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Can You Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?

Posted on July 26, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Amy Harris, MS, RN, CNM

Whether you’re living with Parkinson’s disease or caring for a family member or loved one who has the condition, you’ve likely wondered whether it’s preventable. Despite ongoing research, scientists and doctors have yet to find a way to prevent Parkinson’s disease. So the quick but hard-to-hear answer is no — you can’t prevent Parkinson’s. However, promising research does show that several lifestyle factors might lower the risk of developing this condition.

What Are the Risks of Parkinson’s Disease?

Researchers have identified multiple risk factors for developing Parkinson’s disease. Remember that having one or more — or even all — of these risk factors does not mean a person will develop Parkinson’s. A complex mix of interconnected factors, starting with your genes and your environment, determines if you will develop Parkinson’s. Some of the identified risk factors include:

  • Age — Parkinson’s is more commonly diagnosed around age 60.
  • Sex — According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, men are 1.5 times more likely than women to have the disease.
  • Heredity — Certain genetic factors may predispose a person to Parkinson’s.
  • Exposure to environmental toxins — Chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides used in farming or landscaping may be linked with Parkinson’s.

Unfortunately, with the exception of environmental toxins, you can’t change most of these risks. Moreover, even long-term exposure to high amounts of environmental toxins does not necessarily cause Parkinson’s. For example, farmworkers exposed to high levels of pesticides show higher rates of the disease compared with the general population, but not in numbers high enough to indicate a simple relationship between environmental toxins and Parkinson’s disease.

Reduce Risk Through Diet

Following a brain-boosting diet might offer a way to protect your nervous system from Parkinson’s disease. When you have Parkinson’s, neurons (nerve cells) that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine break down and die, resulting in lower dopamine levels in your brain.

Researchers studying the Mediterranean diet confirm that people with diets higher in vegetables, olive oil, fish, whole grains, and fruit have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s. If people who eat this way do eventually develop the disease, their symptoms may appear later.

Other researchers tracked Parkinson’s disease progression in people following the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, which combines a Mediterranean eating style and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. Following the MIND diet was associated with later onset of Parkinson’s, particularly among female participants, according to the study authors.

The good news is that these same diets help prevent or lower your risks of a host of health conditions in addition to Parkinson’s — high blood pressure, many types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, just to name a few.

You might try to eat according to these shared themes from the Mediterranean and MIND diet plans:

  • Focus on eating more vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts.
  • Limit or avoid red meat.
  • Use olive oil as your primary source of fat when cooking, and avoid butter and fried foods whenever possible.
  • Cut down or cut out dairy (milk, cheese, and cream).
  • Boost your intake of berries and leafy green vegetables like spinach, chard, and collard greens — a specific recommendation of the MIND diet.
  • Avoid sweets and pastries.

Keep Up the Caffeine for Healthy Neurons

Coffee lovers have reason to celebrate: Several studies show a connection between drinking more caffeine and a decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease. The hypothesis is that caffeine may reduce inflammation and oxidative stress — both of which have been shown to play a role in the death of dopamine-producing neurons in Parkinson’s. Just remember not to overdo the sugar or cream in your caffeinated beverages, as both Mediterranean and MIND diets advise limiting dairy and sweets.

Get the Recommended Amount of Exercise

Research shows that regular physical activity is one of the best ways to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and reduce symptoms. It turns out that regular exercise may also play a role in prevention. Studies have shown that exercising more in your 30s and 40s may reduce your chances of developed Parkinson’s by about 30 percent. Regular exercise earlier in adulthood can also improve your quality of life if you are diagnosed with Parkinson’s later.

Researchers do not completely understand how exercise might prevent Parkinson’s, but some suggest that benefits may result from the release of stress-busting chemicals called endorphins. Others believe the benefit might be related to lowering inflammation and oxidative stress.

Most public health advisers and doctors recommend logging at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week plus doing muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. To help prevent numerous chronic diseases, set a goal to:

  • Do aerobic exercise (vigorous enough so you are breathing heavily) three to five days a week.
  • Perform strength training two days a week.
  • Practice balance training and flexibility stretches (such as yoga) once or twice a week.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all exercise plan. As one MyParkinsonsTeam member — a strength coach — noted, “Your program can be customized to meet your skill level and physical abilities. Whatever you do, work hard — push yourself in a progressive manner so you safely get stronger, more mobile, or achieve your goals. And never stop moving! It’s critical.”

Take Care With Chemicals

We all come into contact with chemicals every day. Some chemicals, particularly those used in agriculture, landscaping, and industrial settings, can increase your risk for Parkinson’s disease if not handled safely.

If you must work with chemicals that have been linked to higher rates of Parkinson’s, take care to follow all safety procedures as instructed by your employer, and always use the appropriate protective equipment.

Several studies show a strong link between exposure to a specific class of pesticides — organochlorine insecticides — and developing parkinsonism. Organochlorine insecticides include DDT and dieldrin.

In your garden or yard at home, you might try organic gardening to use fewer pesticides and fertilizers. You can reduce chemical exposure by following these tips:

  • Have your soil tested by your local cooperative extension service office before you fertilize.
  • Take your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking soil into your home.
  • Scrub your hands after gardening.
  • Wash fruits, vegetables, and herbs before you eat them.
  • Avoid using rotenone, a pesticide used by gardeners and often listed as natural, even though studies have linked it to Parkinson’s in humans.

Some popular hobbies can also put you in contact with chemicals that may be linked to Parkinson’s disease. Woodworking and painting use solvents, thinners, and finishes. Pottery glazes can involve a mix of chemicals. Whenever you are working with chemicals at work or home, wear protective equipment such as a mask, gloves, and other appropriate clothing such as goggles and long pants.

Focus on Lifestyle Factors for Parkinson’s Prevention

Without a cure or an easily targeted cause, there is not yet a way to prevent Parkinson’s disease. Health care providers are, however, getting better at diagnosing Parkinson’s disease at earlier stages and treating symptoms.

Until the complex combination of genetic and environmental factors that may be behind Parkinson’s is better understood, focusing on lifestyle changes could be a way to affect the chance of developing the disease. If you’re concerned about your risk of developing Parkinson’s, you can take control by optimizing your diet and exercise routine to make your brain and body as Parkinson’s-resistant as possible.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyParkinsonsTeam is the social network for people living with Parkinson’s disease and their loved ones. On MyParkinsonsTeam, more than 89,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share stories with others who understand life with Parkinson’s disease.

Have you made any lifestyle changes to help prevent Parkinson’s disease? Do you still have questions about preventing or lowering the risk of Parkinson’s? Share in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Amy Harris, MS, RN, CNM is a certified nurse midwife and trained health literacy specialist.. Learn more about her here.

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