Parkinson’s disease affects more than 1 million Americans. Each year, another 60,000 people are diagnosed with the condition. Symptoms vary from person to person but commonly include muscle spasms, tremors, and muscle soreness. The causes and triggers that activate Parkinson’s are still being studied.
Since Parkinson’s is closely connected to a lack of dopamine cells in your body, researchers are looking for ways to increase dopamine naturally through your diet. The secondary symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as dementia and confusion, might also be improved through lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. Foods high in antioxidants are sometimes suggested to cut down on oxidative stress in your brain.
Levodopa (Sinemet) and bromocriptine (Parlodel) are drugs that many people with Parkinson’s use to manage symptoms. But no treatment exists that will fully stop symptoms from occurring. Since there’s no cure for Parkinson’s, and the drugs prescribed to manage symptoms sometimes have harsh side effects, more and more people are exploring alternative remedies for Parkinson’s treatment.
Foods to eat
Current research focuses on proteins, flavonoids, and gut bacteria for improving Parkinson’s symptoms. In the meantime, eating a diet high in antioxidants reduces “oxidative stress” that aggravates Parkinson’s and similar conditions, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research.
You can get lots of antioxidants by eating:
- tree nuts, like walnuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, and pistachios
- blueberries, blackberries, goji berries, cranberries, and elderberries
- tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and other nightshade vegetables
- spinach and kale
Eating a plant-based diet high in these types of foods may provide the highest antioxidant intake.
Clinical trials over the last decade explored the idea of antioxidant treatment for Parkinson’s, but these trials didn’t find concrete evidence to link antioxidants to Parkinson’s treatment. But decreasing oxidative stress is still a simple way to improve your lifestyle and get healthier. In other words, it can’t hurt.
Some people eat fava beans for Parkinson’s because they contain levodopa — the same ingredient in some drugs used to treat Parkinson’s. There’s no definitive evidence supporting fava beans as a treatment at this time. Since you don’t know how much levodopa you’re getting when you eat fava beans, they can’t substitute for prescription treatments.
If you’re concerned about secondary symptoms of Parkinson’s, like dementia and confusion, get serious about consuming more salmon, halibut, oysters, soybeans, flax seed, and kidney beans. Soy in particular is being studied for its ability to protect against Parkinson’s. These foods contain omega-3 fatty acids, which might improve cognitive function.
For constipation caused by Parkinson’s, try seasoning your food with turmeric or yellow mustard to encourage bowel movements. A study concluded that consuming caffeine might help slow down the progression of Parkinson’s. For muscle cramps caused by Parkinson’s, consider drinking tonic water for the quinine it contains or upping your magnesium through diet, Epsom salt baths, or supplements.
Foods to avoid
Dairy products have been linked to a risk of developing Parkinson’s. Something in dairy products might negatively impact the oxidation levels in your brain, making symptoms more persistent. This effect was shown to be stronger in men than in women. If you’re going to stop consuming dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt, you might want to consider a calcium supplement to make up for the loss of calcium in your diet, although low calcium intake doesn’t necessarily equal poor bone health (as seen in countries with low dairy and calcium consumption).
Foods high in saturated fat
The role that foods high in saturated fats play in Parkinson’s progression is still under investigation and is often conflicting. We might eventually discover that there are certain types of saturated fats that actually help people with Parkinson’s. Some limited research does show that ketogenic, low-protein diets were beneficial for some with Parkinson’s, while other research finds high saturated fat intake worsened risk. But in general, foods that have been fried or heavily processed alter your metabolism, increase blood pressure, and impact your cholesterol. None of those things are any good for your body, especially if you’re trying to treat Parkinson’s.
Staying hydrated is important for everyone, especially people with Parkinson’s. Aim to drink six to eight glasses of water each day to feel your best. Vitamin D has been demonstrated to protect against Parkinson’s, so getting fresh air and sunshine might help your symptoms, too. Different kinds of exercise and physical therapy can improve your abilities and slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Talk to you doctor about supplements you might take and exercises that would be safe for you to try.
We don’t know enough yet to recommend a very specific diet to treat Parkinson’s disease. We do know that what makes a healthy lifestyle for a person with Parkinson’s, and a person without Parkinson’s, are not all that different. Some kinds of supplements and foods can interfere with Parkinson’s prescription drugs, so make sure you consult with you doctor before changing your treatment routine.