Marla Ahlgrimm: Parkinson’s disease is the result of cell degeneration in the brain, which short-circuits control centers that direct movement.
Q: What are the symptoms?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Parkinson’s symptoms can include tremors or shaking, rigidity or stiffness, difficulty with balance and slowed movement.
Q: What causes the cell degeneration?
Marla Ahlgrimm: It is not known why cells deteriorate.
Q: Is Parkinson’s a common ailment?
Marla Ahlgrimm: It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, after Alzheimer’s. Approximately 1.5 million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease.
Q: What age group does it affect?
Marla Ahlgrimm: The condition usually presents itself after the age of 60, although approximately 15 percent of people diagnosed are under the age of 60.
Q: Who is most susceptible to the disorder, men or women?
Marla Ahlgrimm: More men suffer from Parkinson’s disease than women. Evidence suggests that estrogen may offer some protection against this disorder.
Q: How was that correlation made?
Marla Ahlgrimm: A study conducted at the Mayo Clinic found that women who undergo hysterectomies are at a three times increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease because of estrogen loss.
Q: Did a hysterectomy have an effect on a woman’s risk factor?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Women who progressed through menopause naturally and then received estrogen therapy afterward had a 50 percent reduced risk of developing the disease.
Q: Does this mean that women should not have hysterectomies?
Marla Ahlgrimm: There was not enough evidence provided by the study to justify making it a major consideration in a woman’s decision about physician-recommended hysterectomy.
Q: When will it become an accepted part of hysterectomy evaluations?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Further investigation is needed on the role of estrogen in preventing Parkinson’s disease before it will be deemed reliable enough to be a determining factor in any decisions about hysterectomies.
Q: Hysterectomies aside, where does estrogen fit in the natural progression of a woman’s reproductive years?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Studies have shown that women who have more years of fertility—the time from first menstruation to menopause—have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Q: Is there a specific time range associated with those beneficial reproductive years?
Marla Ahlgrimm: A recent study found that women who had a fertile lifespan of more than 39 years had an approximately 25 percent less risk of developing Parkinson’s compared to those women whose fertile time was shorter than 33 years.
Q: Did pregnancy have any effect on test results?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Data revealed that women who had four or more pregnancies were about 20 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than women who had three or fewer pregnancies.
Q: Is there an explanation for that discrepancy?
Marla Ahlgrimm: One explanation is that the postpartum phase subtracts from a woman’s total fertile lifespan because, typically, estrogen levels are lower during that time.
Q: Does this mean that postmenopausal women should take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for the rest of their lives?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Studies found that women who were taking HRT did not have a lower risk for Parkinson’s, so data does not support exogenous hormone treatment solely to prevent Parkinson’s.
Q: If HRT is a good thing, what would it hurt to continue taking it anyway?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Although helpful in many ways, HRT has been shown to increase a person’s risk for both dementia and stroke.
Q: What is the final verdict for HRT—is it good or bad for the brain?
Marla Ahlgrimm: More research into estrogen’s effects on the brain is required. A patient and doctor should discuss the pros and cons of HRT before proceeding with treatment.
Q: So, HRT or estrogen replacement is not a cure for Parkinson’s disease?
Marla Ahlgrimm: There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, although medications or surgery can ease symptoms of the disease.