Can dietary supplements or vitamins help Parkinson's disease (PD) symptoms or slow disease progression? So far, no research studies have proven that an over-the-counter medication can treat Parkinson's, but people are understandably eager to try something that might. Always talk with your personal physician before adding any supplement to your regimen.
Here we discuss what we know about one supplement that has been the subject of recent attention in the Parkinson's community. Early work on thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, suggests a theoretical benefit in PD, but definitive evidence is lacking.
What is thiamine?
Thiamine helps cells use glucose for energy. Many foods, such as enriched whole grains, meats, nuts and beans, as well as over-the-counter dietary supplements contain thiamine.
Who has low thiamine?
People with alcohol dependence, gastrointestinal disease, HIV/AIDS, poor diet or other factors may have low thiamine levels. A blood or urine test can measure these levels. Symptoms of low thiamine vary and, depending on the severity, may include fatigue, memory loss or confusion, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, leg swelling and shortness of breath.
What is the research on thiamine and Parkinson's?
A few studies have found an association between low thiamine levels and Parkinson's disease, though studies had limitations. One hypothesis is that thiamine deficiency could increase brain cell stress, damage and loss. Two small, open-label clinical trials of a high-dose injectable thiamine showed improvement on patients' movement and certain non-movement symptoms. But the trials did not include a placebo group, so it is impossible to determine how much of the potential benefit may be from placebo effect.
Should people with Parkinson's take thiamine?
At this time, the scientific evidence is insufficient to recommend thiamine for Parkinson's. Thiamine appears generally safe and well tolerated. It is widely available in pill form over the counter, but the injectable type used in studies requires a doctor's prescription. If you're considering thiamine (or any other supplement or non-prescription medication), talk to your physician about the potential benefits and risks and possible drug interactions.
What is The Michael J. Fox Foundation's role in this type of research?
The Michael J. Fox Foundation is committed to advancing improved treatments for Parkinson's symptoms, as well as therapies that could potentially slow or stop disease progression. We have funded trials of vitamins and other dietary supplements in the past and are constantly evaluating new therapeutic approaches. We currently are reviewing applications to a funding program investigating lifestyle factors or complementary treatments that may slow Parkinson's progression.
The Foundation also collects information on patients' use of vitamins, supplements and repurposed (or "off-label") medications through Fox Insight, our online clinical study. This data provides actionable insights for Parkinson's researchers and drug developers.