This article continues my series which looks at recent scientific advances in understanding Parkinson's Disease, and then considers the pragmatic outcomes which people affected can apply at home, in our time. In the previous instalment, we looked at how the brain's of people with PD are "noisy", being dominated by busy, anxious beta brainwave frequency activity:
In this article, we explore a technology which has proven helpful for people with PD, and may work by helping to modulate or quieten these abnormal brainwave patterns.
I first came across Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Therapy when a friend, Monika Ruth, shared some videoed results of alleviating tremors in her husband with PD, using a small home therapy device.
Scientific Studies of PEMF Therapy
Intrigued, I did some background reading on PEMF Therapy, starting with a book suggested by Monika:
I quickly learned that PEMF Therapy has proven to be enormously beneficial in a wide range of health problems, and that this is strongly backed by science:
"Worldwide more than 2,000 double blind studies have demonstrated that PEMF therapy is a safe and effective treatment for a variety of conditions, as well as to promote and maintain general cellular health and function."
Apparently, NASA has already spent millions researching PEMF therapies, as when astronauts are outside the Earth's natural EM fields for some time, this results in health issues.
Below are my major learning outcomes (I have also included a video summary of the above book at the end of this article).
- The Earth's EM Field is mainly in 0-30 Hz range;
- Brain Wave frequencies mainly in 0-30 Hz range (as we have seen in the previous article in this series linked to above);
- Cells resonate at frequencies in the 0-30 Hz range;
- The EM waves emitted by the human body, generated from the electrical activity of nerve firings, and magnetic fields created by oscillations of iron particles (red blood cells), for examples, are mainly in the 0-30 Hz range.
Of course, these facts are not co-incidental, since humans evolved to thrive and survive in the environment of the Earth's EM fields.
- The voltage (strength) of these frequencies in the human body is known to be lowered in people with chronic illness.
- Therefore, when ill, our biological system is much more prone to pollution from artificial EM waves, which are typically at higher frequencies than the natural range, from mobile phones, wifi, some types of light bulbs, microwaves, etc.
- Modern life also isolates us from the Earth's natural EM waves - rubber tires in cars, rubber soled shoes while outdoors, insulated beds while asleep, etc.
It therefore stands to reason that energizing/feeding the body with very weak pulsed EM waves of the right forms and frequencies, mimicking the Earth's natural EM cycles, can benefit health and wellness and help healing, at the cellular level, but also to help regulate abnormal brain wave activity.
Another way PEMF therapy appears to be highly beneficial is in greatly increasing micro-circulation, and hence the ability of the blood in the capillaries to oxygenate the organs of the body, and then to efficiently remove the cellular waste.
Since this all seems highly relevant to Parkinson's Disease, I began to do a literature review, searching for trials where PEMF Therapy has been specifically tried on people with PD. I did not have to look far, as I found a major review had already been published in a science journal:
Here are relevant excerpts from this review:
"In October 2008 the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of PEMF therapy for treatment of major depressive disorder in PD patients who failed to achieve satisfactory improvement from very high dosages of antidepressant medications. Several studies reported PEMF therapy improved cognitive functions and motor symptoms. For example, an investigation involving three elderly PD patients with cognitive impairment assessed the effect of PEMF therapy on a disorder of the body image in which the patient perceives a part or parts of his body as disproportionately large. After receiving PEMF therapy, PD patients’ drawings showed reversal of macrosomatognosia (assessed by Draw-a-Person test) with reduction of the right parietal lobe dysfunction."
"PEMF therapy applied to a 49-year-old male PD patient with stage 3 disease, as assessed by Hoehn and Yahr scale, resulted in a marked improvement in motor and non-motor symptoms such as mood swings, sleeplessness, pain and sexual and cognitive dysfunctions, suggesting that PEMF therapy should be tested in large cohorts of PD patients as monotherapy and should also be considered as a treatment modality for de novo diagnosed PD patients. PEMF therapy was also effective in improving visuospatial deficits in four PD patients. Moreover, PEMF therapy improved PD-associated freezing (a symptom manifesting as a sudden attack of immobility usually experienced during walking) in 3 PD patients".
