Top 10 Things You Should Do Now to Reduce Your Risk of Parkinson’s Disease
April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness month, so it’s a good opportunity to learn more about this neurodegenerative disease and ways to reduce your risk. Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the progressive loss of certain neurons in the brain that are involved in motor coordination, resulting in symptoms such as tremors, stiff muscles, impaired balance, and as the disease progresses, it often leads to cognitive decline and dementia. Rates of Parkinson’s Disease are growing, with about 90,000 people diagnosed in the United States each year according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.1
If you’ve had a loved one with Parkinson’s or a related dementia, you may be concerned about doing what you can do to protect your own brain health. And if you or your loved one is already diagnosed, it’s likely you’re looking for ways to slow the progression of the disease. Zoltan Mari, M.D., renowned neurologist, clinical researcher, and expert in Parkinson’s disease at Cleveland Clinic says “You can’t choose your genes, but you can choose to engage in brain-healthy actions to get the most of what you’ve got." The good news is that there are indeed things you can be doing today to reduce your risk of developing Parkinson’s or even slow the progression of the disease.
Here are the top ways to reduce risk of Parkinson’s disease based on the latest research:
1. Take care of your gut health: Although it may not be obvious, the gut and brain are directly connected by signals sent through the body. Therefore, the health of your microbiome (the composition of bacteria that live in your digestive tract) can be directly correlated with brain health. Parkinson’s in particular has been linked to gut health in a number of studies.2 For example, the digestive disorder Crohn’s Disease is associated with a 22% increased risk of Parkinson’s.3 You can improve gut health by incorporating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, fiber and probiotics in your diet to support a healthy and diverse microbiome.
2. Include aerobic exercise in your routine: Regular exercise is important for many aspects of health, and higher levels of exercise are associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s.4 Exercise acts on the brain by reducing inflammation, improving blood flow to the brain, lowering stress hormones, increasing levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF; which supports the creation of new brain cells), and even increasing brain volume. Aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling are thought to have an even greater impact on the brain. Start small, and try to fit in some movement every day. Even a brisk walk to start your day can make a big difference.
3. Limit consumption of dairy products: While dairy can provide important nutrients for our health, too much dairy has been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s.5 Numerous studies have found significantly increased risks of Parkinson’s in those that consume the highest amounts of dairy products compared to the lowest amounts.6 Dairy products have been shown to reduce levels of urate, an important compound that is associated with a lower risk and slower progression of Parkinson’s. You may not need to eliminate dairy completely, but be aware of how much dairy you consume on a daily basis. There are a variety of dairy free options available at most grocery stores, so if you enjoy drinking milk or adding to your cereal, consider switching to unsweetened almond or cashew milk.
4. Avoid environmental exposures: Everything that we interact with in our environment can affect the function of our bodies and minds. In particular, certain pollutants and pesticides exert effects on the brain and have been linked with an increased risk of Parkinson’s. Trichloroethylene, or TCE, is a chemical that is used commonly in cleaning products and manufacturing, including carpet cleaner, cleaning wipes, stain removers, and refrigerant. TCE exposure has been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s.7 It may not be feasible to avoid all chemical exposures in our day to day lives, but it’s important to be aware of what chemicals are in the products we use most frequently, and try to limit exposures to the most toxic chemicals.
5. Try to follow a MIND or Mediterranean diet: These diets have been linked with a reduced risk, later onset, and slower progression of Parkinson’s disease in several studies.8-10 The MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) was designed specifically to support brain health and is characterized by high amounts of berries, leafy green vegetables, olive oil, fish, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. These foods offer nutrients that support anti-inflammatory and antioxidative mechanisms in the brain to protect it from damage over time.
6. Manage Stress: We all experience a certain level of stress in our daily lives; however if we don’t manage stress it can take a big toll on the body. Studies have shown that chronic stress over time can have toxic effects on the brain.4 There are many ways to reduce the effects of stress on the body. Some common stress management practices include deep breathing or meditation, exercise, keeping a gratitude journal, spending time with loved ones, and practicing self-care.
7. Start your day with a caffeinated drink: Whether you prefer tea or coffee, there’s good news - caffeine has been associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s in numerous studies.6 Across several studies with thousands of participants, the maximum protective effects of caffeine were found at 3 cups of coffee or tea per day.11 Enjoy a cup (or a few) of your preferred caffeinated beverage to support your brain against Parkinson’s.
8. Stay hydrated: Water is the most important thing that we consume in a day. In fact, the human brain is composed of 75% water, so it’s understandable that only 2% dehydration can impact memory and processing speed. Thus, it’s important to stay hydrated to protect against diseases that impact the brain like Parkinson’s. Keep a water bottle nearby throughout the day to ensure you stay hydrated and aim for about 8 cups (64 ounces) per day.
9. Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night: Sleep is critical for the body and brain to function properly. It plays a role in learning, memory formation, concentration, and supporting communication between neurons. Issues with sleep have also been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s.12 Prioritize high quality sleep by sticking to a regular sleep schedule, avoiding alcohol or caffeine before bed, and putting away screens at least 30 minutes before bed. Also, if you suspect your sleep is being disrupted by sleep apnea, talk with your doctor about ways to treat it.
