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Healthy Diet Linked to Fewer Parkinson’s Symptoms

Ask the MD: What's the Best Diet for Parkinson's?

A new study led by Samantha Molsberry, PhD, of Harvard University and published in Neurology suggests that a healthy diet is associated with fewer symptoms, such as constipation, depression and sleep changes, which are common in Parkinson’s disease (PD) and often occur prior to diagnosis.

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 47,000 people about their diet every four years, starting in middle-age. They also asked about Parkinson’s non-motor symptoms that commonly precede diagnosis, including constipation and REM sleep behavior disorder (acting out dreams) as well as other symptoms that can occur before or with PD: loss of sense of smell, depression, decreased ability to see color, excessive daytime sleepiness and pain.

Those who closely followed an alternate Mediterranean diet or the Alternative Healthy Eating Index –which encourage fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts and discourage red meat, sugar and processed foods – were more than 30 percent less likely to have three or more Parkinson’s symptoms. They also had lower rates of individual symptoms, including constipation, excessive daytime sleepiness and depression.

What this means: There is an association between healthy diet and fewer symptoms that often come before a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

What this does not mean: Healthy diet causes fewer PD symptoms or prevents Parkinson’s. (There could be factors other than diet – such as environment or lifestyle – that play a role. Or early, undetected symptoms could lead people to change to a healthier diet.)

It’s important to note that having one of these symptoms does not mean a person will get Parkinson’s. Some, such as REM sleep behavior disorder, do strongly increase PD risk. Others are less closely linked. Researchers are learning which symptoms predict Parkinson’s and why, and whether diet can delay or prevent Parkinson’s is an area that needs further research. For now, there’s no downside to eating well. A healthy diet – one full of antioxidants (found in fruits and veggies) and whole, unprocessed foods is good for your body and your brain. It supports general well-being, mood and energy and, for people with Parkinson’s, can also ease motor and non-motor symptoms and help medication work better.

For more on diet and Parkinson’s, download MJFF’s free guide.

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