Parkinson’s Disease (PD) ranks as the second most common neurodegenerative disease in America (after Alzheimer’s). In all, PD affects about 1% of Americans over age 60, with some 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year. About one million Americans live with PD today.
Although scientists haven’t discovered the causes of PD, they have identified the brain “deficits” that accompany the disease. Essentially, PD is defined by the loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra (located in the midbrain). For their part, dopaminergic neurons are brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. The loss of these neurons severely compromises the relaying of electrical signals in the brain.
Today, scientists know that some people have a higher genetic susceptibility to PD. Yet, environmental factors factor in, as well, which adds complexity to the search for a cause.
The Role of Nutrition in Parkinson’s Disease
Research efforts have uncovered nutrients that may be “neuroprotective” or “neurodegenerative” in nature. To date, the following elements have been studied and tested: dairy products, meats, fats, carbohydrates, nicotine, alcohol, vitamins, and dietary supplements.
However, preliminary research has yielded little reliable guidance in regards to diet. According to a study, certain nutrients may increase one’s risk of PD, while others may decrease it. Basically, specific nutrients can inhibit certain toxic developments in our brains. Our bodies can also obtain antioxidants from a well-balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, nicotine and red wine (in moderation) are viewed as protective factors for PD.
Your neurologist or nutritionist can help you navigate the latest research on PD and make specific diet recommendations. As time progresses, the role of nutrition in treating or preventing PD will increase.
General Nutritional Issues in Parkinson’s Disease
People living with PD struggle with specific nutritional concerns. The Parkinson’s Foundation advises patients to address nutritional issues so that complications from PD can be minimized.
Maintaining bone strength is an important consideration for PD patients. Research shows that PD precipitates bone-thinning in patients.
So, bone-strengthening nutrients should be a constant consideration when preparing meals. Be sure to enjoy meals rich in calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D & K. Certainly, regular exposure to sunlight also increases your body’s ability to manufacture vitamin D. Bone strength can also be increased by weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, dancing, and hiking. Ultimately, strong bones make fractures less likely.
PD patients often take several medications. Below, we highlight the need to observe drug interactions, especially those that result in adverse reactions. Most importantly, patients need to consider that certain medications can increase the risk of dehydration. Other adverse reactions listed by the Parkinson’s Foundation include confusion, weakness, balance disorders, respiratory lapses, and kidney problems. The foundation encourages patients to consume as much as eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid daily to ensure they remain hydrated. Although water is ideal, other fluids such as juice may help.
Preventing Bowel Impaction
Proper hydration can help prevent another common problem of PD: bowel impaction. However, inadequate fluid intake does not constitute the sole cause of bowel impaction. PD itself precipitates the slowing of bowel functions. Untreated, constipation can lead to bowel impaction. That may require hospitalization and even surgery. The common prescription for preventing constipation applies: plenty of fluids and the daily intake of at least 20-25 grams of fiber.
Guarding Against Unplanned Weight Loss
The patient with advanced PD may suffer weight loss because of difficulty swallowing or a feeling of fullness after a limited intake of food. Taking frequent small meals may help. Still, something as rudimentary as defective dentures or dental plates can get in the way of eating, as well.
If weight loss and malnutrition go unchecked, the patient’s immune system may be compromised. As key nutrients degrade, the chemical imbalances that underlie PD are exacerbated. The endpoint in the most serious cases may be death.
Monitoring Medication Side Effects
As mentioned above, there are many medications that can help manage PD symptoms. Like all medications, however, the risk of unexpected side effects may be daunting.
According to The Parkinson’s Foundation, the most commonly observed side effects are:
- A feeling of nausea
- Decreased appetite and resultant weight-loss
- Fluid retention (edema)
- Increased appetite and resultant weight gain
- Dyskinesia (progressive loss of balance).
A special concern arises in the case of Levodopa, one of the most important medications for treating PD. Levodopa is absorbed by the small intestine, which also absorbs protein from foods. These two functions may interfere with one another if the medication is taken too close to meals.
Your doctor and medical care team can advise on the timing of medications with meals. The general rule is to take the medicine 30 minutes or more before eating or two hours after eating.
David York Supports New Research for Parkinson’s Disease
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