Last night's heart-wrenching story of Hollywood star Michael J Fox's quest to find a cure for Parkinson's Disease, has thrust the debilitating illness back into the spotlight.
"My hand would shake. I was developing these symptoms and went to the neurologist and he diagnosed me -- I was 29 years old and I didn't see it coming", Michael said.
Neither did John Coleman, and the symptoms he did have, he ignored -- until one day. "I just slowly collapsed, could not speak coherently, had very significant tremor", John said.
At age 52 John was diagnosed with Stage 4 Parkinson's Disease -- the final stage is Stage 5 which means nursing home care. But now17 years later, John is living an active, healthy life. His crippling symptoms are under control, his frozen face, drooling, tremors and falls have all gone. "The more I was able to meditate, the more I was able to find those little moments of stillness. Then the longer periods of wellness I discovered", John said.
It took three years. John shunned medication and credits meditation, exercise and an antioxidant rich, Mediterranean style diet for his remarkable improvement. "Avocado, fish, nuts and seeds; lots of vegetables of course, green vegetables, orange vegetables, white, yellow -- all colours of vegetables", he added.
"There is recent evidence emerging that the Mediterranean diet can be helpful in terms of reducing your risk of Parkinson's Disease and may also reduce the severity of Parkinson's Disease, if you get it" said Dr Andrew Evans, Director of the Movement Disorder Service at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
"At this stage we're not sure what it is about a healthy diet that can protect against neuro-degeneration, but it certainly places extra stress on the brain in terms of clearing I guess saturated fats. A bad diet has high saturated fat, it might have high sugar, it has fewer antioxidants, so it places extra stress on the brain over the long term", Dr Evans said.
"It's been nearly 200 years since Parkinson's was identified and research has been going on for most of that time, certainly in the last 20 years. But we are no closer to finding a cause and without finding a cause, we can't find a cure", said Parkinson's Australia CEO, Daryl Smeeton.
Daryl says Parkinson's is on the increase, growing at 4% a year with 80% of sufferers aged over 65.
He says he does not think a Mediterranean diet does help prevent the risk of the disease, and says, "I don't think there is any evidence to support it. I do know that diet is a very important part of your general health and certainly that is something everyone should encourage, but I don't know of any evidence it stops Parkinson's".
While there's no proven evidence, recent research from Europe found the Mediterranean diet could halve the risk of the disorder developing. "It is through observation of Mediterranean populations and their diet that we've learnt this is associated with longevity, lower cancer risk, lower heart disease and improved brain function", Dr Evans said.
21 years after his diagnosis, Michael J Fox's foundation has provided $45 million for a ground breaking study. The 'Back to the Future' star is convinced he will find a cure. "We're going to get it done because we're looking under every rock and up every tree", he said.
For further information:
John Coleman, Parkinson's survivor and Naturopath: www.returntostillness.com.au
Michael J. Fox's foundation: www.teamfox.org
And Parkinson's Australia: www.parkinsons.org.au