One in 500 people in the UK are affected by Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms usually crop up after age 50 and can slowly or quickly progress to the point where people with Parkinson’s need help with routine tasks. This post is to help people caring for people with Parkinson’s understand what, from a nutritional standpoint, are issues in Parkinson’s and what can be done.
NUTRITION FOR PARKINSON’S DISEASE
POSSIBLY PROBLEMATIC FOODS FOR INCREASED RISK
Milk has been pointed out as potentially increasing one’s risk for Parkinson’s. Associations have been found, but its unclear exactly why. Some scientists have blamed pesticides, others PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls), and others a decrease in uric acid levels (which may have be protective against Parkinson’s) the more milk one drinks. Interestingly, the same associations were not always made in cheese or yogurt- more research needs to be done.
Non-organic meats tend to hold in environmental toxins in the fat- toxins that have been associated with increased risk of Parkinson’s. So, go for organic meats when possible and leaner cuts of non-organic meats.
IMMEDIATE PROBLEMS PEOPLE WITH PARKINSON’S FACE
There are two things people with Parkinson’s face that they might not talk about a lot. One is constipation, and the other is incontinence. Constipation is a result of the muscles in the gut not moving things along as they should. Lots of fluids, high fiber foods, and as much physical activity as possible is key here. The problem with some, though, is that they go out of their way to avoid drinking as they are also dealing with incontinence (again, due to lack of muscle control). If you see your loved one avoiding beverages, offer them foods with high water content- grapes, melon, cucumber, celery, tomatoes, etc. It’s a sneaky and non-naggy way to get them to “drink” more.
SLOWING THE ADVANCEMENT OF PARKINSON’S
When it comes to nutrition for treatment of Parkinson’s there is no cure. There isn’t even a pharmaceutical cure as doctors still don’t know what the cause of Parkinson’s is. There are a few things, though, that can potentially slow the advancement of Parkinson’s.
Healther Zwickey, PhD gives a three-fold goal when helping a person with Parkinson’s choose the optimal foods- neuroprotection, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory.
The following groups of foods have been found to have neuroprotective properties:
- Caffeine & coffee. One more reason to drink coffee (as if you really needed one) is that it can be neuroprotective. This is more true for men and women past menopause, but this morning favorite can also provide fluids for the constipation issue in your loved one.
- Tea (especially green tea). Most studies supporting this looked at drinking more than 3 cups a day.
- Nuts such as walnuts, pistacchios, cashews, macadamia, almond and brazil nuts.
- Herbs. Try turmeric, cinnamon, and rosemary- each with their own action to protect brain function.
- Toabacco. No, this is not a reason to light up- there are many other plants int he same Solanacaea family that are MUCH safer. Try adding in tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers in whenever you can.
Phytochemicals. It’s best to get these nutrients through a variety of fruits and vegetables rather than honing in on trying to get maximum antioxidant levels possible with juice. Pomegranate juice- a drink that one would likely turn to if wanting to get maximum antioxidant levels possible- has been shown to possibly be a PRO-oxidant and increase neurodegeneration. Yikes.
I have covered this issue in a whole post by itself, so feel free to refer to it. However, if you can’t be bothered to read it, let me sum up: eat salmon, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
There are many other nutritional being looked at as we speak (such as Vitmamins A,C, and E), but I’ll leave them to revisit once the science is more conclusive. As of now, the research is up in the air and sometimes we find supplementing vitamins such as these can actually be PRO-inflammatory in some situations, so sit tight.
But, let’s be honest, if you sum all of the above up, it fits well within healthy eating guidelines for anyone, with just a few special emphases.
Vitamin B6 can limit how well Levodopa, the primary medication used to treat Parkinson’s, works, so be sure to ask the doctor about any supplements. Also something to consider- high fat meals can slow how the medication is absorbed, so can be a big issue if your loved one goes for more indulgent foods.
This is an overview of the nutrition science out there. As always, see a dietitian if you want to learn more. This is just info, but they can turn it into actual nutrition recommendations individualized to your family habits, medical history, medication list, and personal likes and dislikes.