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Let’s start with three facts:

  1. Parkinson’s is a disease with no known cure.
  2. Certain drugs may help control symptoms – but they may have side effects.
  3. Parkinson’s researchers and patients are on the lookout for non-medicated remedies.

With this in mind, let’s review how some basic nutritional guidelines can help with the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Then we’ll explore new research on the potential benefits of fasting and other dietary approaches.

Which Foods Help Minimize the Symptoms of Parkinson's?

When free radicals and antioxidants fall out of balance in the body, the result is oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can contribute to a variety of health issues. According to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, oxidative stress can worsen Parkinson’s symptoms.

The Foundation also suggests that an antioxidant-rich diet can help control oxidation problems. To boost antioxidants, make sure you're eating plenty of tree nuts, berries, spinach, kale, and nightshade vegetables like tomatoes and peppers. While there haven’t been any reports of dramatic symptom improvement, managing oxidative stress can be beneficial to one’s overall health.

Another food to make sure you're including in your diet is fava beans. Why fava beans? Because they provide you with levodopa, which is commonly used in Parkinson’s medication.

Finally, to tamp down any secondary symptoms of the disease, such as dementia and confusion, remember to include your Omega-3’s. You can find Omega-3's in most seafood, along with soybeans, flax seed and kidney beans.

Managing the Symptoms of Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease that primarily affects the brain's neurons. There are many signs of Parkinson’s, including tremors or shaking, trouble moving and loss of one's sense of smell. The disease may also contribute to the development of dementia.

Fasting, ketogenic diets and other approaches may help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s and other brain diseases, in much of the same way that exercise helps. A promising study led by Dr. Mark Mattson of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine reveals how intermittent fasting — controlling caloric intake a couple of times per week — pushes our brain to perform in healthier ways.

bowl of beautiful food

Dietary Strategies for Fending off Parkinson’s

You’ve probably heard that fasting can cleanse your body and improve your health. But did you know that it might help people manage the symptoms of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s?

Fasting helps turn fat into ketone bodies — encouraging a healthy transformation in the structure of synapses that are critical for learning and memory, as well as overall brain health.

Mattson suggests two ways to try out a calorie-restricted diet. First, there’s the 5:2 diet. On two nonconsecutive days each week you consume a total of 500 calories each day. On the other five days, just stick with a normal diet. This is usually around 2,000 calories for women or 2,500 for men.

The second option is to experiment with a time-restricted diet, where you condense eating into a single eight-hour period every day. This gives your body the remaining 16 hours to begin burning fat and creating ketones.

Dr. Mattson recommends beginning slowly. Start with moderate fasting one day per week. Once your body gets used to it, add a second day. Symptoms such as headaches, lightheadedness, and grouchiness are common in the beginning but typically pass.

A Fast Look at the Rewards of Fasting

The results from a six-month study of the 5:2 diet, conducted by Mattson and other researchers, demonstrated improvements in well-being for those with Parkinson's. Dr. Mattson explains that a brain challenged by physical exertion, cognitive tasks or caloric restriction causes the body to produce a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF improves neural connections, helps create new neurons, and can even be anti-depressive.

As Dr. Mattson explains it, “Fasting is a challenge to your brain, and we think that your brain reacts by activating adaptive stress responses that help it cope with disease. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense your brain should be functioning well when you haven’t been able to obtain food for a while.”

The Keto Diet's Connection to Parkinson’s

Researchers are also exploring the relationship between so-called ketogenic diets and Parkinson’s disease. Simply put, a Keto Diet emphasizes fat, along with a moderate amount of protein, with very few carbohydrates. The diet makes us burn fats instead of carbs.

One clinical study of Parkinson’s patients put low-fat, high-carb diets head-to-head with a high-fat, low carb ketogenic approach. Participants in the study were given shopping lists, menus, recipes and forms to keep track of blood glucose and ketone levels. Both groups showed improvement in both motor and non-motor symptoms. However, the ketogenic diet group scored better in symptoms like urinary issues, fatigue, pain, sleepiness and cognitive abilities. It is thought that keeping the body in ketosis might promote beneficial chemical reactions. Many researchers believe ketogenic diets are safe for Parkinson’s patients for up to two months.

Treating Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a major challenge to one’s well-being and quality of life — physically, mentally and emotionally. The good news? Parkinson’s is treatable! Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use to manage symptoms, promote brain health and live comfortable with Parkinson’s.

The new diet modification regimes being explored by Dr. Mattson and others are a few of many strategies aimed at minimizing symptoms and maximizing quality of life for people coping with Parkinson’s. Diet and nutrition play a key role in achieving both. Recent tactics including fasting and ketogenic diets are significant additions to a growing Parkinson’s treatment toolbox.

Receiving physical therapy, improving sleep, enjoying fresh air and finding the right type of exercise are all ways to improve a Parkinson’s patient’s quality of life. Additionally, the benefits of the emotional support provided by family, friends and caregivers cannot be overstated.

To learn about different strategies that helps improve the quality of life for someone with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, our editor also recommends you read:

How Music Therapy Helps Those with Parkinson’s Build Strength Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Affect Brain and Body Differently

Resources

Diet and Parkinson’s

Everything You Should Know About Oxidative Stress

Are There Any Proven Benefits to Fasting?

Low-fat versus ketogenic diet in Parkinson's disease: A pilot randomized controlled trial.

Merriam Webster: Hippocampus

Wikipedia: Ketone Bodies

About the Author(s)

With over 20 years of experience writing for leading healthcare providers, Rob is passionate about bringing awareness to the issues surrounding our aging society. As a former caretaker for his parents and his aunt, Rob understands first-hand the experiences and challenges of caring for an aging loved. Long an advocate for caregiver self-care, his favorite activities include walking on the beach, hiking in the coastal hills of Southern California and listening to music.

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