What Part of the Brain Is Affected by Parkinsons Disease
Parkinsons disease is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system of the sufferer. It causes a progressive decline in motor function over time that is debilitating. The disease works within the brain (central nervous system encompasses the brain and spinal cord). So to more fully understand what part of the brain is affected by Parkinson’s Disease lets start by learning how movement is initiated in the brain.
When a person decides to move an arm, leg or any other part of the body the information from the different senses and from other parts of the brain that control motor planning travel to a region called the striatum. This information travels along neurological pathways in the form of chemical communication.
The striatum then communicates with other parts of the brain such as the substantia nigra, globus pallidus and thalamus. These areas then send out signals to control balance and coordination to the cerebellum. The cerebellum controls muscle coordination. These signals finally travel down the spinal cord to the peripheral nerves that are in the arms, legs, and core of the body to control the muscles.
The chemicals that carry this information and communicate from one part of the brain to another and finally to the nerves that control the muscles are called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are produced by the minute neurons in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nervous system. Once produced they cross a small gap to the next neuron where they attach to protein receptors. This signal changes the properties of the receiving cell. If that cell is another neuron it continues the signal and if that cells is a muscle fiber then it contracts in response to the signal.
Imagine that each time you move a finger there are hundreds of nerve synapses that fire to move one finger. Now image that you are typing and your fingers are moving furiously and flawlessly over the keyboard. The number of synapses that fire and refire, time and time again is mind boggling. The decision making process happens in microseconds.
The primary area of the brain that is affected by Parkinson’s Disease is the substantia nigra which uses the neurotransmitter dopamine. The activity of this pathway controls the normal movements of the body.
In the Parkinson’s disease process the substantia nigra degenerate which results in a loss of dopamine. This causes the nerve cells in the striatum to fire too much which makes it impossible for the sufferer to control their movements. Many people with Parkinson’s Disease will lose up to 80% of their dopamine producing cells.
The underlying cause of the neuron death is uncertain but researchers have identified several characteristics that are common that appear to play a role in the degeneration. The most prominent characteristic are Lewy bodies in the substantia nigra and the brainstem. These are dense clumps of protein.
There are multiple theories about what causes this degeneration of the substantia nigra. One theory is that there are many free radicals in the brain that react with neighboring molecules and metals resulting in oxidation of the metal. Scientists have found an increased level of iron in the brain of patients with Parkinsons Disease, especially in the substantia nigra. Another theory is that there are environmental risk factors such as pesticides or food toxins that act as a trigger.
By understanding how movement in the brain is first initiated and then what part of the brain that is affected by Parkinsons Disease researchers are better able to pinpoint the area of their research looking for potential causes, prevention, and cure.
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- Parkinson’s tied to brain’s energy crisis (cbc.ca)
- In Parkinson’s disease, brain cells abandon mitochondria, researchers report (scimag.com)
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