Is there an appropriate way of eating for patients with Parkinson's disease? The answer is Yes and No; because what nutritionally benefits one person may not help another. We are all individuals, and the disease affects us all differently. However, there are some similarities and things to try and see what helps you. The biggest nutritional concerns that I hear for Parkinson's Disease ( PD) patients are:
Let's talk about each one, one at a time!
Bone thinning is caused by lower levels of Vitamin D among PD patients. The research shows that most patients are deficient in Vitamin D (honestly, most people are- especially in climates where the sun has disappeared for 6 months). Vitamin D is responsible for helping your body absorb calcium and keep bones strong. When Vitamin D levels are low, the parathyroid gland will "borrow" calcium from the bones and regulate calcium in the blood. Why are strong bones so crucial for those with PD? Because those with PD may experience non-motor and motor-related symptoms like balance problems, tremors, rigidity, unexpected falls, and increased fracture risks. Excellent sources of Vitamin D are:
Sunlight (minimum 10 minutes a day).
Salmon (contains much more vitamin D than milk or yogurt).
Dairy contains Vitamin D, but as we know, dairy products have inflammatory properties for most people, so you may want to limit these as you try to decrease your symptoms.
My other recommendations to prevent bone thinning include Vitamin K, Magnesium, Calcium, and Phosphorus. This doesn't mean you need to run out to the store and buy all of these supplements! Foods high in Vitamin K are leafy green vegetables. Foods high in magnesium are nuts, bananas, dark chocolate, and spinach. 66% of Americans are deficient in magnesium, and it's a shame because it does so much for our bodies! If you typically don't have many magnesium-rich foods in your diet, I would suggest magnesium citrate, glycinate, taurate, or chelate as a magnesium supplement. Foods high in calcium besides dairy are broccoli! You can get the same calcium from a cup of broccoli that you can from milk! Foods high in phosphorus are meats, fish, and eggs.
Side effects of Parkinson's medications, lack of thirst, or trouble swallowing can raise the risk of dehydration throughout the body. This may cause confusion, weakness, kidney problems, blood pressure levels dropping too low, and in extreme cases, fainting spells—people with Parkinson's drink HALF as many fluids as people without. The recommendation here, according to parkinsons.org, is to consume about half your body's weight in ounces or 8 glasses of 8 oz of water. I usually recommend drinking more than that at around 75-100 oz per day. The larger the person you are, the more you may need! My recommendation is to start with 75oz and individualize it for yourself after a few days of getting used to it!
Parkinson's disease and medication side effects slow down the motility (movement) of your gut, causing delayed gastric emptying. The gut movements (peristalsis) are executed and coordinated by nerve cells around the GI tract. Just as the movement of limbs can be slow or uncoordinated, so can the nerve cells around the GI tract. Constipation can lead to bowel obstruction, which requires hospitalization and sometimes surgery. One bowel movement per day is ideal. If you struggle with constipation, I recommend drinking more fluids and consuming more fiber from whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
UNEXPECTED WEIGHT LOSS
Because of the complications from Parkinson's, medications, slowed gut motility, slowed swallowing reflex, and feeling full or bloated, it's not uncommon that PD patients eat less and more infrequently. My recommendation for this issue is to eat smaller, more frequent meals to avoid feeling full too fast and becoming bloated. Also, speak with your healthcare provider if this is a continued issue and inquire about H. Pylori or SIBO.
Now to the nutrition part: What to eat and which foods to avoid? In PD, some foods may help ease symptoms and help brain health, while others can affect how medications work.
SUGAR: Unfortunately, a diet high in refined sugar can increase inflammation in the brain, so it is essential to limit sugar when possible.
INFLAMMATORY FOODS: Inflammation in the nervous system occurs early in Parkinson's. This inflammation can accelerate the degeneration of dopamine-producing cells. Anti-inflammatory foods can reduce this process. The highest inflammatory foods are sugar, gluten, and dairy products.
Gut health and PD: The microbiota in the gut has a significant effect on neurodegenerative diseases. Gastrointestinal symptoms are often associated with PD. Probiotics are helpful for most people in this instance.
All in all, these are some great places to start being observant of your symptoms and habits. But ultimately, I believe that nutrition for PD should be personalized and specific to you!