Many who are just diagnosed with Parkinson’s wonder if they can manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s without medication. The reasons are pretty obvious; when you go from never taking medication in your life to being told that you now have to take pills, several times daily, for the rest of your life, it can be disheartening. That’s also not mentioning the side effects that come with Parkinson’s drugs, and it’s easy to see why people try to avoid them early on, perhaps preferring to rely on exercise and supplements instead.
Once you realize, however, the limited benefit of supplements, and the limitations of exercise to turn back the disease, many of us just say “to hell with it” and start taking the medications. And why not take the medications? Well, part of it is also admitting to yourself that you have Parkinson’s, which is difficult in itself. When I was first diagnosed, I thought I could cure myself by jogging an hour a day. I just ended up tired and sad.
It wasn’t until my naturopathic doctor (of all people) suggested I take a carbidopa/levodopa pill to see how it would make me feel. I had told her that I had wanted to try the natural route, but that it wasn’t giving me the results I wanted. I wanted to be able to move! She gave me the pill, and within thirty minutes, I was on for the first time in my life, and it felt good! I was able to move my hands, tap individual fingers, walk normally without dragging my foot, and even think clearly for the first time in years.
So I would invite you to define what “managed” means to you. Do you mean, can you feel normal or mask your symptoms without medications, the answer is no. If you mean can you survive, not dying because you don’t take medication, then sure, yes. Parkinson’s is not the kind of disease you die from if you don’t take medications. You will just freeze more and more, and your brain will get cloudier and cloudier.
You can carve out a basic existence without medication, living a smaller, quieter life. You can give up your career, give up driving, give up hiking or other activities you enjoy doing. All because you refuse to take medications – whether because it’s that you refuse to admit you’re sick, or because you’re afraid of side effects. But remember, you only live once, or YOLO, as the young people say. Why would you limit yourself, give up on so much of yourself, because you don’t want to take medications?
I’m not sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, and I don’t think the medications are the answer to everything. I’m proposing you give yourself permission to add a generic and cheap drug, carbidopa/levodopa, to your mix of exercise and natural supplements. Work with your movement disorder specialist and give it a try. I think you would discover a world you had once left behind. And here’s the thing, carbidopa/levodopa is not that strong of a drug, and if you feel terrible on it, then coming off of it is easy.
Again, work with your movement disorder specialist and get close monitoring if you decide to try this. Your life may just change for the better.
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Nick Pernisco is the Parkinson’s Warrior, a person with Parkinson’s who has dedicated his life to helping others with Parkinson’s. Get the Parkinson’s Warrior book here. Join the discussion on Facebook.