Patients with Parkinson’s disease who supplement with n-acetylcysteine (NAC), a natural molecule with strong antioxidant effects, experience notable improvements in dopamine function, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
NAC is an oral supplement that can be found at most nutrition and health food stores. In a medical setting, NAC has been used intravenously to protect the livers of patients who have overdosed on acetaminophen.
Doctors from the Departments of Integrative Medicine, Neurology and Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University show that patients receiving NAC experience improvements in two measures: the observable physical symptoms of the disease as well as in levels of dopamine (the lack of which is thought to contribute to Parkinson’s disease) as shown by brain imaging tests.
Currently, treatments for Parkinson’s disease are limited to those that temporarily replace dopamine in the brain or try to slow the progression of the disease process. Recently, however, researchers have discovered that oxidative stress in the brain may play a vital role in the disease process, and that this stress also lowers levels of glutathione, a chemical produced by the brain to counteract oxidative stress.
Research has shown that NAC helps reduce oxidative damage to brain cells by helping restore the levels of the antioxidant glutathione.
“This study reveals a potentially new avenue for managing Parkinson’s patients and shows that n-acetylcysteine may have a unique physiological effect that alters the disease process and enables dopamine neurons to recover some function,” said senior author Daniel Monti, M.D., M.B.A. Monti is director of the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University.
For the study, Parkinson’s patients who continued their current standard of care treatment, were placed into two groups: The first group received a combination of oral and intravenous (IV) NAC for three months. These patients received 50mg/kg NAC intravenously once per week and 600mg NAC orally twice per day on the non IV days. The second group of patients acted as a control group and received only their standard Parkinson’s treatment.
Patients were evaluated before starting NAC and then after three months of receiving NAC. Control patients were evaluated before the study and then three months later.
The evaluation involved standard clinical measures, including the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), a survey administered by doctors to help determine the stage of disease. The patients also underwent a brain scan via DaTscan SPECT imaging, which measures the amount of dopamine transporter in the basal ganglia, the area most affected by the Parkinson’s disease process.
The findings show that the patients receiving NAC had improvements of four to nine percent in dopamine transporter binding and also had improvements in their UPDRS score of about 13 percent, compared to controls.
“We have not previously seen an intervention for Parkinson’s disease have this kind of effect on the brain,” said first author and neuroimaging expert Andrew Newberg, M.D., professor at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson and Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine.
The researchers hope the new findings will open up new avenues of treatment for Parkinson’s disease patients.
Source: Thomas Jefferson University