10 Dietary Strategies That Could Help Parkinson’s Prevention and Management: How and What to Eat

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness month.  This month we are going to learn about how dietary patterns and food choices can have a significant effect on how one feels with this neurodegenerative disease and the best ways to reduce your risk.   

Dopamine is one of the brain's "feel-good" chemicals that helps control how you move, stay motivated, and feel pleasure. But if the part of your brain that makes dopamine starts losing cells fast, especially in a place called the substantia nigra, it may lead to a condition called Parkinson’s disease.1  Close to one million people in the United States are currently living with Parkinson's disease, a number that is expected to rise steadily each year.1  As this number grows, many are left wondering what's behind the increase in Parkinson's cases.  One significant factor that has come under scrutiny is our dietary habits.  

Whether you’ve witnessed a loved one's struggle or face a diagnosis yourself, your dietary choices can be a powerful tool when used properly, which we’ll be exploring more today.  

Two Risk Factors of Parkinson’s, and One More 

Roughly 5-10% of Parkinson's cases can be attributed to genetics as the dominant factor.2  The rest of Parkinson’s cases are “sporadic” and are attributed to several risk factors, with environmental factors like exposure to pesticides and herbicides increasing the likelihood of developing Parkinsons.3  Severe head trauma (like concussions) is another risk factor, which increases the likelihood of Parkinson's by 50%.4  

There is one more very common risk factor that many of us share:  diet.  Renowned neurologist and researcher, Dr. Matthew Phillips, has spearheaded the understanding of how our diets stand out as a major modifiable factor that can significantly impact disease risk, whether you're looking to manage Parkinson's disease or help prevent it altogether.  This naturally leads us to ask:  What dietary choices should I make? 

Understand How Dietary Choices Can Impact Parkinson’s 

As we covered previously, metabolic health (click here for more on this) can play a significant role in the risk of developing Parkinson's disease (and managing its symptoms).  However, another intriguing perspective lays in our mitochondrial function, where mitochondrial dysfunction has now been named a hallmark of Parkinson's.5  If you’re not familiar with what mitochondria are, they are little organelles floating inside our cells that produce energy to power our cells – so they are very important for health and survival!   

Both metabolic and mitochondrial health are heavily influenced by our dietary habits and choices.  The foods we consume provide the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals necessary for cellular metabolism (all essential chemical processes in cells) and energy production.  Therefore, how and what we choose to eat can significantly impact brain cells and other cells (like gut cells) that contribute to the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, or its progression.  Let’s now explore some options.  

Top 10 Dietary Strategies and Food Choices for Parkinson’s 

Choosing a Dietary Pattern 

The Western diet, often called the Standard American Diet (SAD), is a major risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's.  For those of us living in the United States, almost all of us are on the SAD to some extent.  The SAD is high in excess calories, saturated fats, and sugars, while low in healthy fats and fiber.6  Given its detrimental effects, it is imperative to explore healthier dietary patterns that aim to prevent and alleviate Parkinson's disease risk and symptoms. 

“Looking at Parkinson’s disease from a metabolic perspective is an exciting research area and no longer a fringe idea.  The NIH and other researcher groups are actively investigating metabolic approaches and dietary interventions as an extension of how we treat, reduce risk, and potentially even prevent Parkinson’s.  Diet and nutrition are critical to our metabolic health, and it can go one of two ways.  Diet can either sabotage our health, or it can serve as a very potent tool for its improvement.  Our daily choices and the tools we use will dictate the trajectory it takes.” - Zoltan Mari, MD, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, NeuroReserve Medical Advisor

So, how do we know what's considered a "healthy dietary pattern"?  Well, a "healthy dietary pattern" simply means any eating style that research is showing can help people live longer and have better health and quality of life.7  The following are 3 dietary patterns that can benefit Parkinson’s.  

1. Mediterranean Diet (MeDi)

The MeDi has long been recommended for many health conditions, so it's no surprise that it has been ranked as the #1 diet for the 4th year in a row. .8  This dietary pattern is characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fresh vegetables and fruits, fish, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts, with limited amounts of red meat and saturated fats (think fast food and packaged snacks).  

The MeDi is rich in vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols, and antioxidants, which also have potent anti-inflammatory properties.  

