Parkinson’s and Diet

Quincy AdamDiet, Parkinsons, Parkinsons Diet, Parkinsons Lifestyle

Researchers have been studying the role that nutrition may play in preventing, managing and slowing down progression of Parkinson’s Disease, a movement disorder that affects about 1 million people in the US and 10 million people worldwide.1

It is called a movement disorder because of the tremors, slowing and stiffening movements it can cause.  But there are other symptoms that can develop over time – slowed thinking and focus, changes in speech and swallowing, depression and anxiety, problems controlling impulses and sleep problems including not being able to stay awake during the day.

While there is no prescription for a Parkinson’s-specific diet, eating a well balanced and nutritious diet is going to benefit your overall health.  With proper nutrition, your body works more efficiently, has more energy and your medications will work properly.2

You should consult your physician or a dietitian before making any changes or before you start taking any supplements. This article offers some general guidelines and insights into the latest research about foods that may help with Parkinson’s, or potentially make it worse.

Basics of a Healthy Parkinson’s Diet

  • Eat a variety of foods from each food category
  • Maintain a healthy weight – know your weight goal and adjust your calorie
  • Balance the food you eat with physical activity
  • Include high-fiber foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits and whole grains
  • Choose foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Add healthy fats such as nut butters and avocado
  • Reduce added salt and sodium
  • Limit sugars
  • Drink at least eight 8 oz glasses of water per day
  • Ask your doctor about alcohol which can interfere with medications2

Food and Parkinson’s Drug Interactions

Some medications to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s may interact with the foods that you eat. Levodopa works best when taken on an empty stomach with water at least half an hour before meals – this allows the drug to reach the small intestine and be absorbed faster.3   However, taking levodopa on an empty stomach can cause nausea for many people. Try drinking clear or very cold beverages and avoiding acidic orange and grapefruit juices that can make nausea worse. In some rare cases, the effectiveness of levodopa can be limited if your diet is high in protein and or if you are taking iron supplements.  If you take MAO-inhibitors, eat foods in moderation that contain tryramine (found in cured, fermented or dried meats or fish, aged cheese, fermented cabbage such as sauerkraut or kimchi, soybean, red wine and tap beer) because tyramine may elevate blood pressure. 3

If you find you are eating less and losing weight because of difficulty swallowing, nausea, tremors or stiffness that make the physical act of eating harder, or being too tired to eat, you could try adding spices to your meals, which helps increase appetite. Staying hydrated may also be a challenge, especially if you are also eating less. Try foods that have a high water content such as celery, strawberries, grapefruit, butternut squash and watermelon to provide needed nutrition along with hydration.  Some of these can also be made into nutritious shakes – liquids may be easier to swallow and hold.

Foods that May Help Decrease Risk or Slow Parkinson’s Progression

Recent studies have shown that foods associated with a reduced rate of Parkinson’s disease progression included fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, nonfried fish, olive oil, wine, coconut oil, fresh herbs and spices – all of which are considered part of the Mediterranean diet which has shown to reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s.4

Vitamin D is being studied for its potential benefits in Parkinson’s Disease.  Parkinson’s Disease patients tend to have lower Vitamin D levels compared to healthy people, and low Vitamin D levels may predict risk and severity in Parkinson’s disease.  Low Vitamin D levels are associated with low bone mineral density and could result in bone fractures, further contributing to Parkinson’s disability. 5 Vitamin D supplementation at 400IU per day may reduce the risk of fractures by 20%.6

Other studies are evaluating the possible benefits of Vitamin D in preventing Parkinson’s and in reducing its progression, but the results are not conclusive about the benefits of Vitamin D. However, maintaining a consistent level of Vitamin D in the diet is important to both bone and overall health. You can find Vitamin D in fortified milk and milk products, egg yolks and fatty fish, mackeral and salmon and from Vitamin D supplements.  And don’t forget sunshine – a natural source of Vitamin D!

Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that help to fight free radicals that may cause damage in the body and brain.  Free radicals cause oxidative stress and are thought to be particularly toxic to brain cells. Oxidative stress is associated with aging and with Parkinson’s disease.  Studies have not been conclusive about the benefits of Vitamin C and E for Parkinson’s Disease, but it is known that both are effective antioxidants that fight free radicals and may protect brain health. Foods that are good sources of antioxidants include artichokes, okra, kale, bell peppers and potatoes, berries, pears, apples, grapes, grains, eggs, kidney beans, edamame, lentils, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, dark chocolate and possibly red wine, coffee and tea.

Anti-inflammatory foods that are high in Omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon and tuna are also thought to be protective of brain health, along with walnuts, cashews and other nuts.

Foods that May Increase Risk and Progression of Parkinson’s

The foods that have been associated with more rapid Parkinson’s disease progression include canned fruits and vegetables, diet and regular sodas, fried foods, beef, ice cream, yogurt and cheese. 7, 8 Researchers are conducting many different types of studies to further evaluate specific foods and their role in brain health.

Be sure to talk with your doctor about your personal nutritional needs before starting any diet.

  1. Managing Parkinson’s Mid-Stride. National Parkinson Foundation, a division of the Parkinson’s Foundation. Accessed on April 2, 2018.
  2. Diet & Nutrition. National Parkinson’s Foundation. Accessed on March 23, 2018.
  3. Diet & Parkinson’s Disease. The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Accessed on March 23, 2018.
  4. Michelle Luciano, Janie Corley, Simon R. Cox, Maria C. Valdés Hernández, Leone C.A. Craig, David Alexander Dickie, Sherif Karama, Geraldine M. McNeill, Mark E. Bastin, Joanna M. Wardlaw and Ian J. Deary. Mediterranean-type diet and brain structural change from 73 to 76 years in a Scottish cohort. Jl of Neurol. January 31, 2017; 88 (5). Accessed on March 23, 2018.
  5. Priscilla Koduah, Friedemann Paul, Jan-Markus Dorr. Vitamin D in the prevention, prediction and treatment of neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases. EPMA Journal. 2017 Dec; 8(4): 313-325. Accessed on March 23, 2018.
  6. HA Bischff-Ferrari , WC Willett , JB Wong , AE Stuck, HB Staehelin, EJ Orav, et al. Prevention of nonvertebral fractures with oral Vitamin D and dose dependency: a meta analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Intern med. 2009; 169:551-561. Accessed on March 23, 2018.
  7. Stacy E Seidl, Jose A Santiago, Hope Bilyk, Judith A Potashkin. The emerging role of nutrition in Parkinson’s disease. Front Aging Neurosci. 2014; 6:36. Accessed on March 23, 2018.
  8. Laurie k Mischlev, Richard C Lau, Rachel D Bennett. Role of Diet and Nutritional Supplements in Parkinson’s Disease Progression.  Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2017. Accessed on March 23, 2018.