Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects dopamine production in the brain. It is characterized by difficulties in motor control, muscle movement, and speech.
There are some genetic factors that can contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Although it is speculated that only a small fraction of Parkinson’s patients have genetic contributions to their disease, many Parkinson’s specialists agree that the cause of Parkinson’s is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It is important to emphasize how environmental factors contribute to how Parkinson’s disease genes are expressed.
Most people have heard of the term genetics. However, many have not heard of the term epigenetics. Genetics refers to the study of genes that are inherited by a person’s parents. The term epigenetics refers to the environmental factors that contribute to the expression of certain genes. Epigenetics is what turns a gene on or off. Often, only unless a gene is operating a certain way (on or off depending on the gene), it does not cause damage to the body.
Genetics – Genetic Factors
We are all born with certain genetic traits that we cannot control. Each person inherits two sets of genes, a copy from their mother and a copy from their father. If a person inherits a gene mutation from their parent, that mutation can predispose them to develop a variety of chronic illnesses.
Epigenetics – Environmental Factors
Although one cannot control which genes are inherited, one does have more ability to control the expression of those genes.
Epigenetics, in simple terms, is the study of all the factors that contribute to the expression of a gene — in other words, what turns genes on or off. This concept, if understood well, can help anyone with Parkinson’s disease improve their gene expression and reduce the gene expression that contributes to the development of Parkinson’s disease.
A Simple Example That Can Explain Epigenetics Better
Most people have experienced sweating in their lifetime. However, they do not sweat all the time. There are certain environmental conditions that turn on the genes to produce sweat. Heat, physical activity, and stress are a few of the environmental factors that signal your body to turn on the sweat-producing genes. Calmness, cold temperatures, and relaxation are environmental factors that signal your body to turn off the genes to produce sweat.
Parkinson’s disease genes operate similarly — certain things can alter the expression of the gene. There are environmental factors that contribute to turning Parkinson’s genes on or off.
What Are the Environmental Factors That Turn Parkinson’s Disease Genes On or Off?
There are countless environmental factors that contribute to Parkinson’s disease gene expression. Different environmental factors cause a release of different chemicals that change the way genes operate.
High quality sleep has been shown to reduce aging and improve DNA expression in a multitude of areas like repairing tissue, removing waste products, and improving organ function.
Different foods have the potential to influence DNA gene expression. High-fat diets, for example, have been shown to improve the mental status and even symptom scores of those with Parkinson’s.
- Air, Water, and Food Quality
There are many toxins that come into the body through the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Research shows that there are several genes that do not function properly when exposed to environmental toxins.
Exercise can influence your epigenetic mark in a very positive way. A recent study was published that shows that exercise can keep the brain healthy by increasing a protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNP).
- Internal Stress
Internal stress and depression have been shown to increase the genes responsible for the aging of cells on a molecular level.
What Genes Are Associated with Parkinson’s?
Mutations in each of these genes have been associated with an increased risk to develop Parkinson’s disease.
- Glucocerebrosidase (GBA)
- Mutations in the GBA gene are a risk factor to develop Parkinson’s disease.
- GBA gene is responsible for making an enzyme that helps to break down toxic substances.
- LRRK2 (leucine-rich repeat kinase 2)
- The LRRK2 gene is abundant in the brain. Its function is not completely known.
- Vitamin B12 improves the LRRK2 gene function and improves neuroprotection.
- PARK2 (parkin)
- Parkin plays a role in the breakdown of unnecessary proteins by putting a tag on them as damaged. Without parkin, these proteins can build up and cause damage.
- It is also involved in maintaining the mitochondria of cells.
- Also known as the PINK1 gene, PARK6 helps protect the mitochondria of cells when there is oxidative stress to the cell.
- This gene codes for the DJ-1 protein that may function to help protect brain cells from oxidative stress.
- This gene codes for an enzyme that contributes to synaptic transmission between neurons.
- This gene codes for a protein that helps neurons to work effectively.
- These gene codes for a protein that is necessary for proper mitochondrial function.
- This gene codes for an enzyme called ubiquitin carboxyl-terminal esterase L1. This enzyme, found in nerve cells throughout the brain, breaks down and helps eliminate damaged proteins.
Although there is no control over what Parkinson’s disease genes are inherited through epigenetics, there is a lot that can be done to improve the expression of each gene.
Epigenetics for Parkinson’s Disease Genes can be Reversible
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease or has an inherited gene that predisposes to Parkinson’s, there is hope. Through external and internal environmental factors, Parkinson’s disease genes can be altered to a healthier expression.
Through many epigenetic factors, genes can be turned on or off to function better. This will protect bodily functions from going awry. Through environmental changes like nutrition, exercise, sleep, supplements, air quality, and water quality, improvements can be made. There is a lot that can be done to improve Parkinson’s disease gene function, and therefore, the disease itself.
This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any individual with Parkinson’s disease. This article was created for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical, psychological or any other sort of professional care.
Please don’t hesitate to contact The Parkinson’s Plan at 603-605-1477 for any additional questions.