In a new study from Johns Hopkins Medicine, researchers found that the compound farnesol, found naturally in herbs, and berries and other fruits, may prevent and reverse brain damage linked to Parkinson’s disease.
The compound, used in flavorings and perfume-making, can prevent the loss of neurons that produce dopamine in the brain.
Loss of such neurons affects movement and cognition, leading to hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as tremors, muscle rigidity, confusion and dementia.
In the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, a buildup of protein PARIS slows down the manufacture of the protective protein.
The protective protein shields brain cells from damaging reactive oxygen molecules that accumulate in the brain.
Without it, dopamine neurons die off, leading to the cognitive and physical changes associated with Parkinson’s disease.
In the study, the researchers fed mice with Parkinson’s either a farnesol-supplemented diet or a regular mouse diet for one week.
They found that the mice fed the farnesol diet performed better on a strength and coordination test designed to detect the advancement of Parkinson’s disease symptoms. On average, the mice performed 100% better than mice fed a regular diet.
When the researchers later studied the brain tissue of mice in the two groups, they found that the mice fed a farnesol-supplemented diet had twice as many healthy dopamine neurons than mice not fed the diet.
The farnesol-fed mice also had approximately 55% more of the protective protein in their brains than the untreated mice.
These experiments showed that farnesol both strongly prevented the loss of dopamine neurons and reversed behavioral deficits, indicating its promise as a potential drug treatment to prevent Parkinson’s disease.
While farnesol is naturally produced, synthetic versions are used in commerce, and the amounts people get through diet are unclear.
The researchers caution that safe doses of farnesol for humans have not yet been determined and that only carefully controlled clinical trials can do so.
If you care about Parkinson’s disease, please read studies about where does Parkinson’s disease start: In the brain, gut, or both? and findings of Parkinson’s disease and bladder health: What you should know.
For more information about Parkinson’s disease and your health, please see recent studies about these high blood pressure drugs may protect against Parkinson’s and results showing that Parkinson’s disease may start before birth.
The study is published in Science Translational Medicine. One author of the study is Ted Dawson, M.D., Ph.D.
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