Better Nutrition Helps Manage Parkinson's Disease


Chris Iliades, MD

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Good nutrition is important for everyone, but if you have Parkinson’s disease, it’s even more important so that you can avoid or limit the disease’s complications. There may be times when your symptoms make it hard to shop, prepare meals, or even have much of an appetite. But you do need a balanced diet with all the important food groups, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, and proteins. Here’s why eating well is a must.

Nutrition Pitfalls for Parkinson’s

If you skip meals or skimp on nutrition, you’re putting yourself at risk for these health conditions and making it harder to live well with Parkinson’s:

Osteoporosis. Thin bones are a big risk to your health. You already have some risk of falling, and osteoporosis can increase the risk of fractured bones if you do take a spill. Having a low body weight, not getting enough weight-bearing exercise, being older, being indoors, and not getting enough calcium and vitamin D all contribute to this nutrition issue.

Constipation. Parkinson’s slows down the movement of food through your colon. Constipation is more than just an uncomfortable nuisance. It can lead to dangerous problems like a bowel impaction that can sometimes lead to hospitalization and even surgery. That’s why high-fiber foods are a great help.

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Dehydration. Not getting enough fluids can also contribute to constipation. Dehydration can increase your risk for weakness, dizziness, confusion, and falls. Your medications may increase your risk for dehydration.

Loss of appetite and weight. Poor appetite can lead to unplanned weight loss and can add to feelings of weakness and fatigue. Weight loss could weaken your immune system, making it harder for you to fight off infections. Nausea and poor appetite are common side effects of some Parkinson’s medications but can also be due to depression, which is common in Parkinson’s.

Tips for Boosting Nutrition

Start by talking with your doctor about how to overcome nutrition issues. Your doctor may be able to adjust or change some of your medications. If depression is affecting your appetite, medications can help. Ask friends and family to pitch in and help with shopping and meal preparation. Working with a dietitian on nutrition strategies will show you how to get the most important nutrients from the food you eat. Here are ways to boost nutrition yourself:

  • For bone health, make sure you are getting 1,500 milligrams of calcium and 800 IU of vitamin D every day. Three servings of dairy products should get you enough calcium. You may need more exercise, sunshine, and foods fortified with vitamin D to avoid osteoporosis. Ask your doctor whether you should take a vitamin D supplement.

  • To avoid constipation, make sure you eat plenty of high-fiber foods and drink enough water. High-fiber foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans. You should be getting at least 20 to 25 grams of fiber and drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. Ask your doctor whether you need a fiber supplement.

  • If you don’t have a robust appetite, try eating more frequent, smaller meals throughout the day rather than trying to eat three big ones. Foods high in antioxidants are important for brain health, so make sure to snack on plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables. Green tea, wheat germ, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils are also important sources of antioxidants.

  • Educate yourself about nutrition. If you can’t afford a session with a nutritionist, be sure to use reliable sources like books, health websites, your doctor, or a community nutrition class. Nutrition ignorance is not an option if you have Parkinson’s disease.

Special Nutrition Concerns

Beware of untested supplements or diets that promise remarkable improvements or reversal of Parkinson’s disease. Many people with Parkinson’s get taken in by fad diets, supplements, and herbal medicines that have no solid research behind them. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 10, 2017

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Steps for a Healthy Diet. National Parkinson Foundation.
  2. Common Nutritional Concerns in Parkinson's. National Parkinson Foundation.
  3. Nutrition and Parkinson’s Disease: What Matters Most? Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

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