For over two thousand years, the Chinese have use a branched herb with dangerous looking hooks called gou teng to treat spasms, headaches and dizziness. Today, doctors are testing the herb as a treatment for Parkinson's Disease.
Parkinson's disease is a disabling condition that usually strikes after the age of 50. Parkinson's patients have muscle tremors, difficulty walking, rigidity and coordination problems. It affects both men and woman equally, and is one of the most common nervous system disorders.
Parkinson's occurs because nerve cells that make dopamine, a brain chemical that controls muscle movement, are slowly destroyed. Scientists have found that a protein called alpha‑synuclein is to blame. In a normal cell, the protein is removed over time. In Parkinson's patients, the protein accumulates within the cell and eventually kills it.
Although there is no cure, doctors can treat the disease by giving patients drugs that replace the missing dopamine. The problem is, there can be side effects, including dizziness, headaches and sleep disturbances.
Chinese researchers familiar with gou teng's anti‑spasmodic properties decided to examine the herb and identify which compounds could be effective in treating Parkinson's. They discovered an active compound which removes the damaging protein from cells at the same rate as a medication currently on the market. The current medication depresses the immune system and can have serious side effects. Gou teng, on the other hand, has been used for centuries with no apparent side affects.
Preliminary studies testing gou teng against a placebo have shown significant improvement in sleep and speech for Parkinson's patients. Additional clinical trials are underway and doctors hope to offer an ancient medicine as a new treatment.
"Traditional Chinese Medicine Improves Activities of Daily Living in Parkinson's Disease" (SAGE)