Healthy Living

To B3 or Not To B3: Is That the Question for Parkinson's Disease?

Researchers have found that taking vitamin B3 may slow the progression of Parkinson's disease.

To B3 or Not To B3: Is That the Question for Parkinson's Disease?

Researchers haven’t discovered a cure or a way to mask the disease. However, finding a cure is a priority for many organizations, and researchers have uncovered several key things for treatment. What they have discovered, and what they continue to discover, is how to treat the different symptoms and more importantly how to live with it.

Parkinson’s is a long-term degenerative disorder that targets the central nervous system, and wreaks havoc on a person’s motor system. The most common and recognizable symptoms of the disease is shaking and trembling limbs, muscle stiffness, and slow movements.  As the disease progresses, patients find that they have difficulty performing simple tasks, such as feeding themselves, brushing their teeth and climbing the stairs.  Eventually, most patients find that they will lose their ability to walk and will be confined to a wheelchair.

Current treatments for Parkinson's, and perhaps a new breakthrough

While there is no cure for the disease patients  work closely with their medical team to organize a treatment plan. For the most part, treatment is primarily medication. Doctors may prescribe a number of different medications to their patients with the disease. These drugs are designed to provide short-term relief of their symptoms. As the disease progresses, different forms of medication are prescribed to target the symptoms. While all these drugs may provide short-term relief, none of them are able to keep the symptoms at bay forever.

Another invasive treatment option is surgery. Deep brain stimulation is where surgeons stimulate different parts of the brain that is affected by the disease. The intention is to provide the patient with relief from more debilitating symptoms, such as the trembling, by playing around with the brain’s hardwiring. The trouble with this course of treatment, aside from the fact that it’s brain surgery, is that there is no guarantee that it will work. 

The lack of treatment options can be discouraging for patients and their loved ones. Thankfully though, hope for a more effective treatment is not that far off.  Recent studies have given researchers a glimmer of ‘what may come’ when it comes to treating Parkinson’s. Surprisingly, it’s not a drug or surgical procedure.  It might be as simple as just taking vitamin B3.

Really, Vitamin B3?

A recent report claims that a form of vitamin B3 can actually prevent the degeneration and nerve cell death that is linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.

While researchers have been studying Parkinson’s for years, there is still no clear understanding as to what actually causes the development of Parkinson’s. What is known is that as the disease progresses, the nerve cells in the substantia nigra (nucleus located midbrain) area of the brain die off. It’s also known that the mitochondrion in those cells are damaged prior to their death.  The mitochondria is what produces the energy needed to keep those cells working properly.  What isn’t known, is whether the damaged mitochondria plays a role in the development of the disease or if it’s a result of it.

These studies have also found that the use of vitamins B3, or more specifically a form of B3 called nicotinamide riboside, can have a positive impact on the damaged cells in the brain.  Improvements include an increase in the energy of those cells and even the regeneration of new mitochondrion. All of these improvements could lead to a reduction in Parkinson’s symptoms and will lead to the possibility of reversing the disease.

While research and studies are still in their infancy, the results from tests performed on fish models showed significant improvement in their brain activity. This is very promising information for researchers, scientists and most importantly, patients and their families.

The next step is to test this theory of vitamin B3 on human Parkinson's patients. It will also give researchers the opportunity to measure the effects of B3 on patients' overall health, including their cardiovascular health.

But what about side effects?

Like any kind of treatment, there is always a possibility of side effects.  And, it’s no different with the use of vitamins as a way to treat a disease.

Vitamin B3 is usually safe for most people, but there are still side effects.  One of the most common side effects is a flushing reaction. This is when the skin on the face, arms and chest redden, tingle and itch.  Other side effects include headaches, upset stomach, intestinal gas, bloating, dizziness and pain in the mouth.

Higher doses of the vitamin can lead to liver problems, gout, ulcers, loss of vision, high blood sugar, irregular heartbeat and other serious problems. Some studies have found that daily use for multiple years can lead to an increase risk of developing diabetes.

While these side effects may seem scary, there is still a lot of learn about the use of vitamin b3 - especially as it becomes a treatment option for Parkinson’s.  It’s important that patients understand the full risks of taking a new vitamin to treat a disease and also what happens when they choose to forgo treatment.

For many years, people who suffer from Parkinson’s did so pretty much in silence.  More recently however, the disease has been moving into the forefront of the medical community.  This is thanks to a number of things, including celebrities being open about their struggle with the disease and people advocating for patients and their families.  All of this has led to more eyes looking at the disease, who it targets and how patients are learning to live with it.