Like everyone else, people with Parkinson’s feel their best when they consistently eat a healthy, balanced diet. There is no specific diet for Parkinson’s, but following certain guidelines can ensure that your medications work their best, minimize the side effects of certain drugs, and lower your risk of developing other conditions. Some nutrients may offer neuroprotective benefits and help you preserve function and slow decline associated with Parkinson’s.
Some popular diets may contain toxic levels of some nutrients or dangerously low levels of others. No diet is ever a good substitute for clinically proven Parkinson’s drug therapies.
What does it involve?
Always consult your doctor before making significant changes to your diet or taking a new supplement.
If you experience difficulty swallowing while eating, consider consulting a speech therapist. They can help you find a customized strategy for eating more safely and comfortably. Some people with Parkinson’s benefit from eating smaller meal meals more frequently, taking smaller bites, eating more slowly, sitting up straighter, and trying foods with different consistencies.
If you are taking Levodopa/Carbidopa, it is important to time your intake of foods rich in protein. Protein is found in meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, lentils and dairy products.
Protein can delay or diminish the effects of Levodopa/Carbidopa, so it is best to eat mostly carbohydrates (grains, vegetables, and fruit) during the day and reserve protein-rich foods for dinner. If you must eat protein during the day, take Levodopa/Carbidopa at least 30 minutes before or one hour after the protein. Follow the same guidelines if you are taking iron supplements.
If you are taking a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOIs) such as Azilect, Eldepryl, or Zelpar, limit your intake of foods that contain high amounts of tyramine. Foods such as cheese, aged meat, smoked fish, dry sausages, sauerkraut, miso, or other fermented or aged products can contribute to high blood pressure in those taking MAOIs.
Many Parkinson’s medications can cause constipation. To prevent constipation, be sure to eat plenty of dietary fiber and drink six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water every day. High-fiber foods include vegetables, dried or fresh fruits with the peels, legumes such as peas or beans, some nuts including almonds and pistachios, and whole-grain products. Making the switch from white bread to whole-grain, from white rice to brown rice, or from regular pasta to whole-grain pasta will also add fiber to your diet. Always check labels to make sure products are whole-grain. Drinking warm beverages in the morning can help stimulate the bowels. Drinking plenty of water can also help keep your kidneys healthy and help prevent or minimize muscle cramping.
Antioxidants and phytochemicals are nutrients that might help prevent cancer and reduce inflammation. Some studies indicate that antioxidants and phytochemicals may help slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with these nutrients. Foods such as cantaloupe, citrus, tomatoes, mango, pineapple, and berries are especially rich in Vitamin C. Fresh produce is also often high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and lower in calories. Eat as many of these foods as possible. If you are in danger of being underweight, eat them with dip or dressing to add calories.
People with Parkinson’s have an increased risk for osteoporosis. For this reason, it is important to consume food with plenty of calcium. Milk, fat-free yogurt, dark green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, and leafy greens, and juice or soy milk fortified with calcium are all good sources. Vitamin D is essential for your body to absorb the calcium. Milk is also a good source for Vitamin D. Soy milk and many alternative milk products are also fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. Another way to increase your Vitamin D intake is to spend time outside in the sunshine.
Maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult for people with Parkinson’s. Consult your doctor to determine a healthy target weight for you. Weigh yourself once a week, and keep track of the measurements to know how much you are losing or gaining over time. If you are at risk for being underweight, focus your diet on high-calorie, high-nutrient foods. Choose foods high in unsaturated fat, plus vegetables and fruit. Unsaturated fat is plentiful in walnuts, pecans, flaxseed, canola and olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, lake trout and sardines. These foods are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Unsaturated fat might have a neuroprotective effect in people with Parkinson’s Disease as well as fighting inflammation and heart disease.
Alcoholic beverages can intensify the side effects of many Parkinson’s drugs, including dizziness and drowsiness. However, some studies indicate that low to moderate consumption of red wine may provide some benefit for people with Parkinson’s. Ask your doctor about drinking alcohol while taking your medications.
Moderate consumption of caffeinated beverages may furnish some benefits for those with Parkinson’s.
Both caffeine and alcohol encourage dehydration and low blood pressure, so drink beverages containing these substances moderately.
Optimizing your nutrition will help you feel your best, maintain functionality, and minimize some symptoms and drug side effects.
An article published in 2014 reviewed existing clinical literature on the role of nutrition in people with Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers concluded that nutrients including antioxidants, phytochemicals, and Omega-3 fatty acids might offer some protective benefits for those with Parkinson’s. Moderate intake of wine and caffeinated beverages may also support neurological health and slow degeneration.
Side effects of some Parkinson’s medications, which can include nausea and loss of appetite, may make it difficult to eat regular meals or focus on a healthy diet.
Symptoms of Parkinson’s can make it difficult to go shopping and prepare fresh, healthy meals.
Depending on where you live, it may be harder to get to a grocery store with a good selection of produce and other healthy foods.