Parkinson’s disease a devastating malady

History — Parkinson’s disease was first characterized extensively by an English doctor, named James Parkinson, in 1817. Today, we understand Parkinson’s disease to be a disorder of the central nervous system that results from the loss of cells in various parts of the brain, including a region called the substantia nigra. These substantia nigra cells produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain that allow for coordination of movement. Loss of dopamine causes neurons to fire without normal control, leaving patients less able to direct or control their movement. Parkinson’s disease is one of several diseases medically categorized as a movement disorder.

The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, although current medical research suggests that the cause of Parkinson’s disease is a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Fortunately, significant research is ongoing.

The majority of people develop Parkinson’s disease after age 60. It can occur earlier as diagnosed in the famous actor Michael J. Fox, who developed it at an early age of about 30, and professional boxer Muhammad Ali who developed Parkinson’s disease at age 42. Men are about 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease than women. Generally, the common movement symptoms of Parkinson’s disease will slowly increase over many years. Specific medications are available from medical specialists to treat Parkinson’s disease to help reduce the common symptoms of this illness.

Three key symptoms that develop early in Parkinson’s disease are a tremor, usually on one side of the body (hand, foot, arm, or other body part) when the person is at rest. The second symptom is rigidity, or some resistance to various voluntary body movements, such as when going from a sitting to a standing position. The third symptom is termed bradykinesia, or slowness of various body movements.

Constipation — Constipation is a common side effect from Parkinson’s disease. Of course, we all are different with our personal bowel movement pattern. Some of us go 3 times a day, and others may go 3 times a week. It is common to have one bowel movement every day. But it’s OK to go a few days without one as long as you feel fine. If you have fewer than three bowel movements per week, you are now considered to be constipated. Constipation is considered to be severe if a person has less than one bowel movement per week. If needed, and only if approved by your health care provider, one may take the laxative pill Dulcolax 5 mg. (generic name is Bisacodyl, 5 mg.) one or two tablets once or twice a day.

Fiber and Fluids — My specific recommendations for the treatment of constipation include drinking enough fluid to avoid dehydration, and also being sure to get enough daily dietary fiber in one’s diet. If a person is not on any medical fluid restriction, I recommend a minimum of 60 ounces of fluid per day and about 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber every day. Remember my 60-60 rule. Our human body is about 60 percent water and all need about 60 ounces of fluid per day, or more. With the proper amount of fiber and fluids in one’s diet, constipation can often be very effectively treated.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Jim Surrell is the author of “The ABC’s For Success In All We Do” and the “SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet” books. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by email at