Parkinson’s Disease – the important role of the food we eat

Parkinson’s Disease is second only to Alzheimer’s as the most common human neurodegenerative disorder in the United States. Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system that affects physical movements and over the years causes a progressive disability that can be slowed or even temporarily improved but not halted. So far no therapy has been proven to stop its progression.

Not surprisingly, diet is a major risk factor. The western, meat-centered diet, especially from meat fat, dairy and eggs, increases the risk of getting Parkinson’s, while plant fats do not increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease. In fact, consuming plant foods decreases the risk of getting Parkinson’s disease. There are two main processes where plant foods can help.

Inflammation is one part of the disease process. A plant-based diet is known to reduce the level of inflammation which may also affect the progression of Parkinson’s disease. One way plant-based diets do this is due to the amount of fiber consumed, which only comes from plant foods. Fiber helps the so-called good bacteria in our guts thrive. The good bacteria produce a substance called butyrate which is known to help reduce inflammation. Parkinson’s disease patients have, on average, lower levels of butyrate, and there have been some intriguing studies that show a connection between the bacteria in the intestine and Parkinson’s disease.

Another part of the disease process is due to oxidative stress. There are substances in the body, including the brain, known as reactive oxygen species, or ROS for short, that cause what’s known as oxidative stress, which has been shown to be a major part of the disease process. However, plant foods are rich in antioxidants that counter and prevent oxidative stress, thus having a beneficial effect.

For those who already have symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a plant-based diet can make it easier to take anti-Parkinson’s disease medication and make them more easily absorbed. In a case study, one patient was able to make a large reduction in the dose of his medication and a large improvement in his symptoms as well, by following a plant-based diet.

While more research needs to be done, the plant-based diet has a role to play in the prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. We recently wrote a review article for the medical community on the research that is already available on this topic, and we’re delighted that it is being published in the Open Access Journal of Neurology and Neurosurgery. See professional level article.