Understanding the relationship between diet and Parkinson’s disease

A balanced diet provides your body with the nutrients it needs to function effectively. For people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), a balanced diet is even more important. Research suggests some types of food may help alleviate the symptoms of PD, while others may exacerbate them. Some foods can even impact the way PD medication works. 

 

How your diet affects PD medication

Your dietary choices can have a direct impact on the efficacy of your medication. Carbidopa-levodopa, the medication most commonly used to treat PD, is absorbed in the small intestine. 

Research suggests that dietary protein competes with levodopa for intestinal absorption (1). Taking levodopa with or shortly after eating a protein-rich meal can impact how your body uses or metabolizes the medication. It may take longer for the medicine to kick in or make it less effective. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should limit your protein intake, but it does mean that you should try to take levodopa at least half an hour before or one to two hours after meals. While the majority of people with PD are aware of the food-drug interaction between dietary proteins and levodopa, less than 1 in 5 (18.2%) consistently take levodopa outside of meals (2). Talk to your doctor for more information. 

 

Your diet, your digestive system and PD

The gastrointestinal tract – the passageway of the digestive system that runs through the human body – is home to trillions of microorganisms that are known collectively as the gut microbiota. Humans have a symbiotic relationship with the gut microbiota. We provide it with an environment conducive to its development, as well as nutrients essential to its survival. In return, the gut microbiota helps develop the immune system, breaks down fiber, and influences eating habits and brain function. 

The composition of microbiota is influenced by a range of environmental factors, including diet, exercise and genetics, which means that no two microbiota are exactly the same. However, researchers have found that an abnormal microbiome, otherwise referred to dysbiosis, is associated with many human diseases – including PD (3). 

 

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet

The balance of your microbiome is influenced by the food you eat. As such, a nutritious diet – like the Mediterranean diet – can help in alleviating some of the non-movement symptoms associated with PD, including constipation, low blood pressure, fatigue, depression and more. 

The Mediterranean diet is characterized by daily consumption of:

  • Fresh vegetables
  • Fresh fruit
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Seeds
  • Non-fried fish
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh herbs and spices

 

One of the key differences between the Mediterranean diet and the diet of many Western countries is the amount of fiber consumption. In most Western societies, consumption of dietary fiber is very low (typically less than 10-15g per day), while those who adhere to a Mediterranean diet may take in more than 25-30g of daily dietary fiber. A high fiber diet can improve intestinal barrier function and insulin resistance (3), improve insulin sensitivity, and increase brain derived neurotrophic factor function. 

The Mediterranean diet is also rich in flavonoids, which contain antioxidants that may be associated with a decreased risk of PD (4). This includes foods like tea, berry fruits, apples, oranges, vegetables and grains. 

Omega-3 fats may also have a role to play in reducing the risk of PD development. This may be due to the way omega-3 fats help reduce nerve inflammation, improve neurotransmission and slow neurodegeneration. Fish and seafood that contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Oysters
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies

 

The problem with the Western diet

While certain foods have beneficial effects on PD, the inverse is also true: some types of foods may exacerbate the symptoms or progress the development of PD. 

There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that the Western diet (5) is one of the greatest risk factors for developing neurodegenerative diseases such as PD. The Western diet is characterized by the consumption of foods that are:

  • High in saturated fat 
  • High in refined carbohydrate and sugars
  • High in salt
  • Low in fiber

 

A number of studies show that consuming high quantities of animal saturated fat is linked with an increased risk of developing PD. In addition, some foods can contribute to or accelerate the progression of PD, including:

  • Soda
  • Fried foods
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Ice cream
  • Cheese
  • Beef

 

Leveraging AI technology to empower people with PD

Here at Orbit, we’re committed to delivering optimal care through innovative digital health solutions. Combining AI technology with a patient-centric approach to care, we’re empowering people with chronic conditions to live life to the fullest. 

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Photo by Jamie Matociños, @jamievalmat

Sources

  1. Protein-Restricted Diets for Ameliorating Motor Fluctuations in Parkinson’s Disease – PMC
  2. Frontiers | Dietary Intake of Parkinson’s Disease Patients | Nutrition
  3. Frontiers | Diet in Parkinson’s Disease: Critical Role for the Microbiome | Neurology 
  4. Habitual intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of Parkinson disease
  5. Frontiers | Western Diet: Implications for Brain Function and Behavior | Psychology

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