There’s still no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, but a recent study gives some hope that it can be at least slowed down.
The treatment? Sexual activity.
The study, published by the European Journal of Neurology and conducted by a British and Italian research team over 24 months, examined the relationship between an active sexual life and the progression of early-stage PD.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects dopamine-producing neurons in the brain, causing a range of debilitating physical symptoms over time including tremors, loss of balance and motor skills, and rigidity.
Causes remain a mystery, and PD is expected to affect 1 million Americans by the year 2020, making the results of this study a welcome bit of positive news.
The study involved a subgroup of patients involved in the PRIAMO study, a large Italian multicenter observational study designed to assess the prevalence and evolution of non-motor skills (NMS) in patients affected by PD.
The average age of the participants was 57, and all were considered to be in the “early stages” of PD progression. They were tested for baseline motor skills, underwent a mental-health screening, and completed an extensive health interview during which they were asked a range of questions related to overall health.
Patients were also asked if they had sex and/or sexual dysfunction during the past year. Male respondents were twice as likely to be sexually active as the women in the study, but nearly half of the male respondents also complained of problems with erectile dysfunction.
According to researchers, sexual activity did drop off for many subjects during the following two years of the study, but they concluded that men who engaged in sexual activity displayed less severe motor disability and a better overall quality of life than those who did not.
Women, however, did not share in those results.
No clear reason is certain, although the study skewed heavily male (238 men versus 117 women) and PD symptoms can be different for men and women. Women also may not have felt as comfortable answering questions about their sexual activity and habits.
In addition, certain medications PD patients take to activate dopamine receptors in the brain can increase movement. These may account for the increased quality of life described in the study.
Still, doctors and patients alike should be encouraged by the findings, and hopefully this is a step in the right direction of Parkinson’s knowledge and treatment.