Studies have shown that those who eat most closely to the MeDi, have about a 20% lower probability of developing prodromal (pre-symptomatic) Parkinson's disease.9 

2. Green Mediterranean Diet 

The Green MeDi diet, as its name implies, draws inspiration from the traditional MeDi while placing a greater emphasis on plant-based foods.  The Green MeDi also incorporates tea as a foundational component.   

Research shows that embracing a plant-based dietary approach like the Green MeDi may lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease by 22%.10 

3. MIND Diet: Mediterranean-DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)  

The MIND diet is a unique fusion of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.  DASH is an eating plan specifically designed to lower blood pressure through dietary modifications.  The MIND diet takes a more targeted approach by focusing on foods that are particularly beneficial for brain health – like dark leafy green vegetables and berries.   

Studies have found that adhering to the MIND diet is associated with up to 42% lower risk of incident Parkinsonism (symptoms related to Parkinson’s) and progression.11 

Life can get hectic, making it challenging to stick to a consistent diet. However, the truth is that food can serve as powerful medicine when used to your advantage.  You can provide your body with nutrition beyond just what you eat.  Nutritional supplementation is one way to achieve this.  

RELEVATE, our brain health product, contains 17 clinically researched nutrients designed to support long-term brain health.  These nutrients are selected based on those found in brain-healthy diets like the Mediterranean and MIND diets. 

RELEVATE helps bridge the gap between the ideal intake of nutrients for brain health and the Standard American Diet (SAD).  The founder of RELEVATE, Dr. Edward Park, was inspired to create this solution after witnessing his father's early-onset Parkinson's diagnosis and realizing the potential role of the SAD in contributing to such conditions. 

If you decide you’d like to sign up for a subscription of RELEVATE, click here now and use code APRILMIND to get an additional MIND diet meal planning pad, 6-day MIND meal planning inspiration sheet, colorful MIND diet food wheel, and a specially branded vitamin organizer.  Take action inside and outside the kitchen, for lasting brain health.  

4. A Ketogenic Approach to the Above Diets 

Building upon the strategies discussed earlier, you can further consider integrating ketogenic approaches into any one of the diets listed earlier.  Ketogenic approaches are characterized by low-carbohydrate, high-fat compositions, which induce a state of “fasting” and “ketosis,” where the body produces ketone bodies from fat as an energy source, instead of using carbohydrates.  Ketone bodies not only serve as fuel, but also they promote resistance to oxidative stress, inflammatory stress, and can improve the health of mitochondria.12 

Studies have indicated that adhering to a ketogenic approach consistently can lead to significant improvements in various non-motor symptoms, including urinary problems, pain, fatigue, daytime sleepiness, and also cognitive impairment.13  Keep in-mind, we should look at ketogenic approaches not as a diet by itself, but a way to adjust an overarching diet, like the Mediterranean.  Also, although ketogenic approaches emphasize higher fat intake as a fuel source, bear in-mind that the kind of fat we eat is important.  Healthy monounsaturated fats from olive oil and avocado oil, or polyunsaturated fats like omega-3’s, are great options. 

Here are a couple of low-carb, high-fat ways to start implementing a keto approach to your diet:  

  • Choose leafy greens and other vegetables as your grain's replacement.  
  • Snack on hard boiled eggs, olives, nuts, seeds, and other low carb options.  
  • For a sweet treat, eat some berries, or explore alternative sugar substitutes, like monk fruit sweetener or date sugar.  

If you want to learn more about how to practice the keto diet, let us know and we’ll write more about it!   

5. Consider Time-Restricted Eating to Get Your Body into a “Fasted” State 

Another strategy gaining attention is time-restricted eating, which focuses on a specific amount of time where there is no eating each day.  Typically, the amount of time without eating would be 12 hours or more (usually encompassing sleeping time), and during such a time, the body begins to enter a “fasted” state, leading to the body’s “switchover” from using carbohydrates to using ketone bodies for fuel.14   

As we discussed earlier, mitochondrial dysfunction is a primary factor in Parkinson's disease, and time-restricted eating may address this issue by giving our mitochondria the opportunity to restore themselves, potentially slowing the pathology, symptoms, and cognitive decline associated with Parkinson's.   

Fasting periods typically range from 12 to 18 hours daily or a full 24-hour period every other day, with normal eating patterns on alternate days.15 

Getting into a “fasted” state boosts ketone bodies, giving brain cells alternative energy and overcoming brain insulin resistance, which is common in Parkinson's patients. They also trigger BDNF (which supports the creation of new brain cells), reduce inflammation, and create positive genetic changes. Crucially, they help restore mitochondria.16 

Additions for Your Parkinson’s Pantry 

Now that we've explored various dietary approaches, let's zero in on specific foods and nutrients that can be particularly beneficial for individuals with Parkinson's. 

