Nutrition & Parkinson’s Disease

Mark Twain once said “Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside”.  While we might fantasize about a world where we can eat whatever we like, patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) will find they may need to make some changes in their diet.  There is no one particular diet for PD patients however there are some tips that may assist patients with meal planning.

Certain medications such as those containing levodopa are better absorbed if taken 20 to 30 minutes before eating or an hour after eating.  But if your medication causes nausea, you may need to take it with a small snack.  Try to avoid a high protein snack such as meats, cheeses, or eggs as these snacks can also slow the absorption and effectiveness of these types of medications.  Many health care providers recommend that PD patients eat the bulk of their protein in the evening and stick with carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables for the morning and noon meals.

PD patients who take MAO-B inhibitors such as Azilect, Eldepryl, or Zetapar should limit foods containing tryamine as they can cause an increase in blood pressure.  Some common foods that contain tryamine are dried or fermented meats and fish, aged cheeses, soybean products, red wine, beer, and sauerkraut. Alcohol can also interfere with medications, lead to increased drowsiness, and affect mobility.  Consult your doctor and use caution if you choose to consume alcohol. 

Increasing your daily fiber intake can assist with bowl regularity and reduce constipation which is often an unpleasant side effect of Parkinson’s medications.  Natural sources of fiber such as those in vegetables is great but other options include adding 2 tsp of flax seed to foods such as oatmeal, smoothies, or yogurt.  Some more advanced cases of PD involve difficulty chewing or swallowing so flax seed is a great alternative to increase your fiber intake.

Try to maintain a healthy weight.  Many PD patients experience weight loss due to nausea related to medications, difficulty chewing or swallowing, loss of taste or smell, depression, or insomnia.  Unplanned weight loss is common but can be dangerous.  It is important for PD patients to maintain a healthy weight, stay hydrated, avoid constipation, and eat a wide variety of foods that ensure adequate Vitamin and mineral intake.  If the thought of a large meal seems daunting, try eating smaller meals more frequently, keeping healthy snacks handy.  A normal weight will protect against injuries related to falls and help to protect your bones. 

A few other quick tips to help you maintain your weight include choosing foods that are easy to prepare. If you are having a rough day or feel tired, you may not feel like spending time in the kitchen.  Weigh yourself weekly to ensure your weight remains in an acceptable range.  If you experience an unexplained weight loss, contact your doctor.  Try not to eat alone.  Making a meal a social event can encourage a long, leisurely conversation allowing for more food to be consumed, and finally, within reason, choose food you like that will be pleasing to the taste.  Finally, ask your doctor about nutritional supplements  Food is not only essential to maintaining good health, but is a source of pleasure in life and with a little careful planning it can become a major contributor to your overall health and well-being..