A recent study has shown that exercise may help protect brain cells that are normally damaged or destroyed by Parkinson's disease.
In people with Parkinson's, brain cells that contain dopamine progressively die until only a small percentage remains. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is essential in muscle control. The loss of dopamine results in typical symptoms of Parkinson's: stooped posture, limb rigidity, slow movements and uncontrollable tremors.
Exercise promotes survival
In the study, rats were forced to exercise for seven days before they were give a toxin designed to induce Parkinson's disease. Another group of rats that did no exercise also received the toxin. In the rats that were exercised, there was significantly less death of dopamine-containing brain cells than in the rats that hadn't been exercised.
Researchers indicated that exercise stimulates production of key proteins important for survival of neurons. These proteins, called neurotrophic factors, protect neurons and promote their survival. Researchers found that exercise increases the production of one particular neurotrophic factor called glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) by 40%. GDNF—and probably other factors as well—may help offset the cell's vulnerability to the effects of oxidative stress from free radical molecules that are produced by toxins.
The study was presented Oct. 24 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.