene copies is necessary for the disease to occur.

It’s worth mentioning that some of these genes can give rise to non-inherited forms of Parkinson’s disease. This indicates that genes can be quite complex in their role in causing this condition.

The role of environmental factors

Beyond genetics, environmental factors also contribute significantly to Parkinson’s disease. These factors can either directly cause the disease symptoms or they can increase the risk of developing the disease.

Here are the examples of environmental factors that are linked to Parkinson’s disease.

Environmental toxins: Among environmental toxins, pesticides are considered as the primary culprits in Parkinson’s development. Pesticides like rotenone and paraquat have been strongly associated with the disease. These chemicals can be exposed through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact. Since farmers are strongly exposed to these pesticides, they have an increased likelihood of experiencing Parkinson’s-like symptoms.

Additionally, potent toxins such as oxidopamine and MPTP (1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine) have been identified as causative agents of Parkinson’s disease. In laboratory experiments, researchers have found that exposure to these chemicals causes the death of dopamine-producing cells and triggers abnormal brain changes resembling Parkinson’s disease.

Dietary considerations: The concept that our diet might influence the onset of Parkinson’s disease has been around for a while. Researchers have been exploring the connection between what we eat and Parkinson’s for many years. They believe that not having certain nutrients in our diet could raise the risk of developing Parkinson’s.

Numerous studies have pointed out that individuals with deficiencies in coenzyme Q-10 and vitamin D are more prone to experiencing Parkinson’s symptoms than those who maintain sufficient levels of these nutrients. People with Parkinson’s often carry lower levels of these vital components in their bodies. This has led scientists to actively investigate whether supplementing these nutrients could potentially help alleviate the symptoms of the disease.

Exercise: Exercise has emerged as a powerful tool in the fight against Parkinson’s disease. A growing body of research suggests that regular physical activity can highly reduce the risk of developing this condition, especially when compared to a sedentary lifestyle.

Although the exact mechanisms behind exercise’s protective power are not fully understood, researchers think that engaging in regular physical activity may serve as a shield, preventing abnormal changes in dopamine-producing cells. Additionally, it might contribute to the overall well-being of brain regions responsible for coordinating our body movements.

Related article: Exercise – Is it Useful in Parkinson’s Disease?

Age: Age is another determinant that can influence the likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease. Research indicates that around 1% of the population under 60 years old is affected by Parkinson’s, a figure that escalates to 5% in individuals aged 80 and older.

Head injuries: Individuals with a history of head injuries are at high risk for Parkinson’s disease. This is especially true for those who have experienced traumatic brain injuries.

Many studies have found a link between head injuries and the disease, showing that individuals who’ve experienced traumatic brain injuries tend to have lower dopamine levels in their brains and are more prone to developing Parkinson’s symptoms.

In summary

Parkinson’s disease is a multifaceted condition influenced by genetic factors, environmental exposures, diet, exercise, age, and head injuries. While scientists are still figuring out the details of this complicated disease, knowing about these factors can help people take steps to lower their risk of developing this disease.

Disclaimer: The information shared here should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions presented here are not intended to treat any health conditions. For your specific medical problem, consult with your healthcare provider. 

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