Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder in the United States, affecting at least 500,000 people. It’s a progressive disease, but can be managed with treatment. For now, the condition is diagnosed by symptoms rather than specific lab tests.

By the time a formal diagnosis is made, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) notes that the disease has usually progressed to a point where people have difficulty controlling bodily movements.

That’s why it’s important to know whether it’s possible to prevent this disease.

Currently, there is no therapy or treatment that can slow the progression of Parkinson’s or effectively relieve advanced symptoms, according to the NINDS.

By the time classic motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease show up, a significant loss of brain cells and function have already occurred. Scientists are investigating ways to detect early signs of the disease, to potentially stop or slow the progression.

Finding biomarkers

Researchers aim to learn more about biomarkers of the early stages of the disease. Finding reliable biological identifiers might help doctors diagnose and treat Parkinson’s earlier. Identifying these signs would give them more time to try therapeutic treatments before the disease has progressed.

For example, research indicates that it may be useful to study the activity of a neuronal protein in the brain known as α-synuclein, or alpha-synyclein.

A 2019 study noted that measurements of α-synuclein have shown “encouraging preliminary results” with regard to potential early diagnosis. Another 2019 study also examined how α-synuclein accumulates in the brains of people suspected of having Parkinson’s disease.This information could be used to develop therapies, perhaps antibody therapy, to prevent that accumulation from happening.

Environmental and genetic factors

Scientists are also working to learn more about environmental factors and genetic factors that might contribute to the risk of developing Parkinson’s. One recent genetic research breakthrough is the development of a DNA chip called NeuroX, which could potentially determine a person’s risk, but more research is needed.

Parkinson’s disease is the result of complicated “combination of interconnected events,” as one 2016 study described it. Since aging is the most common risk factor, future treatments may need to take degeneration of certain neurons into account.

While it’s not yet known if there are surefire ways to prevent Parkinson’s disease, there are a few things experts recommend.

For example, you might try incorporating physical activity into your routine and eating a healthy and balanced diet for a variety of health reasons. So far, research into nutritional supplements is lacking. However, if you have specific dietary needs, talk to your doctor to see if supplementation is appropriate.

Could CBD oil help? It’s possible, but we don’t know for sure yet. Some research, including a 2018 review of studies, suggest that cannabidiol (CBD) might help prevent Parkinson’s disease. However, the studies are mostly animal studies and there is not yet a body of research involving humans and CBD.

Some experts suggest that you may be able to delay some of the effects of Parkinson’s disease through regular physical activity. Ideally this would include a combination of exercise that includes:

  • aerobic activity
  • strength training
  • balance training
  • functional activities

The NINDS has funded a number of studies to learn more about the impact of exercise, including whether exercise might help people delay the need for medication.

There are a variety of options for treating and managing Parkinson’s symptoms, most of which involve medications that address the brain’s low levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that affects movement, and Parkinson’s causes your brain to lose neurons that produce this chemical.

Medication options

Medications that address this include levodopa, or levodopa combined with carbidopa. Or your doctor might prescribe a dopamine agonist, which mimics the action of dopamine in your brain. Other drugs used to treat Parkinson’s include:

  • MAO-B inhibitors
  • Catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors
  • Anticholinergic medications,
  • Adenosine A2A receptor antagonists
  • Amantadine

Deep brain stimulation

Another possible treatment option is deep brain stimulation (DBS). DBS was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1997. Many people have found that this treatment, which involves sending electrical impulses into the brain via tiny electrodes, helps control tremors once treatment with levodopa is no longer effective.

A small 2018 study found that DBS seemed to slow the progression of tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease. It also found that DBS could be used effectively in people with an earlier disease stage than previously thought.

Future treatments

Scientists hope that more treatments may become available in the future, as they learn more about which drug may or may not be effective at slowing or halting the progression of the disease.

For example, a randomized, double-blind trial of 62 patients found that people with Parkinson’s who took a drug usually used to treat diabetes seemed to stop the progression of the Parkinson’s symptoms. They received weekly injections of exenatide for 48 weeks.

It was a relatively small study, and longer-term trials are needed, according to the researchers. A larger study involving more patients is currently ongoing.

If you are already living with Parkinson’s disease, here are some tips to manage it:

  • Exercise your brain. Read, work on crossword puzzle, do Sudoku, or engage in other activities that use your brain.
  • Get moving. If you feel comfortable walking, swimming, or riding an exercise bike, go for it—and try to do it on a regular basis.
  • Try tai chi. We think of tai chi as a mind-body exercise, and it is, but it also has roots as a martial art in China. A 2012 study found that practicing tai chi helped people with moderate Parkinson’s disease maintain stability and balance. And a 2014 study found that tai chi can help people reduce their risk of falling. It incorporates a flowing series of coordinated movements to help you maintain flexibility, strength and balance, and it can be easily adapted to meet your abilities.
  • Practice yoga. You don’t have to perform headstands or other physically challenging poses to get significant benefits from practicing yoga. You can improve your balance, mobility, flexibility, and strength with a form that’s adapted for you.
  • Find a support group. Whether you prefer an online support group or a group that meets in person, a support group can be an invaluable resource for helping you live with Parkinson’s disease.

There are medications that can help treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and scientists are currently conducting research that could result in new treatment and therapies.

For example, you might one day have the option to take a medication used to treat prostate gland enlargement if you’re at risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.

Promising new research

The results of a study published in early 2021 suggest that certain medications often used to treat enlarged prostates are associated with a decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Specifically, the researchers compared terazosin, doxazosin, and alfuzosin, which enhance energy metabolism, to tamsulosin, which is also used to treat benign enlarged prostates. They found that the latter did not seem to have the same effect.

The findings built on their previous research, which suggested that the use of terazosin, doxazosin, and alfuzosin was associated with “slower progression and fewer complications in people with Parkinson’s disease.”

Researchers are also looking into the potential of stem cells to create new neurons to produce dopamine. They are also researching a protein called glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor, or GDNF, to potentially slow the progression of Parkinson’s.

Ongoing research into a gene called LRRK2 or LARK2 — and how it may interact with other genes related to Parkinson’s disease — is also promising, as it may shed light on how the disease progresses and how it might be halted.

For now, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be managed with medication and potentially deep brain stimulation. But research is underway to look for earlier methods of detection, as well as better treatments. Eventually, we might even have a way to prevent it from developing in the first place.