Fighting Parkinson’s With Health and Diet
Parkinson’s disease poses a challenge to those who are diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disorder. However, studies are showing that along with medication, there are two important ways to fight the disease: diet and exercise.
The Parkinson’s Foundation reports that nearly one million people in the United States are living with Parkinson’s disease, which is more than the combined number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and Lou Gehrig’s disease (or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). What’s more, approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s every year, according to the foundation.
Tremors in the hands, arms, and legs, muscle stiffness, and slowing of movement are among the first signs of Parkinson’s. These symptoms are accompanied by complications that include:
Constipation can be caused by medications taken for the disease, a slow digestive system, and dehydration. Constipation can be managed with a diet of fiber-rich foods, such as bran, whole-grain breads, fresh fruits and vegetables, and cereals. Staying hydrated and exercising can also help to prevent constipation.
The lack of sufficient fluids can rob the body of the water that it needs. The body loses more fluid than it is taking in can leave people with Parkinson’s confused and weak, experiencing balance issues and kidney problems. Drinking plenty of water and other fluids throughout the day will keep you hydrated.
- Medication interaction
Carbidopa-levodopa, the most common medication used to treat Parkinson’s, can cause loss of appetite, diarrhea, dry mouth, constipation, confusion, and other side effects. Health experts do not advise taking medication for Parkinson’s with high-protein meals because the protein can reduce the drug’s effect.
Dr. Michael Gostkowski, a neurologist with the Cleveland Clinic, recommends taking medication on an empty stomach either 30 minutes before a meal or an hour after a meal, but not with meals. Dr. Gostkowski recommends people with Parkinson’s eat plenty of protein.
Studies Show Diet and Exercise Slows Down Parkinson’s
Health experts recommend people with Parkinson’s focus on the foods they eat and stay active because studies have found that a healthy diet and regular physical activity can slow the progression of the disease.
Eating foods high in fiber and protein is highly recommended. For instance, a protein-rich diet is important because protein helps the body repair cells and make new ones, reduces muscle loss and builds lean muscle, and helps to improve brain function. Foods with high protein include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and beans.
Also, fiber-rich foods, such as whole-wheat pasta, Brussel sprouts, chickpeas, berries, and pears, prevent constipation, help lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Along with diet, experts recommend people with Parkinson’s disease add regular exercise and physical activity to their lifestyle. This is because studies have found that regular exercise and physical activity can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.
For example, a January 2022 study published in the journal Neurology found that regular physical activity and exercise were associated with slower deterioration of posture and gait stability, processing speed, and daily living activities among people in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Research also shows that exercise helps brain cells stay healthier.
There is no “right” exercise for people with Parkinson’s, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, experts at the clinic say some of the most effective exercises for people with Parkinson’s include:
- 1. Cardiovascular Exercise Exercise that helps the heart beat faster and increases blood flow has been found to improve balance and strength, grip strength, and motor coordination in people with Parkinson’s. One systematic review of 18 trials showed that treadmill training improved gait speed and stride length, which tends to shorten in people with the disease.
- 2. Aerobic Exercise Exercises such as walking, biking, and running challenge the heart and lungs. Participating in aerobic exercise for at least three days a week for 30-40 minutes may slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Studies show that aerobic exercise has a positive impact on the brains of people with Parkinson’s. A study published in February 2022 in the Annals of Neurology journal stated that aerobic exercise is associated with increased connectivity within the brain and reduced atrophy (shrinkage) in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease.
- 3. Strength Training Another exercise that is beneficial is strength training twice a week. Strength training builds muscle mass and strength, which can help with posture and muscles in the back of the body.
- 4. Stretching Stretching or flexibility exercises help joints and muscles. Doing stretching exercises two or more days per week helps in maintaining range of motion and posture. In addition, holding each stretch of major muscle groups for 30 to 60 seconds can improve muscle length.
While the type of exercise and physical activity recommended will vary based on an individual’s fitness level, the point is to practice activities that are comfortable and safe.
The most common problem people with Parkinson’s face involves movement. For instance, as the disease progresses, so do the motor symptoms of stiffness, tremors, slowness of movement, and freezing (the temporary inability to move).
Getting the body moving helps build strength, balance, endurance, and coordination. It also helps people with Parkinson’s continue with their daily routine activities, such as washing dishes, folding laundry, doing yard work, and shopping. But, people with Parkinson’s can become fearful of doing routine activities for fear of losing their balance and falling or dropping things. So, it’s common for them to be overly cautious and limit their movements, which can then lead to inactivity. In these cases, it may be best to get a physical therapist involved to help patients get moving again.
“A professional can guide you through the right moves to increase mobility, strength, and balance and help you remain independent,” says Denise Padilla-Davidson, a Johns Hopkins physical therapist who works with patients who have Parkinson’s.
Keeping active helps delay the degeneration of motor symptoms. According to the study published in Neurology, “there is now a convincing body of clinical evidence suggesting that PA (physical activity) is beneficial, cost-effective, and low-risk intervention that improves overall health and provides promise for improving both motor and non-motor symptoms in PD” (Parkinson’s disease).