How Parkinson’s patients report reducing or eliminating their motor symptoms
The first story I heard of someone fully recovering from Parkinson’s disease was that of Howard Shifke. He describes how he recovered in his book Fighting Parkinson’s…and Winning—an inspiring book that I recommend to all.
In September 2009, while working at his computer, Howard Shifke felt his entire body shaking on the inside. Howard had watched his mother suffer from Parkinson’s for 24 years, and he immediately went into a state of denial that he could possibly have the same condition. But he began to realize that symptoms had been gradually coming on for some time: hunched posture, worsening balance, a shuffling gait, muscle pain and stiffness, and fatigue, among others.
Six weeks later he visited a neurologist and got a formal diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Howard went into another state of denial—denial that his condition was incurable. He chose not to take any Parkinson’s medications due to the side effects, and immediately created a plan to recover from Parkinson’s drug-free. His approach included daily practice of meditation, medical Qigong, and switching to a vegetarian diet.
As the months went on, Howard found that his adrenaline-driven, judgmental, critical mind was holding him back from making progress. As he began to shift his habitual thought patterns into ones of acceptance, forgiveness, compassion, and love, he began to feel noticeable improvements in his symptoms.
On June 9th, 2010, nine months after Howard noticed his internal tremors, his symptoms suddenly decreased by 50%. Three days later, he awoke to find his symptoms completely gone. Ten years later, he is still symptom-free.
Howard now coaches people with Parkinson’s to help them reduce their symptoms and in some cases become symptom-free. You can read the stories of Tony C., Helen Gill, Marie, Pratima, and Betty M.—all of whom were diagnosed with Parkinson’s and used Howard’s Parkinson’s Recipe for Recovery® to become symptom-free. You can reach Howard through his website: https://www.fightingparkinsonsdrugfree.com
When I first read how Howard’s symptoms went away quite suddenly, I wondered what the scientific explanation could be. As I learned more about the progression of Parkinson’s and how motor symptoms appear at a critical threshold of dopamine production/neuron loss (estimated to be between 30% and 60%), it made sense. When people are able to boost their dopamine levels/number of neurons back up to that critical threshold, it is possible that motor symptoms may disappear just as suddenly as they started.
In 2016, doctors published a case report of a 78-year-old man’s remission of Parkinson’s symptoms, and cited meditation as a probable factor in his improvement:
“We present the case of a 78-year-old male who, 16 years ago, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) by a neurologist. He initially presented with left-hand tremor, stooped posture, shuffling gait, and frequent falls, which eventually progressed to bilateral motor symptoms after 3 years. Since 2012, his symptoms and signs have almost completely remitted, and he has been off all pharmacotherapy for that time. The accuracy of the initial PD diagnosis is supported by an appropriate clinical presentation, history of positive response to Sinemet, and an abnormal SPECT DaT scan; thus this case suggests the possibility of remission of symptoms in some patients. We propose that the patient’s long history of meditation practice may have been one contributing factor of this improvement as meditation has been shown to release dopamine in the striatum.”
In his book The Brain’s Way of Healing, Norman Doidge describes how John Pepper consciously retrained his movements to overcome his foot drag and tremor. John was diagnosed with Parkinson’s more than 20 years ago, but first started getting symptoms almost 50 years ago. He decided to begin his recovery in 1998.
John first focused on his walking, gradually training himself to fully support his weight and use both sides equally as he walked. It took him a year to internalize all of the changes and begin to walk normally. Then he decided to take conscious control of his tremor. Now, you would never know by looking at him that he has Parkinson’s. He doesn’t have a shuffling gait, he swings his arms when he walks, and has no visible tremor. He does not appear rigid, is able to initiate new movements fairly quickly, and has a good sense of balance. John has been off Parkinson’s medications for nine years.
In Pioneers of Recovery by Dr. Robert Rodgers, Bianca Mollé describes how she completely eliminated her motor symptoms using Qigong. When Bianca first began practicing Qigong, she immediately felt “one layer of pain strip away…there were many layers beneath that so it was a gradual process.” Soon she started forgetting to take her medication, because she wasn’t feeling tight and stiff. Her tremor was the last symptom to go away.
One year after Bianca began practicing Qigong, her neurologist declared her to be symptom-free. Two years later, the neurologist declared her to be Parkinson’s-free. Personally, she feels that she is still healing; she feels better and stronger every day. Bianca now offers online coaching for Parkinson’s patients and others with chronic illnesses, and you can watch her YouTube video about how she recovered.
Also in Pioneers of Recovery, Daniel Loney tells his story of how he has almost completely eliminated his motor symptoms using Tai Chi. When he was first diagnosed, he became very depressed, believing that there was no hope. His mother passed away shortly after his diagnosis, and he spent the next year mourning both her and his own life. Daniel’s condition went downhill rapidly; he almost quit practicing Tai Chi altogether, and he began to suffer from confusion, anxiety, and panic attacks.
Daniel began exploring alternative treatments, including Ayurvedic medicine, yoga, massage, acupuncture, and Chinese herbology. He felt that they all helped to some extent. Finally, he realized that in his Tai Chi practice he had everything he needed to heal himself.
Daniel left his stressful job and focused entirely on his recovery, putting an extreme emphasis on Tai Chi. His depression and mental symptoms went away almost immediately. As he regained strength, his tremor disappeared almost completely. He now feels very relaxed in his body; his stability, coordination, and strength have all improved; and he no longer stoops when he walks. It took about six months to a year for him to relieve his motor symptoms. Daniel now teaches Tai Chi for people with Parkinson’s in Israel. You can reach him through his website: https://www.taichiparkinsons.com
Parkinson’s patient Gord Summer has found vigorous exercise to be an essential part of his recovery. As he describes in Pioneers of Recovery:
”You start to get exhausted. Then you tap into your tenacity…I am always richly rewarded after pushing myself to the point of exhaustion. How? I walk the next day as if I were a young lad. Everything functions better…It makes stiffness take a backseat. It leaves Parkinson’s easily behind for an entire day. This has certainly been my personal experience.”
In Parkinson’s disease, motor symptoms are the external, observable signs of the changes that have occurred in the brain. When people are able to make lasting improvements in their motor symptoms, it is evidence of real changes they have made in their brains. Their stories are exciting and inspiring, and hopefully indicative of future changes in the approach to treating Parkinson’s disease.
In addition to mindfulness and mindful movement, there is a commonality among people who reduce or eliminate their motor symptoms: they believe they can get better. Expectation induces neurochemical changes in the brain. Researchers at the University of British Columbia demonstrated that simply believing their symptoms would improve triggered the release of dopamine in Parkinson’s patients. Further research replicated the results.
Likewise, studies like this, this, and this have shown that motor function in Parkinson’s patients improves when they receive placebo treatment or have the expectation that their symptoms will improve.
On the flip side, believing you will not improve deactivates the dopaminergic system. So in addition to stimulating neurogenesis and boosting dopamine with exercise and stress reduction, believing that you can improve is essential in your recovery.
Do you have Parkinson’s disease, and do you want to improve your motor symptoms? I recommend talking to Howard or Bianca, both of whom have eliminated their motor symptoms and now offer coaching. You may decide to follow their paths or create your own personalized prescription. And always remember: Your health is in your hands, and the more strongly you believe that you can improve and recover, the more likely it is that you will.