It may come as no surprise to you that your diet has a tremendous effect on your overall health and well-being. The age-old adage, you are what you eat, has been demonstrated time and time again in scientific research – giving rise to a well-established medical view that, in combination with exercise, a good diet is key to good health.
What you eat also plays a central role to your brain functions, making your daily nutrient intake a particularly important aspect of how you manage your Parkinson’s disease. Eating foods rich in the right types of nutrients can support your brain and nervous system, as well as your overall health. In this article we will attempt to cover the main food types which you should – and shouldn’t – consume for optimum health.
While you may find this article helpful in planning your meals, bear in mind that these general guidelines are meant for reference only; if you are in doubt, or if you struggle with preparing a meal plan, we suggest that you consult a licensed dietitian or nutritionist for guidance that is tailored to your particular needs.
Do’s – Eat More of These
A range of plant-based foods may be a good place to start. Plant-based foods can be incredibly diverse, from whole grains to legumes, vegetables, and fruit, and pack a host of health beneficial nutrients such as complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
Whole grains – particularly whole barley, rye, and oats – have been found to support colon health, improve bowel movement regularity, balance blood glucose and cholesterol, and boost the immune system.
Of particular importance to Parkinson’s patients are blueberries, which appear in some studies to boost memory and slow down neurodegeneration, as well as apples and onions – these contain quercetin, an antioxidant which may offer protection against DNA damage.
Pulses, such as dry beans, split peas, lentils, and chickpeas, are rich in protein, fiber, and B-group vitamins which are important for brain cells.
Another important B-group vitamin is vitamin B12. It plays a central role in brain health, yet it is found only in animal-based foods. Good sources of vitamin B12 are fish, seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy foods. These foods also contain all essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein in our bodies.
A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with conditions such as dementia and depression; since much of the brain’s gray matter is made of omega-3 fats, this fatty acid is of great importance for people living with Parkinson’s. It can be found in fatty fish, seafood, and in smaller amounts in eggs. Omega-3 fatty acids also support heart health.
Note, however, that all kinds of animal milk contain high concentrations of amino acids which may interfere with the absorption of levodopa. If you take levodopa and find that milk is interfering with your medication, consider switching to a plant-based milk such as soy or almond milk.
Probiotics are foods which contain live “friendly” bacteria, yeast, and other living organisms. These foods are especially important for people living with Parkinson’s, as there is a growing body of research showing that there is a strong connection between gut bacteria – also known the microbiome – and brain health. One theory even argues that poor gut health may trigger Parkinson’s Disease.
Note: as many probiotic foods are fermented foods, patients using MAO-B inhibitor medications should avoid these foods as the tyramine in fermented foods may interact with this drug to cause a hypertensive crisis.
Yogurt, however, is a good source of probiotics as it is safe to consume even for those taking MAO-B inhibitors. Yogurt contains different strains of bacteria used in its preparation, and consuming different strains of bacteria is better than just one strain, so check the label on each yogurt product for the specific strain used to make it and mix it up with other yogurt products.
Another good source of probiotics is kefir. Kefir is a drink typically made of milk and multiple strains of friendly bacteria – more strains than in yogurt. There are water- or coconut-based kefir products for those who are sensitive to milk protein.
Fermented pickles also contain friendly bacteria. Unlike traditional pickles, these products are made without vinegar and are unpasteurized, as the heat would kill the living organisms in them. Examples of fermented products include sauerkraut – fermented cabbage, and kimchi – a spicy Korean staple. Make sure you get unpasteurized versions of these items.
As described above, probiotic foods contain friendly bacteria. Prebiotics, however, feed healthy bacteria in your gut. They contain dietary fiber which cannot be digested by the human digestive tract, yet they serve as fuel for the probiotic organisms to grow and prosper in your gut. It therefore makes sense to combine probiotics with prebiotics in your daily diet.
Each probiotic food supports a different type of friendly gut bacteria; therefore, diversity is key – try to incorporate many different types of prebiotics on a regular basis. Studies have shown that people who consume whole grains, for example, had more of a friendly gut bacteria and less of another, harmful bacteria. A study done on animals has even found that prebiotic foods improve sleep.
Good sources of prebiotics include whole grains, such as wheat and oats; vegetables such as onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, eggplants, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes; nuts such as cashews and peanuts; and legumes – beans, peas, and lentils. Each of these foods has different types of indigestible fiber which are important for your gut health. Another surprising source of prebiotics is good-quality dark chocolate.
Don’ts – What to avoid
The list of harmful foods should come as no surprise to anyone trying to follow a healthy diet. Refined foods, such as white wheat flour and white sugar have been stripped of their beneficial properties, such as prebiotic fiber, and should be replaced with whole grains. Other processed foods, such as canned soup or frozen ready-to-eat meals typically contain many refined ingredients and may also be supplemented with harmful additives, such as thickeners, artificial food coloring, and preservatives.
There has been an association between herbicides used in farming and the incidence of Parkinson’s in farmers. Research is now uncovering a possible link between glyphosate, a commonly-used herbicide, and some degenerative diseases, while animal studies show that glyphosate may interfere with the normal working of the gut. Therefore, where possible, it makes sense to avoid products which may have been overly sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals, and to prefer organically-grown fruits and vegetables.
The Benefits of a Healthy Diet
Science is continually discovering the importance of a healthy, rich, balanced diet in maintaining optimal health. While the guidelines in this article are always good advice, those living with Parkinson’s in particular stand to benefit from a well-rounded, diverse diet which provides everything their bodies, guts, and brains need to enjoy a good quality of life.
Source: Parkinson's Europe
THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something that you have read on this website or in any linked article, blog or other materials.