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Nutrition and Parkinson’s Disease

There is no specific diet that cures Parkinson’s disease. However, a healthy and balanced diet adapted to your needs can provide a better quality of life and alleviate certain symptoms of the disease. Simple changes in your eating habits can have an impact on your daily life.

A balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables can improve everyone’s health and well-being. Home cooked meals let you better select your food and sharing a meal helps maintain the relationships you have with your loved ones. Food should be fresh, varied and sufficient to meet your needs. 

Some changes in your diet can improve your health and alleviate different symptoms, such as constipation, depression, reduced bone density and weight fluctuations. It can also improve your energy levels, maintain your muscular strength and help your immune system.

Some changes in your diet can improve your health and alleviate different symptoms, such as constipation, depression, reduced bone density and weight fluctuations. It can also improve your energy levels, maintain your muscular strength and help your immune system. 

Preparing meals that follow Canada’s food guide is a good first step in taking control of your nutrition.

Nutrition is more than just the foods you eat. When you prepare meals for yourself or others, you contribute to your sense of usefulness, personal satisfaction, morale and more. 

People whose disease progresses the slowest have generally adopted the following habits:

  • Preparing their own meals themselves
  • Preparing meals for others
  • Avoiding the consumption of artificial colouring and sweeteners (ex. aspartame)
  • Buying organic and natural food as much as possible
  • Buying local food

These recommendations do not guarantee a slower disease progression, though people whose disease progresses slower had these in common.

There is no single food that will have an impact on the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Yet by taking simple steps, you can improve your daily well-being. 

Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water daily. If you have difficulty swallowing such large quantities or are concerned about having to go to the bathroom, split these intakes into smaller quantities. Hydrating fills your body with fluid, which reduces the chance of dropped pressure when you stand up.

Gradually add fibre-rich foods to your diet. Fibre combined with water will help relieve your constipation. Some examples of fibre-rich foods you can consume include cereal, whole grain bread, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

Expose yourself to the sun, using sunscreen, and eat calcium-rich foods. Calcium is important for bone health and helps reduce your risk of fracture. Dairy products, enriched soy milk, canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines), cooked beans, almonds and broccoli are good sources of calcium.

Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium.Our body produces this vitamin when it is exposed to the sun. In Canada, all people over the age of 50 should take a vitamin D supplement during the winter. This vitamin is found in some fish (swordfish, salmon, snapper, tuna) and in vitamin D-fortified dairy products (fortified soy beverage, yogurt and milk).

Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These acids have a protective effect on the brain’s dopaminergic neurons. Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, etc.), vegetable oils (canola, walnut, flax), grains (flax, hemp, chia) and walnuts are good sources of omega-3.

Add colour to your plate. Colourful fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that protect cells from compounds that break them down. Blueberries, cranberries, pumpkin, mangoes, carrots, sesame seeds, green tea and dark chocolate are some examples of foods containing antioxidants.

Eat foods consumed by people whose disease progresses the slowest. In these individuals, the following appear to have a positive impact on the severity of symptoms over time when eaten at least twice a week.

  • Fresh vegetables
  • Fresh fruits
  • Nuts and grains
  • Fish
  • Wine
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Aromatic plants

People whose disease progresses the fastest consume more than two servings per week of these foods: 

  • Canned fruits
  • “Diet” soft drinks
  • Fried food
  • Ice cream
  • Canned vegetables
  • Beef
  • Pasta
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Dairy products

These foods seem to have a negative effect on the severity of symptoms over time.

It is always difficult to avoid a food, especially when we enjoy it. Don’t try to cut out all products at once. Reduce your consumption of the most harmful products gradually. They are classified in the list from the most harmful to the least harmful.

There is currently no specific diet that has been shown to have an impact on the progression of Parkinson’s disease. 

The combination of a balanced diet, a suitable exercise plan, active social involvement and an adapted dosage of medication makes it possible to live better with the disease.

The ketogenic diet (diet high in fat but low in proteins and sugars) and gluten free diets have not been shown to affect the progression of the disease or the amplitude of symptoms.

The mediterranean diet (high fruit and vegetable intake plus olive and nut oil) seems to affect the progression of the disease, but more research needs to be done.

A healthy and balanced diet should provide you with a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals. 

There is no clear scientific evidence that supplements of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants or co-enzyme Q10 have beneficial effects on health, especially on disease progression.

There are many supplements available in pharmacies and health stores. Just because they are natural does not mean they are safe for you. Taking too much of a certain vitamin may lead to adverse effect or reduce the effectiveness of your levodopa (vitamin B6 and iron supplements).

If you think you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, try to eat more foods that contain these vitamins or minerals instead of buying expensive supplements.

Talk to your doctor, a nurse specialized in Parkinson’s disease or a dietician before purchasing vitamin and mineral supplements.

Levodopa is an amino acid, i.e. a small protein fragment. When you consume protein, it competes with levodopa to enter your brain. This increases the delay and reduces the duration of the medication’s effect, meaning it is slower and shorter. 

Protein can be found it

  • Dairy products (milk, butter, cheese, ice cream)
  • Eggs
  • Meat and fish
  • Dietary supplements (ex: Ensure, Boost, Slim-Fast)
  • Nuts
  • Beans and peas
  • Soy, including tofu

You should not stop eating protein, just do not eat it at the same time as you take levodopa.

To be safe, take your levodopa dose:

  • At least 30 minutes before meals
  • At least 60 minutes after meals

This rule especially applies to those in advanced stages of the disease and those who experience medication efficacy fluctuations.

The joy of eating is an aspect of nutrition that is often overlooked. To stimulate your appetite, you can try to: 

  • Eat in good company
  • Make your meals visually appealing (we eat with our eyes first)
  • Season your meals well (herbs, spices, sauces, etc.)
  • Try new food that you have never tried before
  • Eat smaller meals, then add nutritious snacks

Partial or complete loss of smell is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. You likely lost your sense of taste at the same time as smell since the two are linked. You can try olfactory rehabilitation games by having fun recognizing the smells of a dozen spices with concealed names.

Some people lose weight with age, mainly because they tend to progressively eat less.  

Weight loss in people with Parkinson’s disease is common, but moderate at most.

The disease’s motor symptoms, such as tremors, rigidity and dyskinesias require additional energy consumption.

Some non-motor symptoms can also lead you to reduce your food portions: 

  • Depression and loss of taste can reduce appetite
  • Slower emptying of your stomach can lead to bloating and a feeling of being overfilled even after taking small amounts
  • Difficulty swallowing can make it difficult to eat

Talk to your general practitioner or a nutritionist if you are losing weight. They can help you develop an appropriate and nutritious meal plan.

If you have any questions about your current diet, consult a nutritionist. This health professional will assess your nutritional status and determine a nutrition plan to maintain or improve your health accordingly.  

If you have additional difficulty eating and swallowing, see an occupational therapist and/or speech therapist. They will be able to suggest some equipment to make mealtime easier and strategies to help you swallow.

You should include a nutritionist, occupational therapist and speech therapist in your care team.

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