Your diet can potentially ease some of your Parkinson’s symptoms and increase your ability to live well, but how do you determine which foods are best for you?
The first step is to talk to your doctor, as all experimentation should be done under a doctor’s supervision. When speaking with your doctor, you should consider what you’re looking to refine, what you hope to improve through your diet and what goals you have in terms of how you’d like to feel.
For example, do you want to:
- Alleviate constipation, nausea, stomach pain and/or fatigue?
- Have more consistent energy throughout the day?
- Learn what helps you most before, during and after your workouts?
- Fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer?
- Lose or gain weight?
No matter what strategy you choose, only experiment under your doctor’s supervision.
Finding what type of diet to try and what foods make you feel best is sometimes a long process, but it’s also a worthy one. Learning more about a diet that works for you is a powerful step towards living well with Parkinson’s.
Some questions about nutrition come up more regularly than others (pun intended!) so here are the answers to your common questions:
I keep losing weight (that I don’t want to lose). What can I do about it?
Weight loss is a common side effect of Parkinson’s. In fact, in many cases, weight loss precedes motor symptoms and is considered an index for Parkinson’s progression. Potential causes at play include overall malnutrition, increased energy output and decreased energy input, and problems with nausea or vomiting and lack of appetite.
The best thing to do if you have unwanted weight loss is talk to your doctor about creating a plan to manage your calorie intake. Creating a meal plan to gain and then maintain your weight will vary by individual, but shakes, smoothies, nuts and seeds are all simple ways to add nutritional calories to your diet. If loss of smell is a problem, you can also consider using more spices to make your food taste better.
I’m constipated all the time. Is there anything I can do?
Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal problem for people with Parkinson’s. Increasing the amount of water you drink and your fibre intake can help. You need to be drinking at least six to eight glasses of fluid a day, and some doctors will also recommend prune juice as an excellent way to increase fluid intake and relieve constipation. Increasing high fibre fruits like apples, prunes, dates, figs, radishes, berries, nuts and beans and insoluble fibre from whole grains like brown rice and rye can also help relieve your constipation.
I have difficulty drinking that much water! How critical is it?
Drinking enough water is important to help promote general health and relieve symptoms of constipation. When someone experiences long periods of dehydration, their cells can’t function properly and die, which can lead to degeneration and disease. Dehydration also leads to poor circulation and blood flow, which can result in high blood pressure, organ failure and more.
You may experience decreased thirst with Parkinson’s, so it can be helpful to create a hydration plan, carry a water bottle and track your daily water intake to ensure you’re drinking enough. If drinking water is a challenge, you can also supplement your fluid intake with juice (if unintended weight gain isn’t a problem for you) or decaffeinated tea.
If I take regular doses of carbidopa/levodopa, should that impact when and what I eat?
Yes. The effect of levodopa may be influenced by proteins in food. Proteins can compete with levodopa uptake both from the gut and across the blood-brain barrier and may, therefore, inhibit the effect of levodopa. Therefore, if you take regular doses of carbidopa or levodopa, you should talk to your doctor about taking your medicine 30-60 minutes before eating, especially before high protein meals.
Protein is important for your diet so it can be helpful to create a schedule to manage your medication and protein intake throughout the day so that you’re not eating your high protein meals simultaneously with your carbidopa/levodopa.
I have trouble with chewing and swallowing which makes it difficult to eat. What can I do?
This is a common problem many people with Parkinson’s struggle with. One thing you can do is to work with your food’s consistency and consider softer food, like apple sauce or slow-cooked meats. It can also help to add moisture to foods with gravy or sauce so that your food is easier to swallow.
Another option is to partially blend your meal. You can do this by putting 75% of your meal in the blender and saving the rest to eat as solid food. Crock pots are also great for cooking meats or vegetables so that they are really tender and easy to swallow. If you have trouble swallowing liquids, you can thicken fluid with things like apple sauce. You can also consider meeting with a speech therapist to find specific ways to improve your chewing and swallowing.
Should I take supplements?
In general, it’s best to get vitamins and minerals from the food you eat rather than through supplements. The truth is, no supplements have proven beneficial to Parkinson’s. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any supplements you think might be beneficial as there have been some cases where unregulated supplements have made Parkinson’s symptoms worse.
Unfortunately, as you see, there is no such thing as the one, proven nutritional plan that works for all people trying to live well with Parkinson’s. The best we can do for now is share the research as it stands, suggest potential pathways for you to investigate with your own care team and encourage you to find the ideal path for you, even if it takes some time and a fair bit of trial and error.
If you need further support or referrals for your nutritional management, please contact the Wellbeing Team at THRF Group – Parkinson’s on 1800 644 189.