Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic illness that affects the section of brain responsible for movement. This central nervous system disorder generally affects muscle control and balance, causing a person to lose control over certain body functions. Each year in the U.S., approximately 60,000 people are diagnosed with PD. The condition develops when nerve cells in the brain do not produce sufficient amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s pleasure centers. People with PD often experience unique nutritional challenges. Learn more about Parkinson’s disease and how altering your diet can help you better manage your symptoms.
A Look at Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive movement disorder that presents with control and balance-related symptoms that gradually worsen over time. The disorder is caused by the general deterioration of neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain. The brain receives information from neurons, processes it, then sends instructions out that specify various functions. In the substantia nigra of the midbrain, neurons produce a neurotransmitter known as dopamine.
In those with Parkinson’s disease, protein clumps known as Lewy bodies build up inside these dopamine-producing neurons which cause them to degenerate and die. Without a sufficient amount of dopamine, the brain is unable to operate properly. Individuals with PD may experience both primary symptoms and secondary symptoms. Primary symptoms are often movement-related, such as tremors, rigidity, and bradykinesia which cause your movements to become slower.
Secondary symptoms may develop as the condition progresses. You may notice a change in the way that you walk, a limited range of motion, and pain caused by a change in posture. Secondary symptoms may not be related to movement, such as loss of smell, sweating, depression, or trouble sleeping. As the condition becomes more problematic, some people with PD may experience psychiatric symptoms such as dementia, hallucinations, and nightmares.
Maintaining a Nutritious Diet for Parkinson’s Disease
While you already know that proper nutrition is important for overall health and functioning, a well-maintained and balanced diet for Parkinson’s disease is a must in order to help manage symptoms. In addition to motor symptoms, people with PD may develop symptoms that make it hard to eat, such as difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, and reduced gastric mobility. Medications used to treat PD can also cause unfavorable symptoms, such as nausea, dry mouth, appetite loss, vomiting, and fatigue.
Ideally, people with PD should increase their fiber intake to avoid symptoms such as dehydration and constipation, while boosting their energy levels. Maintaining a balanced diet for Parkinson’s disease that includes foods from all food groups including vegetables, fruit, grains, dairy, and grains is key. It is also important for individuals with PD to drink plenty of water – at least 51 ounces a day. In addition to loading up on fiber-rich foods like apples, broccoli, peas, whole-grain breads, and cereals, PD sufferers should cut down on salt, sugar, and saturated fats from dairy and meat. If you drink alcohol, ask your doctor about how it could affect the effectiveness of your medications.
Levodopa is a common medication prescribed to individuals with Parkinson’s disease. You should ideally take this medicine on an empty stomach approximately 30 minutes before eating or at least one hour after finishing a meal. Nausea is fairly common in individuals with PD. To help relieve nausea, sip on clear or ice-cold beverages. The occasional sugary drink may help calm your stomach. However, you want to avoid acidic beverages like orange and grapefruit juices. Munching on bland foods like plain bread or saltine crackers can help reduce nausea symptoms.
Following certain practices when eating may be helpful in reducing common PD symptoms. For example, eating slowly and eating smaller meals more frequently may be better for your nausea then eating large meals three times a day. You should also avoid mixing cold and hot foods. If possible, drink beverages between meals and not during them. If the smell of warm or hot foods causes nausea, try eating cold or room-temperature foods. After eating a meal, try resting. However, you want to keep your head in an upright position to avoid making your nausea worse. Avoid brushing your teeth directly after meals. The diet for Parkinson’s disease below should also help individuals suffering from PD to improve their quality of life.
What to Eat with Parkinson’s Disease
- Berries: Blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, and pomegranates are all high in powerful antioxidants.
- Salmon, tuna, and sardines: These sources of fish are high in protein and heart-healthy omega-3s.
- Green tea: A low-calorie beverage option high in antioxidants and phytochemicals.
- Prunes: Prunes are high in fiber, antioxidants, potassium, and vitamin A, and can be a great prevention tool for constipation sufferers.
- Ginger: Ginger root or candied ginger are useful for treating nausea which may be caused by PD itself or the medications used to treat it.
- Chocolate: Chocolate can be a great treat for individuals with PD as it is rich in flavonoids and other antioxidants that help reduce stroke and cardiovascular disease.
What Not to Eat with Parkinson’s Disease
- Dairy: Dairy products have been linked to a higher risk of developing PD due to how it impacts oxidation levels in the brain making symptoms more persistent. If you choose to cut out things like milk, yogurts, and cheese, consider adding a calcium supplement to fill in the nutritional gap.
- Saturated fat: Foods that have been heavily processed or fried can alter your metabolism and increase cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
- Added sugars: Extra sugars added to food help create a sweet flavor but offer little in the way of nutrients. Limit your intake of processed snack foods, such as cookies and candies. Also avoid other sources of added sugar, such as in jams, jellies, syrups, pastries, and frozen desserts.
Services to Help Those with Parkinson’s
While there is no specific diet for Parkinson’s disease, it is important to maintain good overall health by eating a variety of foods. Individuals with PD may have trouble following a healthy diet. An in-home care agency can help prepare and serve nutritious meals, assist with feeding, and help with cleanup after meals. If you are a loved one is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and require services, contact an in-home care agency today.