NUTRITION, BRAIN HEALTH, AND PARKINSON’S DISEASE
April is National Parkinson’s Disease awareness month. That means it’s a good time to focus on nutrition and brain health and learn about treatments, and ways to help and support those affected by the disease.
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a degenerative disorder that affects brain health. Unfortunately, each year, nearly 60,000 are diagnosed with the condition.
PD strikes most often in older adults between the ages of fifty and sixty, with a small number affected at an earlier age. Indications of the disease usually start gradually and often include symptoms such as tremors, rigidity, slow speech, and poor balance. Frequently, dementia and depression are seen in the later stages of the disease.
There have been studies investigating the benefits of some foods in delaying or slowing the progression of PD. Additionally, other foods that interfere with particular PD medications, may need to be avoided or eaten at different times. Consequently, having the right information allows patients to make smart and informed decisions about their care.
Smart nutrition may therefore play an important role in the management of this progressive illness. In this article, we will look at both those foods to include and those to avoid.
THE MIND DIET: NUTRITION FOR BRAIN HEALTH
The MIND diet, was created for brain health, and is associated with decreasing the risk and slowing the progression of dementia. There is evidence to suggest that adherence to the MIND diet may also delay the onset of Parkinson’s disease, particularly in women.
This diet was developed by a nutritional epidemiologist, through a study funded by the National Institute on Aging, with the goal of preserving brain health. The MIND diet is the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet, a combination of the well-known Mediterranean and DASH diets.
The Mediterranean diet urges eating more healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado, and nuts while having more fats high in omega-3 fatty acids and limiting red meats. It also encourages increasing fiber intake by choosing more whole grains and seeds, as well as fruits and vegetables. The diet limits dairy to 2 cups per day and suggests lower-fat varieties. It includes moderate amounts of red wine and dark chocolate with greater than 70% cacao.
The DASH diet mimics the Mediterranean diet. However, it is also a low salt diet and encourages reduced sodium intake, both added and processed. The DASH diet also emphasizes nutrients that are important for maintaining stable blood pressure, such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, and fiber.
CAROTENOIDS AND FLAVONOIDS
The MIND diet goes one step further by not only promoting fruits and vegetables but including those that are notably high in carotenoids and flavonoids. In other words, compounds that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, attacking dangerous free radicals that harm brain cells. Evidence suggests that a high intake of carotenoids may slow the rate of progression of PD and dementia in older adults.
Foods high in carotenoids include:
– Kale, spinach, basil,
– Parsley, leeks, peas, squash,
– Pistachios, pumpkin, egg yolks,
– Green beans, corn
Foods rich in flavonoids include:
– Onions, kale
– Green tea
– Tomatoes, spinach, dark chocolate, red wine
Fruits and vegetables that are purple and red, like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, and aronia berries.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
The MIND diet also promotes an intake rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Research supports a relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and relieving some of the symptoms associated with PD as well as potentially slowing its progression.
Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include:
– Salmon, tuna, trout, mussels,
– Oysters, mackerel, sardines, herring,
– Salmon oil, cod liver oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant. Studies point to a link between Vitamin E’s antioxidant properties and improved cognition by reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the damage to our brain cells by free radicals, which increase with age and disease.
Foods rich in Vitamin E include:
– Wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds,
– Almonds, hazelnut oil, sunflower oil, almond oil, hazelnuts,
– Abalone, pine nuts, peanuts, salmon,
– Avocado, mango, kiwi
Timing matters. For example, taking medications with or without food can determine how quickly they are absorbed and the rate at which they are effective. Therefore, your doctor may suggest you time your medications around meals.
Carbidopa-levodopa or Sinemet® is commonly prescribed for PD symptoms. Foods that are high in protein may compete with this medication for absorption and interfere with the way your body responds to it. Consequently, if taken too closely with a high-protein meal, a delay in the time it takes for the medicine to work may be observed.
Your health care provider may recommend taking medication thirty or sixty minutes before the meal. Furthermore, by spreading out high protein foods throughout the day, you can continue to meet your protein needs without interfering with your treatment.
High-fat foods, such as red meat, dairy products and fried foods, lengthen the time it takes for the medicine to kick in, and may therefore also interfere with medication’s effectiveness.
SHOULD SOME FOODS BE AVOIDED?
Research suggests a potential link between dairy products and the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, however, the indications are not clear. One explanation points to exposure to pesticides, but this contribution is thought to be small. The same study found no risk from taking Calcium and Vitamin D supplements.
Another possible explanation is the link between dairy products and uric acid. Uric acid is a compound in our blood, found in large amounts in the brain. Studies propose uric acid may protect against oxidative cell damage in Parkinson’s disease. Dairy consumption, however, is related to lower levels of uric acid and may therefore reduce this protective property.
Additional studies are warranted to investigate this relationship further. The Parkinson’s Foundation does not advocate avoiding dairy products.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT NUTRITION AND BRAIN HEALTH…
If you have concerns about diet or nutrition in regards to Parkinson’s Disease, or simply want some assistance developing the healthiest diet for your lifestyle and circumstances, consult one of our experienced Registered Dietitians. Our clinicians can help you understand your specific needs and develop a plan that works for you.
Call today to make an appointment at 240-449-3094. Some of our services may be covered by insurance.