Generally, people do not think of allergic reaction and Parkinson’s Disease in the same conversation. Allergic reaction to foods happens when the body misidentifies the food as a dangerous substance and the immune system overreacts, producing excess histamine. Parkinson’s Disease is a movement disorder caused by degeneration of neurons, specifically dopamine, in the brain. The two medical issues couldn’t seem more unrelated. However, researchers have discovered a relationship between histamine production in allergic reaction and reduced dopamine function in Parkinson’s; when histamine levels are high, dopamine response is low.
Allergic Reaction Versus Parkinson’s Disease
Allergic reaction is tied to the immune system. It responds when otherwise safe substances enter the body but are incorrectly identified as harmful “foreign bodies.” The immune system’s job is to protect us from illness, including viruses, bacteria, infection and disease. When the immune system overreacts, a large amount of histamine is released in an attempt to protect our body from attack. Histamine is a key defender against “foreign bodies” that could cause us harm. It fights infection and disease but also causes inflammation, which creates many symptoms of allergy including shortness of breath, itchiness, swelling and hives.
Dopamine is a transmitter neuron that sends signals to other neurons that control pleasure, sensation and movement. It’s found in large concentrations in the substantia nigra, in the brain. In Parkinson’s Disease, dopamine response is very low. Motor function symptoms of Parkinson’s tend to show up when 60-80 percent of the cells that produce dopamine are damaged or otherwise not producing sufficient levels dopamine. The main early symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease include stiff muscles, slow movements, tremors (uncontrolled shaking or trembling) and trouble with walking and balance. Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s include congested nasal passages, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and dermatitis (skin problems). Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s and symptoms of allergy can be very similar.
The Histamine and Dopamine Relationship
Scientists have been studying the relationships between allergic reaction, histamine release, dopamine restriction and Parkinson’s Disease. In addition to inflammatory response, histamine also plays a role in brain function and can affect the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine. Studies have shown that a rise in histamine levels corresponds with a decrease in dopamine response. And medications that restrict histamine production increase dopamine response. Additionally, allergic reaction leads to an increase in histamine production and a simultaneous drop in dopamine levels, which are two major issues in Parkinson’s’ Disease—high histamine and low dopamine.
With this information, many people have turned to changes in their diets to help fight inflammation and control the symptoms of Parkinson’s. For those with allergies, the implication is that being diligent to avoid allergens that have even a mild effect can be very helpful in preventing or mitigating Parkinson’s symptoms.
While dietary restriction can’t cure Parkinson’s, researchers have seen a reduction in Parkinson’s symptoms when the diet is restricted to limit foods that cause an inflammatory response.
Initial results are promising. People who restrict inflammation-causing foods and increase anti-inflammatory foods have seen a decrease in Parkinson’s symptoms. And since revised diets generally parallel conventional wisdom in food choices—“unhealthy foods” such as sodas, fried foods, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and fats like lard and margarine are avoided, and “healthy foods” like fruits, vegetables, whole foods and foods that are naturally high in anti-oxidants and polyphenols are increased—an overall sense of health and well-being is also improved with the dietary change.
As always, be sure to consult your doctor before making any dietary changes. But be armed with questions that might help you both figure out what course might best help your individual situation.
While Parkinson’s Disease is not caused by allergies, there is evidence to suggest that allergic reaction can complicate Parkinson’s symptoms. If you have food allergies and a neurological condition, it might help to talk with your doctor about how changes in your diet might help relieve symptoms of both issues.
Do you or someone you know have both allergies and a neurological condition? Do you have experiences with allergies affecting a neurological condition? Have dietary restrictions helped? Share your thoughts and experiences below.