Parkinson's Disease Risk Factors
Although a primary cause for Parkinson's disease is yet to be identified, a number of risk factors are clearly evident.
Advancing age- Although there is the occasional case of the disease being developed as a young adult, it generally manifests itself in the middle to late years of life. The risk continues to increase the older one gets. Some researchers assume that people with Parkinson's have neural damage from genetic or environmental factors that get worse as they age.
Sex- Males are more likely to get Parkinson's than females. Possible reasons for this may be that males have greater exposure to other risk factors such as toxin exposure or head trauma. It has been theorised that oestrogen may have neuro-protective effects. Or, in the case of genetic predisposition, a gene predisposing someone to Parkinson's may be linked to the X chromosome.
Family history- Having one or more close relatives with the disease increases the likelihood that you will get it, but to a minimal degree. This lends support to the idea that there is a genetic link in developing Parkinson's.
Declining oestrogen levels- Post menopausal who do not use hormone replacement therapy are at greater risk, as are those who have had hysterectomies.
Agricultural work- Exposure to an environmental toxin such as a pesticide or herbicide puts you at greater risk. Some of these toxins inhibit dopamine production and promote free radical damage. Those involved in farming and are therefore exposed to such toxins have a greater prevalence of Parkinson's symptoms.
Genetic factors- A Mayo Clinic led international study revealed that the gene alpha-synuclein may play a role in the likelihood of developing the disease. Studies showed that individuals with a more active gene had a 1.5 times greater risk of developing Parkinson's. These findings support the development of alpha-synuclein suppressing therapies, which may in the long run slow or even halt the disease.
Low levels of B vitamin folate- Researchers discovered that mice with a deficiency of this vitamin developed severe Parkinson's symptoms, while those with normal levels did not.
Head Trauma- Recent research points to a link between damage to the head, neck, or upper cervical spine and Parkinson's. A 2007 study of 60 patients showed that all of them showed evidence of trauma induced upper cervical damage. Some patients remembered a specific incident, others did not. In some cases Parkinson's symptoms took decades to appear.
Parkinson's Disease is a rare and curious phenomenon, affecting approximately 1 in 300 people. Risk factors mentioned above influence its likelihood to only the tiniest of degrees. Most individuals will have one or more of the risk factors above and never experience any of the symptoms. The one risk factor we all possess is aging, which is a condition that is currently incurable! However, more and more is becoming understood as to how and why these various risk factors influence likelihood of Parkinson's. As knowledge grows, so does the possibility of a cure.<