6. Green Tea & Coffee 

Your morning drink of choice may be contributing to brain health, with every sip.  Regularly drinking green tea may be a helping hand in both Parkinsons prevention and progression.  This is because green tea contains high levels of catechin-rich polyphenols.   

Studies have shown that intaking green tea prior to Parkinsons diagnosis reduced dopamine loss.17   

Additionally, studies have shown that drinking coffee daily, even during mid-life, can reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's disease by 80% compared to non-coffee drinkers.18 Coffee does this by having the ability to reduce brain cell inflammation, keep the blood-brain barrier strong, and lower the loss of certain brain cells connected to dopamine.18 

7. Berries (and Other Flavonoids) 

Eating berries can make a big difference for your brain's health. Berries, especially blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, are rich in flavonoids, a group of nutrients known for their strong anti-inflammatory properties.  Among the flavonoids, anthocyanins, quercetin, and catechins have shown effectiveness for Parkinson's disease.19   

Research indicates that individuals who consume high levels of flavonoids are 40% less likely to develop Parkinson’s.20 

8. Fiber 

While fiber helps to keep digestion smooth, it can also be very healthy for Parkinson’s disease and prevention.  Beyond alleviating common gut issues like constipation, which is quite common in Parkinson's patients, it has another powerful effect.  Fiber can increase the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in the gut by feeding certain types of bacteria.  In fact, one of these SCFAs, called propionate, has recently been shown as a potentially potent protector of intestinal energy that fights Parkinson’s disease-related neurodegeneration.21 

9. Nuts  

Next time you reach for a handful of trail mix, know that you're not just snacking on the go, but also lowering your risk of Parkinsons.  The nuts in trail mix contain a high amount of Vitamin E, which can be protective against Parkinson's disease.   

In fact, a study found that people who consumed the most Vitamin E had a 32% lower risk of Parkinson's disease.22  Vitamin E activates cellular pathways involved in antioxidant, detoxifying, and anti-inflammatory responses, while also promoting energy production at the mitochondrial level.23 

The nutritional supplement RELEVATE brings together the recommendations mentioned above, making it easier to integrate these suggestions into daily routines.  With key ingredients like catechins, flavonoids, vitamin E, and other brain-supportive nutrients in high-quality forms, it offers a convenient option to supplement your nutritional needs. 

If you decide you’d like to sign up for a subscription of RELEVATE, click here now and use code APRILMIND to get an additional MIND diet meal planning pad, 6-day MIND meal planning inspiration sheet, colorful MIND diet food wheel, and a specially branded vitamin organizer.  Take action inside and outside the kitchen, for lasting brain health. 

10. Timing Your Meals with Medications 

If you've been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, following the dietary recommendations mentioned earlier can still be helpful.  However, there are additional factors to consider, especially when it comes to timing your meals around medication.   

Levodopa, a common Parkinson's medication, is typically taken multiple times a day and is recommended to be taken 30 minutes before or 1-2 hours after eating.24  This means that meal timing is crucial.  

Additionally, it's important to pay attention to the composition of your meals.  Heavy protein meals can lead to what's known as the "protein effect," where dietary protein interferes with the absorption of levodopa.24  

This occurs because levodopa and dietary protein both use similar amino acids for transport into the bloodstream and brain, and in some cases, there aren’t enough transporters to go around.24  Being mindful of these factors can help optimize the effectiveness of your medication.7 

The journey to lifelong brain health can be approached with leaps or small steps, if you commit to it wholeheartedly, progress is inevitable. So, take that first step, and keep moving forward with determination – every effort counts on this journey toward a healthier brain and a brighter future.  

If you’re interested in more brain-healthy tips, sign up here for our newsletter to get a FREE e-guide to help you learn how to eat the Mediterranean way, plus receive evidence-based articles, tips, and recipes directly to your inbox. 

If you decide you’d like to sign up for a subscription of RELEVATE, click here now and use code APRILMIND to get an additional MIND diet meal planning pad, 6-day MIND meal planning inspiration sheet, colorful MIND diet food wheel, and a specially branded vitamin organizer. Take action inside and outside the kitchen, for lasting brain health. 


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