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L-Dopa for Parkinson’s
by admin on: September 28th, 2011

The book “Awakenings” was written by the famous neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks. It describes a summer during which 15 people suffering from the sleeping-sickness (encephalitis lethargica). These patients were frozen in a sleep that lasted for decades, and were given up as hopeless. That was, until the summer of 1969 when Dr. Sacks gave them a new drug, L-Dopa. This drug was designed to treat Parkinson’s Disease, but Dr. Sacks reasoned that the symptoms of sleeping sickness could be described as exaggerated symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease so the treatments might also be similar. What happened then was nothing short of miraculous – the 15 patients “woke up” after decades of endless sleep.

So, what did L-Dopa do that other drugs could not? L-Dopa is a naturally found psychoactive drug and dietary supplement. It is a precursor to catecholamines, the neurotransmitters epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. In the mammalian brain it is synthesized from the amino acid L-Tyrosine. L-Dopa had two main effects on the patients in “Awakenings” as well as the patients of Parkinson’s Disease:

1. It slowly reduces slowness and body rigidity.
2. It improves balance and gait, reducing tremors.

Even so, L-Dopa is not without its side-effects. The most distressing side-effect of all is dyskinesia — the inability to control one’s body muscles, resulting in uncontrollable flailing of limbs and ocassional tics. Patients may need to use Symmetrel, another drug, to counteract the side-effect of dyskinesia.

Some of the other side-effects are: low blood pressure, uneven heart rhythm, gastrointestinal problems, and difficulty breathing. The psychiatric side-effects of the drug include: extreme emotional states, vivid dreams, and sleep attacks.

L-Dopa did not cure the “Awakenings” patients of their sleeping sickness, they eventually relapsed into sleep, but it did give them a chance for a new life, even if only for a short time.

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