Eating a healthy and balanced diet is an important component of maintaining good health for all people, but it is especially important for people with Parkinson’s Disease.
A diet that includes a variety of healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables and limits total fat, saturated fat and refined sugars can help to preserve bone strength, maintain a healthy weight and reduce constipation.
By having a Dietitian, a credentialed nutrition expert, on your treatment team, you can receive valuable education and guidance to make sure you meet your nutritional needs.
People with Parkinson’s Disease have a high risk of bone loss (also known as osteoporosis) and as the disease advances can have an increased incidence of falls. By keeping your bones as strong as possible, you lower the risk of fracturing a bone from a fall.
A Dietitian can help you to incorporate foods high in nutrients that support bone health (calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K) into your diet.
For people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, swallowing problems (dysphagia) are common. If you experience any difficulty chewing or swallowing, check with your doctor or a speech-language pathologist to see if you need to follow a special eating plan with modified textures of foods and/or beverages. A Dietitian can provide education on modified texture diets and assist with meal planning and cooking tips to meet an individual’s needs.
Unplanned weight loss is common for people with Parkinson’s Disease. It may occur as a result of medication side effects (nausea or loss of appetite), depression, slowed movement or feeding difficulty. Malnutrition often accompanies this type of weight loss and can significantly weaken the immune system. Therefore, eating a nutrient- and energy-rich diet is important for maintaining a healthy body weight. For other people with Parkinson’s Disease, weight gain may be a problem due to decreased physical activity levels or medications causing compulsive eating.
Another medication side effect may alter nutritional status in Parkinson’s patients taking levodopa. This medication competes for absorption in the small intestine with proteins in food. Timing of meals and medications may be another important thing to discuss with your treatment team. Consulting a Dietitian will allow you to develop a customized meal plan and learn how to modify recipes to achieve your weight goals.
Constipation is a problem experienced by many people with Parkinson’s Disease. The muscles and nerves of the intestines are also affected by the degenerative process, which means that the stomach empties slower and food takes longer to pass through the digestive tract. A diet high in fiber, with adequate water or fluid intake, is an effective way to help treat constipation. Dietitians are very knowledgeable in this area and can provide information on how to increase fiber in your diet and ensure you are drinking enough fluids.
Alternative therapies such as Ayurvedic medicine, broad beans, St. John’s wort, coenzyme Q10, acupuncture and massage are often marketed to people with Parkinson’s Disease. Always talk to your doctor before adding any herbs or supplements to your treatment regimen. For a detailed description of herbs and supplements and any evidence supporting their effectiveness and safety visit http://nccam.nih.gov/health/atoz.htm.
Your doctor and Dietitian can help you sort through this information and make an informed decision about whether or not to take any herbs or other supplements.
Kristin Hirahatake is a registered dietitian. Kristin is passionate about translating scientific research findings into practical applications that people can directly implement. She continues to maintain an active role in the field of nutrition research by co-authoring peer-reviewed journal articles. Her most rewarding experiences as a dietitian have been to see positive changes and improvements in the lives of her clients.
National Parkinson Foundation (2014). What are some common nutritional concerns for people with PD? Retrieved January 14, 2014 <http://www.parkinson.org/Parkinson-s-Disease/Living-Well/Nutrition/What-are- some-common-nutritional-concerns-for-peop>.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutrition Care Manual: National Dysphagia Diet. Retrieved January 14, 2014. <https://www.nutritioncaremanual.org/client_ed.cfm?ncm_client_ed_id=178>.
Parkinson’s Disease Information. Parkinson’s Disease Alternative Medicine (2012). Retrieved January 14, 2014 <http://www.parkinsons.org/parkinsons-alternative-medicine.html>.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2012). Parkinson’s Disease Information. Retrieved January 14, 2014 <http://nccam.nih.gov/taxonomy/term/44?nav=gsa>.