Plasmalogens and Parkinson's disease

May 09, 2021

Plasmalogens and Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's is the number two horrible neurological disease plaguing the elderly and has been increasing as the population ages. It is classically known as a loss of dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra, a tiny little nucleus at the base of the brain. Its symptoms include a mask-like face, rigid walking and movements, a pill-rolling tremor, and eventually cognitive decline. It's miserable.

Giving dopamine back as a medication, or stimulating more release of dopamine helps for a while, but the real problem is the inexorable depletion of those precious few remaining cells in the substantia nigra.

In the 1980s, a couple of California folks were trying to make designer heroine. They stumbled onto a drug called MPTP, which unfortunately gave them Parkinson's in a real fast sort of way. The drug, MPTP, turned out to be a perfect model for creating Parkinson's in lab animals. Over the years researchers have been able to drill down to the exact chemical steps that happen. The MPTP is a poison to your mitochondria all over your body. But it is preferentially taken up by dopamine neurons, so they get a super boost of it, and it kills their mitochondria off. The dopamine-producing cells die and the lab mice get Parkinson's in a dose-dependent fashion. But wait, there's more. It turns out the MPTP has been a perfect study drug to elucidate the electron transport chain, which MPTP poisons in Complex A. That's where you are meant to turn NADPH (a source of free radicals) to NAD+, safe. With MPTP around, NADPH backs up and you make boatloads of free oxygen species, which your cells desperately try to get rid of by making peroxide. (If you want to be a biochemistry snob, you can quote that the NOX enzyme on the surface of your cell is what captures that extra NADHP and spits out the peroxide outside the cell.) Peroxide in your blood activates glia cells and those activated glia turn into cookie monsters and gobble up the injured cells.

Ok, what's the big deal? The big deal is that is the precise mechanism for cell death in the brain from all causes that make too many reactive oxygen species for all sorts of reasons, and which is fixed by having more plasmalogens. Like Alzheimer's. Like ALS. What did I just say? Fixed by more plasmalogens. Plasmalogens are the membrane lipids with a "vinyl ether bond" that gobbles up peroxide and neutralizes it. It is the backup protection for overloads of reactive oxygen species. It is the reservoir of protection that allows you to have a short-term bump in reactive oxygen species, and recover. And when you run out of that reserve pool, you are more vulnerable to getting Alzheimer's and ALS if you don't get Parkinson's.

So, just what do we know about plasmalogen blood levels in folks with Parkinson's? From Dr. Goodenowe's study at Rush in Chicago, we know that blood plasmalogen levels are incredibly predictive. Healthy blood levels and Parkinson's is a rare disease. Low levels and risk skyrockets. Everyone with Parkinson's has lower levels. Very similar to Alzheimer's and ALS.

Ok, what are the plasmalogen's doing? Well, Goodenowe has now completed multiple lab mice studies of MPTP. If you give extra doses of Plasmalogens to the mice before they get exposed to MPTP, they never get the expected Parkinson's. If you give the MPTP and wait 5 days, they still don't get it, or at least much less.

Alright, one final study. Let's take monkeys that have been given MPTP and had Parkinson's induced. They are now down the road with bona fide Parkinson's, on L-dopa, and being successfully treated. Just like with humans they are beginning to get the typical dyskinesias of long-term L-dopa therapy. Give the monkey's plasmalogen replacement therapy and guess what happens? Some 30-50% reduction in the dyskinesias. This means the plasmalogens are acting beyond just being protective by sucking up peroxide. They are making the remaining neurons function better because they play a role in the synaptic membrane of helping the packets of dopamine to be released faster and better. That's a neuroactive function in itself.

Where are we in human Plasmalogen research? It's just emerging. A study from Japan showed improvement in Parkinson's symptoms when given oral plasmalogens derived from scallops. Their dose was 1 mg a day, which is hard to reconcile, being such a low dose.

But everything is lined up. First and most important, plasmalogens are fats that are just food. They are not toxic in any way. You just have to get a form of them that gets into the body. The normal, animal-based plasmalogens, are digested in your stomach. Almost 100%. Goodenowe has invented a product that delivers a bio-active template that gets into your body, allowing you to make the right stuff.

www.What will Work for me. Again, we are seeing how plasmalogens play roles in the core functions of our neurological systems. The point is not to treat the disease necessarily, but to catch people as soon as they might be at risk and normalize levels so that they aren't prone to the subsequent risk. I now know that plasmalogens play many, unique and critical roles: they are your body's main depository for omega-3 fatty acids, they help your hormonal vesicles merge rapidly by shape-changing, they neutralize hydrogen peroxide and finally, they are the most liquid of membranes, allowing proteins embedded within them to move rapidly and smoothly. Pretty impressive. We are down to the very core of how our bodies work. This is "membrane science", a new and critical field of inquiry that undergirds just about every aspect of our medical spectrum. Interesting.

References: Parkinson's Disease, Br J Pharm, Behavioral Brain Research, Jr of Neuroinflammation, Free Rad Biol Med, Free Rad Biol Med, Aging Research Reviews,

Pop Quiz

1. If I have low blood plasmalogens, what happens to my risk for Parkinson's? Answer: Much higher.

2. If I have Parkinson's, what happens when I raise my plasmalogens with supplements? Answer: Early results show improvement

3. What is happening in my brain cells if I take Plasmalogens? Answer: they are the lipids that can shape change, a critical feature for membrane fusion: a fancy term for what it takes to put neurotransmitters into the synaptic junction.

4. Why do my plasmalogens get low? Answer: Likely an environment of elevated oxidizing compounds. Some folks must be more vulnerable. Research pending.

5. Is there any risk to taking plasmalogen supplements? Answer: Nope. No more risk than eating a teaspoon of olive oil. It's food.