Five million Americans over the age of 60 have a condition that’s often mistaken for Parkinson’s disease. It’s called essential tremor (ET), and I recently received e-mails from two HSI members who need help with this disorder that causes shaking of the hands, and sometime the arms, legs and head as well.
A member named Roger writes: “Do you have any helpful info about essential tremor (familial tremor)?” And Dorothy: “I have had Essential Tremor for a number of years. I can hardly write. Do you have any suggestions?”
Something in the genes
If there’s any bright side to essential tremor, it’s the word “essential,” which indicates that this condition (unlike Parkinson’s disease) isn’t associated with additional debilitating complications.
Roger calls his ET “familial tremor.” This refers to the fact that the source of the disease may be genetic in some patients, although individual bouts of ET are commonly triggered by stress or traumatic events. When tremors flare up, those with ET may find it almost impossible to use tools, silverware or hold a pen to write, as Dorothy noted.
The web site for the Mayo Clinic lists several drug treatments for ET, including beta-blockers, tranquilizers and anti-seizure medications. Extreme cases are sometimes even addressed with brain surgery. But before risking the side effects of drugs or the obvious dangers of a complicated surgery, ET patients might find relief from a single dietary supplement, especially when coupled with stress management.
In a recent House Calls e-letter about essential tremor, America’s Country Doctor, Alan Inglis, M.D., begins by noting that the best way to treat a mild case of ET is to identify the stressors that prompt tremors and then take steps to manage specific stressful conditions.
Dr. Inglis adds: “A very nice, gentle, and calming supplement you could try is L-theanine. This is an amino derived from green tea, and it’s known for its balancing and calming effects on the brain, but without sedation. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have any caffeine. Try 100 to 200 mg once or twice a day.”
In an HSI Members Alert that we sent you in January 2002 we described L-theanine as a neurologically active amino acid capable of inducing chemical changes in the brain that leave a person feeling alert but relaxed.
Japanese research using human subjects revealed that L-theanine crosses the blood-brain barrier and induces chemical changes in the brain that reduce the sensation of stress. Approximately 30 minutes after it’s ingested, L-theanine stimulates production of alpha waves, which prompt a feeling of being both alert and deeply relaxed. L-theanine also plays a role in the production of gamma aminobutryic acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that limits nerve cell activity in those areas of the brain associated with anxiety.
L-theanine can be found in supplement stores and through Internet sources. But be sure to talk to your doctor before adding L-theanine or any new supplement to your regimen.
Dr. Inglis offers these additional tips for essential tremor:
- Beware of alcohol
“Even though a couple of drinks may calm your tremors, over time your body will adapt to the alcohol, and you’ll need more to get the same result. This could lead you down a slippery slope of addiction and dependency if it goes too far.”
- Get help
“If your shaking limbs are seriously interfering with your quality of life, you need to see a neurologist with experience in treating essential tremor. You can locate a neurologist in your area by going to neurologychannel.com. There is also a national support group with local chapters that you can find through essentialtremor.org.”
You can visit Dr. Inglis’ web site at americascountrydoctor.com.
“All Shook Up” Alan Inglis, M.D., House Calls, 6/1/06, americascountrydoctor.com