Parkinson's disease was first described in the early 1800s when Dr James Parkinson wrote a paper on what he called ‘the Shaking Palsy'. Surprisingly Dr Parkinson managed to relate the symptoms to a fault in the brain however at the time he knew nothing of the true cause. Thankfully much has been learnt about the disease since then and although there still isn't a cure for this progressive disease, there are a number of effective treatments to slow down its progress.
A cure can not easily be found until scientists and researchers understand exactly what causes the disease to develop in the first instance. Research has so far shown that the underlying cause is probably a mixture of genetic and environmental factors although how these factors interact with the brain to cause the disease is still a mystery.
Parkinson's disease can affect anyone at any age however statistics show that it is much more common in men over the age of 50 than any other group of people. This doesn't mean however that younger people are safe; the number of people under the age of 50 affected by the disease is rising steadily. Parkinson's disease affects around 0.02% of the worlds population which doesn't sound much but as you get older the probability of developing the disease increases dramatically.
So what may be the trigger for Parkinson's disease? Research into the genetics of Parkinson's has found that there may be a genetic link which makes siblings and offspring of a sufferer more susceptible to the disease. Unfortunately there is still a long way to go before this theory is proven and so relations of Parkinson's sufferers should not worry unduly about developing the disease.
A second chain of thought and one that is attracting a lot of attention in the research world is that the condition may be triggered by one or a number of environmental agents, or toxins. Many diseases have already been linked to specific toxins and so the possibility that Parkinson's is also linked is being taken very seriously. Studies are being carried out worldwide to look into the connection between established cases of the disease and the use of such agents as fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides and heavy metals.
A lesser researched theory is that head injury might contribute to the probability of developing Parkinson's disease. The famous boxer Muhammad Ali was hit thousands of times during his illustrious career and now he is a recognised sufferer of the disease. There is a chance that he was more susceptible to the condition before he had his first fight however the theory is one which should definitely be looked into further.
Finding a cure for Parkinson's disease is one of the top priorities for pharmaceutical companies and whoever manages to do it first will be guaranteed a place in history.
By Jeremy Parker
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