SAO PAULO, BRAZIL. One of the key features of Parkinson's disease (PD) is loss of motor control, that is, difficulty in walking and moving muscles as instructed by the brain; even turning over in bed can become increasingly difficult as PD progresses. The degree of motor function in a PD patient is often evaluated using the Hoehn and Yahr scale where 0% means that the patient requires assistance just to stand up while 100% means that the patient has full, normal motor control.
Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo now report that supplementing with riboflavin (vitamin B2) and avoiding all red meat can markedly improve motor function in PD patients. Their study involved 31 PD patients and 10 dementia patients with no PD symptoms. Blood analysis showed that all 31 PD patients were deficient in riboflavin while only 3 of the 10 dementia patients exhibited a deficiency. The researchers also observed that the intake of red meat among the PD patients (2044 grams/week) was almost 3 times higher than that of 19 healthy random controls matched for age and similar social and cultural backgrounds (789 grams/week).
Other research has shown that a low riboflavin status is found in about 10-15% of the population and is associated with low activities of two important enzymes, erythrocyte glutathione reductase (EGR) and pyridoxin(pyridoxamine)-phosphate oxidase. Low EGR activity may be associated with the glutathione depletion and impaired antioxidant defense observed in PD patients even before their disease becomes clinically evident. Glutathione depletion would be particularly deleterious if accompanied by a high heme iron intake from red meat.
Based on the above theoretical considerations the researchers decided to supplement the PD patients with 30 mg of riboflavin every 8 hours while at the same time removing all red meat from their diet. The results were quite astounding. After just 3 months motor function had improved markedly and after 6 months the average motor capacity (Hoehn and Yahr scale) had increased from 44% to 71%. The treated patients also reported better sleep at night, improved reasoning, higher motivation, and reduced depression after as little as 2 weeks of treatment. Some very disabled patients were able to change body positions in bed as early as on the third day of treatment.
The riboflavin level in the treated patients increased from 106 ng/mL prior to treatment to 179 ng/mL after 1
month. Withholding riboflavin supplementation for a few days did not reverse the observed improvements
indicating that some beneficial permanent changes had occurred due to the supplementation and total
avoidance of red meat. The researchers conclude that riboflavin supplementation and red meat avoidance
may be highly effective in halting and even reversing the progression of Parkinson's disease.
Editor's comment: This is clearly a highly significant finding and one that could be applied to PD patients with very little risk as no significant side effects were observed during the trial.