Nutritional Needs of People Living with Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease affects approximately 500,000 people in the United States and costs the economy billions of dollars annually. Parkinson’s disease is a complicated and progressive disorder that affects the nervous system; causing issues throughout the body. Although there is no cure for the disease, there are a number of medications and lifestyle changes that can accommodate the symptoms. In order to better understand the treatments, it is important to first understand the disease.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease affects specific nerve cells in the brain responsible for the production of dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that carries messages from the brain to the muscles in your body, ensuring movement is fluid and efficient. Parkinson’s causes those nerve cells to breakdown. As the body receives less and less dopamine, muscles throughout the body struggle to function, eliciting stiffness, tremors, weakness, and slow movement. The disease makes muscles rigid; therefore, changes in speech and difficulty walking are also typical characteristics. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, although there are options available to help relieve symptoms.
Types of Food Help the Body and Mind
Aside from prescribed medication, people with Parkinson’s have specific nutritional needs. Eating the right balance of vitamins and nutrients can help maintain the body while supporting the aging mind. Sustaining a low-fat, low-sugar diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains is essential, regardless of any diseases. Eating healthy, organic foods can reduce overall toxicity in the body. Following these guidelines will help support heart, brain, and muscle functions as you age:
- Variety is important. Mixing up your meals to include items from each food group will guarantee diversity in the vitamins and minerals you receive.
- Eat high-fiber vegetables to aid healthy digestion. Dried beans, bran, cereals, fresh fruit, and rice are good examples.
- Replace enriched items with whole-grain foods.
- Avoid sugary foods and drinks to strengthen the immune system.
- Avoid sodium. Salty foods put strain on the circulatory system.
- Seek out foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
- Use protein modestly. Excessive protein can interfere with some Parkinson’s medication; eating dairy and fish can provide healthy protein plus nutrients.
- Drink lots of filtered water (at least eight 8 oz/day).
A diet that is rich in the foods listed above can help anyone maintain a healthy lifestyle, regardless of any present illness. Those living with Parkinson’s disease benefit from this diet even more by strengthening body and mind despite the destructive effects of the disease. There are a number of other dietary and lifestyle changes that can help combat common symptoms as well.
People with Parkinson’s disease often struggle with swallowing or chewing and many medications have side effects that cause uneasiness. Nausea, uneasiness, diarrhea, constipation, and loss of appetite are all symptoms commonly associated with medications used to treat Parkinson’s. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- Drink clear and ice-cold drinks with little to no sugar
- Avoid orange and grapefruit juice
- Sip beverages, do not gulp or guzzle them down
- Drink liquids between meals and between bites
- Savor every bite and chew carefully
- Eat small meals throughout the day instead of large portions
- Avoid fried, greasy foods
- Eat hot and cold foods separately
- Eat when you’re not nauseous
- Keep head elevated to prevent upset stomach
If the person with the disease resides in a healthcare setting, like an assisted living facility or nursing home, it’s especially important for all staff members to be on the same page. First, a special diet request can be made to make sure the above guidelines are considered. Once notified, the nursing staff can help ease symptoms by propping their patients up with pillows and encouraging and assisting in fluid intake.
Accommodating Other Symptoms or Side Effects
Many side effects and changes can cause mood changes in addition to physical symptoms. Here are a few common side effects and few things you can do to help:
- Headache– Drink lots of water, slowly, and try magnesium supplements; headaches are commonly caused by dehydration and muscle tension.
- Sleep Problems– Minimize light/noise, try not to exercise or eat before bed, and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Cough, Sneeze, or Stuffy Nose– Drink green tea to boost immune system and soothe the throat. Adding garlic, ginger, bone broth, and lemon to your diet also helps.
- Depression or Anxiety– Emotionality and irritability are also commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease as well as the treatments. Consult your doctor if these symptoms are prevalent.
People with Parkinson’s disease battle most with changes in their body. Not only are they coping with a disease that progresses in symptomatology, their medication is constantly being adjusted and changed. Each person experiences the disease in their own way, feel free to share any tips or ideas that have worked for you!
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About the Author: Victoria K. Stickley is a copywriter, editor, and senior content manager based in the Dallas area. Her graduate education in counseling and research has helped immensely in her writing as well as the care she provides for her grandparents. She currently provides support and resources to senior care websites as she learns and experiences senior care first-hand.