Parkinson’s disease can be a devastating diagnosis that causes significant uncertainty and fear. Many people living with this degenerative disorder, however, can live a full life before the onset of more debilitating symptoms. Although there currently is no cure, there are ways to reduce the symptoms and potentially slow the disease’s progression. While medication is the go-to method for treating Parkinson’s, making healthy changes can help. These changes include exercising and consuming the right nutritious foods.
Healthy Foods for Parkinson’s
People with Parkinson’s should follow general nutrition guidelines when choosing what foods to eat. Ideally, one should eat foods that are low in saturated fats, sugar, and sodium. While there are no diets specifically tailored for people with Parkinson’s, the Mediterranean diet can help people meet their nutritional needs, and according to studies, it may also reduce early symptoms. This type of diet involves eating more plant-based foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, and reducing one’s intake of lean proteins.
Foods that people with Parkinson’s should avoid include processed foods, which can negatively impact gut health and result in a more rapid progression of the disease. Foods that are high in fat may also worsen symptoms.
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How Diet Affects Parkinson’s Symptoms and Risks
People with Parkinson’s live with many symptoms that can hinder their daily lives. The right diet can help to ease some of these symptoms and their associated risks. A slower digestive system and constipation are very common among people with Parkinson’s. Constipation can become so severe that it may cause problems such as impaction or bowel incontinence. Adding more fiber to one’s diet is one way to help ease constipation. Foods that are excellent sources of fiber include whole-grain foods like brown rice and whole-grain pasta, as well as beans and fruits. One should choose foods that have a least 5 mg of fiber per serving and aim for 28 to 40 mg of fiber daily.
People who suffer from low blood pressure when they stand up, which is known as orthostatic hypotension, are at a greater risk of injury from falling. By increasing the amount of salt in their diet, they can reduce this risk, but increasing sodium intake isn’t an option for everyone. People with high blood pressure or conditions that are negatively affected by salt should check with their doctor before adding more to their diet.
Diet can also affect the gut microbiome. People living with Parkinson’s can often have higher amounts of inflammation-causing bacteria but also lower amounts of a bacterium called prevotella, which can help maintain good gut health. A Mediterranean diet, which has a prebiotic effect, is one tool that can improve the number of good gut bacteria.
Foods that are high in antioxidants, such as blueberries, kale, tomatoes, and walnuts, can help to reduce mental decline in those with Parkinson’s. Brain function may also benefit from Omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like salmon, kidney beans, and flaxseed. Nuts are good for brain health in people with Parkinson’s, as are berries. Foods like leafy green vegetables and salmon can have anti-inflammatory properties that are also good for the brain.
Parkinson’s may also cause certain nutritional deficiencies, like a decrease in iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B1. To make up for any deficit, consume foods like tofu and spinach for iron and red meat and peas for zinc. Tuna and salmon are excellent sources of vitamin D, while green, leafy vegetables and dairy products can help ensure that people with Parkinson’s get the calcium that they need.
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Diet and Medication
Medication is a crucial element in treating Parkinson’s and decreasing its symptoms. A common medication taken by many with Parkinson’s is levodopa. Levodopa, an amino acid, is absorbed in the small intestine and then travels to the brain, where it is turned into dopamine. This increases dopamine levels and reduces symptoms. When a person eats a meal that is rich in protein, however, it can interfere with levodopa’s absorption. To prevent this, one should wait between 30 to 60 minutes after taking their medication before eating. Another option is to eat foods that are higher in protein at different times of the day.
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Exercise and Symptoms
Diet isn’t the only thing that can help slow and relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Exercise that elevates the heart rate goes hand in hand with a healthy diet. With as little as two and a half hours of exercise a week, a person with Parkinson’s can start reaping its benefits. Regular workouts can help to reduce constipation as well as other potentially harmful symptoms, such as loss of balance. With regular exercise, a person can prolong or improve both their mobility and strength to help prevent falls and perform day-to-day tasks more safely.
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Exercise and the Brain
Exercise also has a positive impact on the brain and cognitive functions of people with Parkinson’s disease. When a person exercises, neurotrophic factors that help with brain function and development are released. Physical exercise can also help to slow decreases in cognitive function. When a person with Parkinson’s exercises, they are also decreasing feelings of stress and depression. In addition, it improves memory function and produces proteins that encourage new cell growth.
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Types of Exercise
Aerobic exercises, stretching, and strength training are all beneficial to people with Parkinson’s and should be a part of their workout regimen. In choosing what exercises to do, one should take their limitations into account after first talking with their doctor. A doctor will give the necessary approval to exercise and can offer advice on the best way to get started. Walking at a brisk pace, outdoors or on a treadmill, is a popular form of aerobic exercise that is suitable for most. Other beneficial exercises can include dance, boxing, and practices such as yoga and tai chi.