The Patient Researcher and Parkinson’s Disease

Dr Albert F Wright
The Patient Researcher

From diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease to remission of non-motor symptoms through expression of antioxidant genes.

How it started…

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2018, but had many of its invisible but debilitating symptoms for years before that. These included acute and painful fatigue, daytime sleepiness, poor sleep with vivid dreams, confusion, balance problems and severe urinary urgency.

At the time of diagnosis I was told that the causes of Parkinson’s disease were unknown, but as a research scientist, I analysed the published research for myself. I discovered that many researchers were convinced that oxidative stress in neurons, combined with a failure of mitochondrial function were strong candidates for the basic cause of Parkinson’s disease. This was backed up by considerable experimental evidence.

Oxidative stress in neurons is normally controlled by gene transcription involving a signalling protein called Nrf2. In healthy people, Nrf2 controls the expression of hundreds of genes that combat oxidative stress in cells by releasing antioxidant molecules and enzymes which rapidly neutralise oxidizing molecules (also called Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS). With increasing age, the activity of Nrf2 declines and oxidative stress increases, leaving some neurons particularly susceptible to damage, malfunction and even death.

Many researchers have demonstrated that sulforaphane, a molecule that can be made from broccoli seeds, increases the activity of Nrf2, reduces oxidative stress and improves mitochondrial function in neurons. The choice of seeds, the preparation process, the dosing regime and the delivery method are all critical to getting a good result

I began researching how to increase Nrf2 in June 2019 and six months later I began using experimental doses of Nrf2 activators to stabilise my own Parkinson’s disease. Since then, the severity of my non-motor symptoms has been reduced to the point of remission through experimentation with broccoli seed teas containing sulforaphane. In November 2020, I shared these observations with other Parkinson’s patients which resulted in a pilot study by 8 Parkinson patients. The results of this study strongly suggested that in some patients many non-motor Parkinson’s symptoms responded rapidly to a tea made from broccoli seeds, whereas motor symptoms were unaffected in the short term.

The contrasting responses of motor and non-motor symptoms to sulforaphane suggests that these 2 symptom groups may be caused by different processes or conditions. This developed into my hypothesis that non-motor symptoms might be caused by oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in the axons of dopaminergic neurons in the striatum, whereas motor symptoms may result from imperfect reorganisation of brain connections to work around the reduced functional capacity of the striatum. By exploiting these ideas, I now consider my Parkinson’s disease to be potentially stabilised in its present state, where sulforaphane controls the cause of non-motor symptoms. On the other hand, I still require dopamine replacement therapy (Levodopa) to control motor symptoms.

And where it’s going

The study by 8 Parkinson’s Patients that is reported in other posts on this site shows that when a small group of People with Parkinson’s disease coordinate their efforts they can make progress to understand their disease. This very small study had many limitations such as the absence of quality control during the preparation of the teas, the study design which lacked a placebo arm and the number of participants.

To go further will require studies on a much larger number of participants, a more professional approach, a rigorous design and a controlled delivery method. We understand that this will be very difficult without institutional support and outside funding, but the indication non-motor symptoms might be subject to control by sulforaphane gives cause for new hope.

Dr Albert F Wright