Mechanisms for alternative treatments in Parkinson's disease: acupuncture, tai chi, and other treatments

Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2014 Jun;14(6):451. doi: 10.1007/s11910-014-0451-y.


At least 40% of patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) use one or more forms of alternative therapy (AT) to complement standard treatments. This article reviews the commonest forms of AT for PD, including acupuncture, tai chi, yoga, mindfulness, massage, herbal medicine, and cannabis. We discuss the current evidence for the clinical efficacy of each AT and discuss potential mechanisms, including those suggested by animal and human studies. With a few notable exceptions, none of the treatments examined were investigated rigorously enough to draw definitive conclusions about efficacy or mechanism. Tai chi, acupuncture, Mucuna pruriens, cannabinoids, and music therapy have all been proposed to work through specific mechanisms, although current evidence is insufficient to support or refute these claims, with the possible exception of Mucuna pruriens (which contains levodopa). It is likely that most ATs predominantly treat PD patients through general mechanisms, including placebo effects, stress reduction, and improved mood and sleep, and AT may provide patients with a greater locus of control regarding their illness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Complementary Therapies* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology*
  • Parkinson Disease / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Tai Ji / adverse effects