Parkinsonâ€™s disease affects nearly 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 Parkinsonâ€™s are still being studied.
Since Parkinsonâ€™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 Parkinsonâ€™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 Parkinsonâ€™s use to manage symptoms. But no treatment exists that will fully stop symptoms from occurring. Since thereâ€™s no cure for Parkinsonâ€™s, and the drugs prescribed to manage symptoms sometimes have harsh side effects, more and more people are exploring alternative remedies for Parkinsonâ€™s treatment.
Hereâ€™s what the research says about foods to eat and avoid to help manage the symptoms of Parkinsonâ€™s disease.
Foods to eat
Current research focuses on proteins, flavonoids, and gut bacteria for improving Parkinsonâ€™s symptoms. In the meantime, eating a diet high in antioxidants reduces â€œoxidative stressâ€ that aggravates Parkinsonâ€™s and similar conditions, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinsonâ€™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 Parkinsonâ€™s, but these trials didnâ€™t find concrete evidence to link antioxidants to Parkinsonâ€™s treatment. But decreasing oxidative stress is still a simple way to improve your lifestyle and get healthier. In other words, it canâ€™t hurt.
Some people eat fava beans for Parkinsonâ€™s because they contain levodopa â€” the same ingredient in some drugs used to treat Parkinsonâ€™s. Thereâ€™s no definitive evidence supporting fava beans as a treatment at this time. Since you donâ€™t know how much levodopa youâ€™re getting when you eat fava beans, they canâ€™t substitute for prescription treatments.
If youâ€™re concerned about secondary symptoms of Parkinsonâ€™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 Parkinsonâ€™s. These foods contain omega-3 fatty acids, which might improve cognitive function.
Foods to avoid
Dairy products have been linked to a risk of developing Parkinsonâ€™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 and not seen in those supplementing with calcium.
If youâ€™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. However, low calcium intake doesnâ€™t necessarily equal poor bone health, as seen in countries with low dairy and calcium consumption.
Recent research suggests that a defect in how the body manages calcium ions (Ca2+), the form of calcium residing in bone, and also present in dairy, might be to blame for the progression of Parkinsonâ€™s disease.
Foods high in saturated fat
The role that foods high in saturated fats play in Parkinsonâ€™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 Parkinsonâ€™s.
Some limited research does show that ketogenic, low-protein diets were beneficial for some with Parkinsonâ€™s. 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 good for your body, especially if youâ€™re trying to treat Parkinsonâ€™s.
Staying hydrated is important for everyone, especially people with Parkinsonâ€™s. Aim to drink six to eight glasses of water each day to feel your best.
Vitamin D has been demonstrated to protect against Parkinsonâ€™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 Parkinsonâ€™s.
Talk to you doctor about supplements you might take and exercises that would be safe for you to try.
We donâ€™t know enough yet to recommend a very specific diet to treat Parkinsonâ€™s disease. We do know that what makes a healthy lifestyle for a person with Parkinsonâ€™s, and a person without Parkinsonâ€™s, are not all that different.
Some kinds of supplements and foods can interfere with Parkinsonâ€™s prescription drugs, so make sure you consult with you doctor before changing your treatment routine.
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