Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive nervous system condition which is diagnosed in more than 50,000 Americans each year. The disease affects movement and occurs when nerve cells in the brain don’t produce enough of the brain chemical dopamine.
Patients with Parkinson’s disease experience the death of neurons involved with the movement, which may lead to symptoms such as tremors, mobility challenges, slow movement, muscle rigidity, and speech changes. Cell death may be partially caused by a mutation for the protein α-synuclein (αS). While the mutated protein tends to cluster in neurons, ultimately causing their death, the normal protein resists clumping.
Researchers are now investigating whether estrogen could help to protect these movement neurons against clumping in people with PD.
Parkinson’s disease is most commonly seen in men and postmenopausal women, both of whom have low estrogen levels. While researchers still aren’t sure precisely how estrogen may act as a protective agent to safeguard movement neurons, studies have shown that brain-selective estrogen improved PD symptoms in mice. In the studies, the mice treated with estrogen therapy showed a higher rate of surviving neurons, as well as benefits in motor performance. It’s therefore suspected that estrogen treatment could be an effective therapy for delaying and reducing symptoms.
The exact causes of Parkinson’s disease are still being researched. While the condition can be genetic, most cases do not appear to run in families. As with many conditions, experts believe that environmental factors, including exposure to chemicals, could contribute to the disease. While there is still further research to be done both on the disease in general and the potential benefits of estrogen therapy, these most recent findings suggest that estrogen could hold promise as an emerging treatment for men and menopausal women with Parkinson’s disease.