Parkinson's Disease Drugs Trigger Destructive Behaviors

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: Parkinson's disease, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Unfortunately, there's no cure for the serious motor system disorder Parkinson's Disease (PD) and now a new study shows some current treatments may have surprising and potentially life-wrecking side effects. The Mayo Clinic has just reported that one in six patients receiving therapeutic doses of certain drugs for PD develops potentially destructive behaviors, notably compulsive gambling or hypersexuality, they never experienced before taking the medications.

This class of drugs, called dopamine agonists, includes pramipexole and ropinirole -- and they are also used, in lower doses, to commonly treat restless legs syndrome.

The study, just published in the April issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, grew out of findings from a series of two previous Mayo case series published in 2005 that first reported an apparent link between dopamine agonist medications and compulsive gambling or hypersexuality. How could drugs have these effects? In a statement to the media, the Mayo scientists explained the meds uniquely stimulate parts of the brain's limbic system which are thought to be fundamental to behaviors involving emotions, rewards and hedonism (including promiscuous sexuality).

"The 2005 case series alerted us that something bad was happening to some unfortunate people. This study was done to assess the likelihood that this effect would happen to the average Parkinson's patient treated with these agents," J. Michael Bostwick, M.D., the Mayo Clinic psychiatrist who headed the new research, said in the media statement.

For their study, the scientists analyzed the medical records of patients with PD who lived in counties surrounding Rochester, Minn., and who were treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester between 2004 and 2006. The group included 267 patients, 66 of whom were taking dopamine agonists for PD. Out of these 66, 38 were taking the drugs in high enough doses that were expected to be at least minimally beneficial.

The results were definitive. Seven patients taking dopamine agonists in these therapeutic doses experienced out-of-the-blue compulsive gambling or hypersexuality. However, not one of the other Parkinson's disease patients developed these habits, including the patients on low dose dopamine agonists or the others patients not taking these drugs.

"It is crucial for clinicians prescribing dopamine agonists to apprise patients as well as their spouses or partners about this potential side effect. The onset can be insidious and overlooked until life-altering problems develop," said J. Eric Ahlskog, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic neurologist who co-authored and treated many of the patients in the 2005 study. "It also is worth noting that the affected patients were all taking therapeutic doses. Very low doses, such as those used to treat restless legs syndrome, carry much less risk."

Actor Michael J. Fox is one of about 1,500,000 Americans afflicted with PD, according to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) statistics. PD involves the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells and results in trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; bradykinesia, or slowness of movement; and impaired balance and coordination. No one knows what causes the disease but toxins, including manganese, carbon monoxide and pesticides are suspects.

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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