10. Consider a supplement to fill the gaps: It’s not always easy to eat all the nutrients your brain needs on a daily basis, so taking a daily supplement may help fill the nutritional gaps. Zoltan Mari, M.D., a neurologist-researcher at Cleveland Clinic, relates to the practical challenges people have at adhering to a brain healthy diet like the MIND diet, saying “We're realistic—it’s not always easy. Nutritional products and supplements can play a positive role for those of us who aren’t perfect.” RELEVATE is a nutritional supplement containing 17 well-researched nutrients to support long-term brain health. The dosages of RELEVATE’s ingredients are based on those consumed in brain-healthy diets like the Mediterranean and MIND diets. Thus, they fill in the gaps between the ideal intakes of nutrients for brain health and the standard American diet. RELEVATE is built on evidence from long-term studies of these brain strengthening diets that significantly reduce risk of age-related neurodegenerative disease.13
If You’ve Already Been Diagnosed
While much of this list is geared toward prevention, there are also studies that show many of these lifestyle factors can slow the progression of Parkinson’s as well. In fact, there are additional things that have been studied specifically in patients with Parkinson’s that can help slow the progression of disease. One area of additional study includes specific types of exercises and movements, such as playing ping pong and taking boxing classes.14,15 These exercises help improve strength, balance and postural stability and allow those with Parkinson’s to manage their symptoms. There is also evidence that following the Mediterranean or MIND Diets (mentioned above) can be helpful in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s.10
There is a lot that you can do today to best support your brain in preventing or slowing the progression of Parkinson’s, but you don’t have to do everything at once. Pick one or two things that you want to prioritize working on, and gradually add in more when you can. The key is finding the things that work for you to sustain a brain-healthy lifestyle.
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- Prevalence & Incidence. Parkinson’s Foundation. https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/statistics/prevalence-incidence. Published 2023.
- Fu P, Gao M, Yung KKL. Association of Intestinal Disorders with Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2020;11(3):395-405. doi:10.1021/acschemneuro.9b00607
- Villumsen M, Aznar S, Pakkenberg B, Jess T, Brudek T. Inflammatory bowel disease increases the risk of Parkinson’s disease: A Danish nationwide cohort study 1977-2014. Gut. 2019;68(1):18-24. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2017-315666
- Marras C, Canning CG, Goldman SM. Environment, lifestyle, and Parkinson’s disease: Implications for prevention in the next decade. Mov Disord. 2019;34(6):801-811. doi:10.1002/mds.27720
- Hughes KC, Kim IY, Wang M, Weisskopf MG, Schwarzschild MA, Ascherio A. Intake of dairy foods and risk of Parkinson disease. Neurology. 2017;89(1):46-52. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28596209/.
- Ascherio A, Schwarzschild MA. The epidemiology of Parkinson’s disease: risk factors and prevention. Lancet Neurol. 2016;15(12):1257-1272. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(16)30230-7
- Dorsey ER, Zafar M, Lettenberger SE, Pawlik ME. Trichloroethylene : An Invisible Cause of Parkinson ’ s Disease ? 2023;13:203-218. doi:10.3233/JPD-225047
- Alcalay RN, Gu Y, Mejia-Santana H, Cote L, Marder KS, Scarmeas N. The association between Mediterranean diet adherence and Parkinson’s disease. Mov Disord. 2012;27(6):771-774. doi:10.1002/mds.24918
- Metcalfe-Roach A, Yu AC, Golz E, et al. MIND and Mediterranean Diets Associated with Later Onset of Parkinson’s Disease. Mov Disord. 2021;36(4):977-984. doi:10.1002/mds.28464
- Agarwal P, Wang Y, Buchman AS, Holland TM, Bennett DA, Morris MC. MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence and Delayed Progression of Parkinsonism in Old Age. J Nutr Health Aging. 2018;22(10):1211-1215. doi:10.1007/s12603-018-1094-5
- Ren X, Chen JF. Caffeine and Parkinson’s Disease: Multiple Benefits and Emerging Mechanisms. Front Neurosci. 2020;14(December):1-12. doi:10.3389/fnins.2020.602697
- Bohnen NI, Hu MTM. Sleep Disturbance as Potential Risk and Progression Factor for Parkinson’s Disease. J Parkinsons Dis. 2019;9(3):603-614. doi:10.3233/JPD-191627
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, et al. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimer’s Dement. 2015;11(9):1015-1022. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2015.04.011
- Inoue K, Fujioka S, Nagaki K, et al. Table tennis for patients with Parkinson’s disease: A single-center, prospective pilot study. Clin Park Relat Disord. 2021;4(November 2020):100086. doi:10.1016/j.prdoa.2020.100086
- Horbinski C, Zumpf KB, McCortney K, Eoannou D. Longitudinal observational study of boxing therapy in Parkinson’s disease, including adverse impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown. BMC Neurol. 2021;21(1):1-10. doi:10.1186/s12883-021-02359-6