"PEMF therapy improves PD symptoms including tremor, slowness of movement and difficulty in walking. It is non-invasive, safe and improves PD patients’ quality of life. PEMF therapy, employed for PD treatment, supports the body’s own healing process for 4–6 h after therapy session. It can be used at home and applied to the entire body or locally to target a specific body area and, if compared with dopaminergic systemic therapy, e.g. l-dopa, it can offer an alternative treatment avoiding systemic side effects such as hepatotoxicity and nephrotoxicity."
My Personal Case History
Given the strength of the science backing PEMF and Monika's results documented in her husband's case history, I sent off for the Miramate home device they are using, in order to trial it for myself on my rigidity dominant form of PD. Below is a brief video from the manufacturer about this particular device:
After using this on myself for a couple of weeks, its impacts on my symptoms were immediate and very noticeable. These initial benefits, for myself, included:
- significant symptom relief (much less pain, rigidity, brain fog);
- increased access to movement throughout the day (more "on" time per dose medication, less "misses" when a dose doesn't kick in, less medication required overall);
- improved ability to cope from better cognitive abilities, mood and energy, and less of the busy and anxious thoughts.
However, I felt the major benefit for myself was in breaking the connection with digestion (full tummy) and symptoms. One of the things which still plagued me was that, after main meals, my symptoms would escalate and the PD medication just wouldn't work for about three hour. Hence most evenings, I would have to endure at least a couple of hours of pain and rigidity, together with the resulting mental anguish.
I know many people with PD have similar problems around food, digestion and medication ineffectiveness. The reason for this, I believe, is in the role of the primitive Dorsal (Vegetative) branch of the Vagus Nerve in digestion, the specific part of the Nervous System also responsible for immobization/freeze responses in humans. Essentially, when a lot of food hits the digestive tract, this can send the enteric nervous system of people with PD into shock, activating the Dorsal Vagus, but in a way which then also inhibits the Ventral (Smart) Vagus Branch responsible for relaxed digestion. This enteric stress therefore results in increased motor symptoms. See
for background information on this.
So, one of the early major turnarounds I gained from using the PEMF device was that, if I put it on the back of my right shoulder [a placement I initially chose for convenience, but also since my right scalene/shoulder/clavicle region is the area where my residual pain and rigidity remains the greatest], just as I sit down to dinner, and leave it there for an hour, then I found this actually prevented much of the subsequent symptomatic shut down and medication ineffectiveness due to digestive impacts.
I'm still experimenting with timing and positions, but I'm feeling more confident that the PEMF therapy may offer substantial quality of life benefits for people with various forms of PD.
Recently, I've started using it consistently for longer times, keeping it on through several cycles of the PD drugs. In doing so, I've found that this can reduce the prolonged "off" periods in which the drugs wear off completely. Thus, consistent use of the device is helping to keep pain and rigidity symptoms at bay, and to also extend the time of action of each dose too, allowing a lower drug burden overall. I also therefore get less, and less severe, dyskinesia - the large scale uncontrolled wriggling movements which long term use of the PD drugs tends to cause (side-effect of medication).
For this experiment, I'm simply placing the stacked coils on the back of one shoulder and have a "bum bag" for keeping the PEMF device and power pack in.
Why Shoulder Positioning?
In seeking to understand why I've found the back-of-the-shoulder position most beneficial, I pondered if this may be sufficiently close to the neck to be electrically stimulating the Accessory nerve, one of the major cranial nerves implicated in PD, see
and part of the Para-sympathetic "Social Engagement" nervous system that helps calm the body and brain, which is typically inhibited/atrophied in Parkinson's Disease, see
Indeed, the Accessory nerve supplies the muscles which turn and tilt the head and shrug the shoulders - movements which are particularly difficult for people with PD.
This would make sense, because we already know that the electrical stimulation of the other Social Engagement nerves, including the mammalian branch of the Vagus Nerve through stimulating the ear, and of the facial and trigeminal nerves through stimulating the tongue, have proven to produce large benefits for reducing motor, sensory and communication symptoms of many neurological disorders as well in reducing inflammation. According to Dr Norman Doidge, author of the book
these types of therapies calm the brain, reducing noisy signals and hence those busy, anxious thoughts which are indeed known to be the problem in Parkinson's Disease.
I am intrigued to experiment further to see if even better results might be obtained with two of the Miramate devices, placing one set of stacked coils on each shoulder at the same time.
One additional mechanism by which PEMF could work to recharge the cells of people with PD is explained by the very interesting findings of Professor Gerarld Pollock of Washington University.
Here is the video summary of the book on PEMF mentioned above: