Nutrition Needs for People with Parkinson's: High Protein Diet?
Last updated: June 2020
I am sitting in a tightly packed coffee shop in New York City, working on my writing when, as my song changes, I catch a snippet of the conversation next to me. There is an elderly man and woman sitting next to me and I hear Parkinson’s disease a few times.
I know it sounds bad, but my interest was peaked. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I had every intention of introducing myself. The man, as it turns out and because I notice, has Parkinson’s disease. He is talking about the drop in his dopamine levels and certain medications he takes when he feels his shaking is acting up. He mentions how his diet has a huge impact on his symptoms, mainly upping his protein intake. I already knew this to be true but to hear it confirmed by a random stranger, it made my day!
The link between protein intake & Parkinson's
Now I know, typically, even by contributors on this website, it is said that consuming protein heavy foods can negatively impact the symptoms for Parkinson’s disease and may even worsen the side effects of the medications. However, I think this is possibly not true, at the very least should be reconsidered for a case by case basis.
My father & his diet
Before my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, all he suffered from was heart disease, failing kidneys, and diabetes. He still suffers from those things but he had been dealing with those issues for so long, it didn’t seem like an issue anymore.
Anyway, around the time he retired, the Ketogenic diet became quite popular. Studies had shown cutting out carbohydrates and sugar 100% could reduce A1C levels, stabilize failing kidneys, and overall make someone feel better. So we had my father try it and he really did it. For two years, he was practically 100% keto and there was a dramatic improvement in his vitals and his overall health. His kidneys, while they did not get better, did not get worse. His A1C levels dropped from 6.7 to 6.1. He felt more energetic and had less dramatic dips in his blood sugar. Then the diagnosis for Parkinson’s came and with it, not a lot of motivation to keep up on this strict diet.
Loss of appetite with Parkinson's
The summer he was diagnosed, it was like a switch had been flipped. Whether this was him dealing with his diagnosis, or simply the drop in his dopamine levels, I do not know, but either way, he lost his appetite and when he was hungry, it was mainly because his blood sugar had dropped and he needed something with lots of sugar and fast. After a few months of constantly trying to stop him from eating sugar-filled foods, we just stopped. He would get irritable and tired of hearing us regulate his diet. I think on some level we felt, with the diagnosis, maybe food was something he needed to enjoy. After all, he didn’t have many joys left.
Should I reintroduce protein to my dad?
But then I hear this man in the coffee shop and now I am rejuvenated to try again. It will be hard and I know it will be a battle. He won’t like me trying to tell him what to eat and it won’t be easy from New York with him in Dallas. I know I won’t necessarily be successful, but if he even feels a difference for one day, that’s all I need.
I want my dad to see that with the right diet, life could be different. A sacrifice in his diet could mean so many rewards in other areas of life. He could learn to enjoy going out again and maybe have the energy to get into a regular exercise routine. The man in the coffee shop mentioned a protein bar called “No Cow”. I will have to look into it and see if it could maybe entice him to try out a new way to enjoy food. Until then, I am just going to have be the annoying daughter on the phone.
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