The Parkinson's risk factor lurking in your garden

It's a terrifying and devastating disease. But, ironically, as frightening as Parkinson's is, it typically starts with little more than a mere whimper. In fact, the earliest signs of this neurological disease are often so minor they're easy to miss. And if they ARE noticed they can mistakenly be dismissed as simple signs of aging rather than Parkinson’s risk factors.

A tiny tremor in a finger... or a tingling in a toe... could be the first sign of trouble. But way too soon your quality of life can take a beating, as those early Parkinson's risk factors give way to more serious ones, like trouble walking, talking, and reading.

Tremors in your hands, arms, and legs can turn everyday tasks into nightmares. Stiff muscles and weakness can leave you dependent on others....one of the most trying aspects of the disease.

Eventually you could become bedridden... or worse.

Although statistics will tell you that as many as a million American's are living with Parkinson's... and an estimated seven to 10 million are worldwide... those numbers are likely laughably low, since thousands of people go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed every year.

And while genetic factors may account for some cases, scientists have, frankly, been baffled when it comes to the cause of the disease for the majority of sufferers. Well, that is until some researchers in Italy did some digging recently and uncovered a link between pesticides and Parkinson's risk factors. (You know, the "if it was a snake it would have bitten you" kind of link.)

Of course, had they been Guide to Good Health readers like you they might have caught on much faster, since I've been talking about this association for years now. In fact, just a couple of months ago I reminded readers of the growing link between pesticides and a variety of chronic diseases including Alzheimer's, diabetes, allergies, and, of course, Parkinson's.

(In that same issue I shared a hint about one small change you can make at the grocery store that could make a HUGE difference in your risk level. If you missed it, click here to catch up.)

Creepy chemicals raise risk up to 80 percent

But back to that Italian study. It was actually an analysis of 104 previous studies examining the role of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and solvents in Parkinson's risk factors.

After crunching all the numbers, the team found that people exposed to bug and weed killers or solvents had an astonishing 33 to 80 percent higher risk of developing the disease than people who were never exposed to the nasty chemicals.

And those who had come into contact with some of the ugly herbicides and fungicides I've warned you about before... paraquat, maneb, and mancozed... had around a two-fold increase in risk of ending up with the devastating disease.

A link has already been made in past studies between farming or country living and Parkinson's, and the researchers confirmed that, too. And of course, if you are living or working in an area with a lot of farms, you're being exposed to significantly more of these chemicals than the average Joe.

But don't get comfortable if you're a city slicker or a suburban soul yet, because you're certainly not off the hook. Some of these chemicals could still be used in yards and gardens near you, you may be exposed to them at work, and the produce you pick up at the supermarket could be swimming in them too.

Heck, you yourself might be spraying your own garden and driveway with Roundup weed and grass killer (glyphosate). It seems like just about everyone is these days.

Four steps to reducing Parkinson's risk

That's why my Four Steps to a Parkinson's-Free Life plan can come in handy. The first one is obvious, and I hinted at it earlier. Step number one is to replace the fruits and veggies in your shopping cart with organic versions. This one small change could make a huge impact on your risk level.

Now I know that buying organic produce can cost more than the run-of-the-mill stuff. I suggest you try your local farmer's market for in-season affordable small-farm replacements. And if you're still finding it a stretch, check out the Dirty Dozen list compiled by our friends over at the Environmental Working Group. It can help you figure out which fruits and veggies are likely to be the most contaminated.

Step number two is to bump up your vitamin B6 levels. It's easy to become deficient in B6, and having low levels might leave you vulnerable to Parkinson's. In fact, at least two solid studies connect a deficiency of this important vitamin to the disease. Low levels of it may increase your risk by up to 50 percent, according to one Japanese study. And another study found that those with the highest levels were 54 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's than those with the lowest levels.

You can get more B6 in your diet by eating bananas, bell peppers, garlic, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes (with the skins on), meat, and fish. And a B-complex supplement can also help round out your levels.

Step number three is to get more vitamin D. The multi-talented sunshine vitamin has been linked with  lower Parkinson's risk factors. In one study participants with the highest D levels had a stunning 68 percent lower risk of developing the disease than those with the lowest levels.

Stepping out into the sunshine is the easiest way to raise your D levels, but some people might still need to supplement. I generally recommend 5,000 IU of vitamin D daily. A doctor can measure your levels and help you decide what dose is best for you

And step number four, and the final step, is one you're sure to enjoy. Are you ready for this? Eat more berries! Yup, that really is it. You see, phytonutrient-packed berries, as I've explained before, are like tiny little toxin mops. They can literally help protect your brain. And while you're at it, stock up on peppers and tomatoes. These members of the Solanaceae family have been linked with lowering your risk too.

There are no guarantees in life, but if you follow these four simple steps you could end up drastically reducing your Parkinson's disease risk factors. And considering the devastating alternative, I'd say that it's well worth the effort, wouldn't you agree?