Understanding PD
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Living Well With PD
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Clinical Trials
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I was 27 years old, at the start of my medical career and expecting my first child, when the neurologist confirmed what the first clinician had suspected - the tremor I had been experiencing over the preceding year was Young Onset Parkinson's Disease. Life changed forever as I now faced a progressive neurological disease in my twenties. Soon after my own diagnosis, my father also received the same news. He too had Parkinson’s, yet there was no previous family history as far as we could recall. But still, genetics seemed to have loaded the gun but what exactly pulled the trigger?

More than likely, the exact reason I was challenged with this chronic illness at such a young age, will remain a mystery but I have my suspicions. I grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada - clean air, clean living. Or so I thought. In retrospect, we used a lot of pesticides on our lawn and in our gardens as was customary while I was growing up and our personal water supply came from a well. Since pesticide exposure has now been confirmed as a risk factor for Parkinson’s Disease, it makes me wonder about what toxins may have leeched into our drinking water, an exposure that may have “turned on” existing susceptible genes resulting in this disease.

As a physician I’ve seen first hand
the role that environment and genetics play in determining our health. In fact the cause of all illnesses can really be placed on a spectrum with environment and genetics contributing to varying degrees. Think of the link between our family history, diet and heart disease. What about the strong correlation between air pollution, allergens and asthma or low fiber intake and colon cancer? Not to mention the most obvious one of all - cigarette smoking and lung cancer. And these are just a few examples. Sure we all know the 98 year old relative who smoked like a chimney and died a happy man (great genes!) but those are rare exceptions. Likewise we also hear of the 45 year old jogger that passes away while running in the park. In general however, regardless of our genes, the more unhealthy our environment, the more unhealthy we are. Reality is that adverse environmental exposures very often pull that proverbial trigger in a gun that may or may not be loaded by genetics. And unlike our genetic makeup, we do have some measure of control over what we bring into our lives.

We are now living in a time where our knowledge in this area of medical science has grown as has the community of like-minded, health and environmentally conscious individuals People that desire to optimize our own health and that of those they love. After all when we have kids, we take on the commitment of providing them with healthy environments where they can grow and thrive. We all know about blocking the stairs when they are first learning to walk, making sure they are buckled up in the car, holding their hands as they cross the street. But how many of us are aware of the toxic exposure that our kids are subjected to on a daily basis from seemingly innocuous products? It seems like almost everyday we hear of new issues arising pertaining to the safety of our food, our household cleaners, the dishes that we use and the soap that we wash with. The most common of items pose new hazards that but a short time ago, were standard and widely accepted as unquestionably harmless and a part of daily life. But our trust in what is acceptable is actually exposing us to harm and those that are left in our charge, our children.

Instead we need to question, to investigate the products we bring into our home and into our lives. What are the effects, both short-term and long-term of these chemicals that are so commonly used in this society? Why is it that the incidence of pediatric cancer and asthma is increasing according to epidemiologic studies? And most importantly, what can we do as individuals and a community to reduce the risk for future generations?

I am reminded of this responsibility each time I look at the healthy beautiful daughters that we are privileged to be raising. I know that
we can’t shelter our children from all possible risk, and certainly cannot change their genetic code but we can at the very least provide them with the best possible environment to give them a solid foundation of health and knowledge to face their future...which I hope is a bright and successful one.
Suggested Reading
Genetics Testing in PD
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The degree of influence that our genes have varies of course depending on the disease…
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Are You At Risk For Parkinson's?
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What the millions of us affected with a chronic, disabling disease need is quite simple yet unbelievably complicated - better treatments and ultimately, a cure…
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