Nutrition Challenges in Parkinson's

People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) have unique nutritional challenges. Plus, their nutritional needs often change as their disease progresses.

PD is most known for its motor symptoms, including:1,2

As PD progresses, people can develop additional symptoms, including:1,2

  • Depression
  • Trouble chewing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive salivation
  • Decreased gastric motility (a slowing of the natural movement of food from the stomach into the intestines)

These non-motor symptoms can impact dietary needs. This may lead to more complications, like unintended weight loss.1,2

Difficulty preparing and eating food

The motor symptoms of PD, such as tremor and bradykinesia, may make it difficult for someone to prepare their own food. Side effects from PD medicines, like nausea, may also impact the desire to prepare or eat food. Additional symptoms caused by PD, like difficulty swallowing, can impact a person’s ability to eat. These complications can lead to unintended weight loss.1,2

Weight changes in Parkinson’s disease

PD may cause a person to gain weight or to lose weight. Changes to weight (in either direction) can have negative effects on a person’s overall health. Weight gain, which may occur due to lack of movement and exercise, can lead to being overweight. This increases the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure and puts extra stress on joints.2,3

Weight loss can lead to losing muscle mass and strength. This may increase the risk of infection or osteoporosis. Progressive, unintended weight loss is a major feature of the progression of PD.2,3

There are several strategies that can help people with PD to manage their weight. This includes eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods and getting regular exercise. A doctor or registered dietitian can provide specific strategies aimed at either gaining or losing weight.3

Diet and medicines for Parkinson’s disease

Many of the drugs used to treat PD can cause side effects that impact diet, including:1,3

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Insomnia,
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety

Amino acids found in protein sources like meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products can interfere with the absorption of the drug levodopa. This makes the drug less effective in managing symptoms of PD. This can be avoided by:1,3

  • Taking the medicine 30 minutes before meals
  • Eating protein-containing foods at dinner rather than at breakfast or lunch
  • Ensuring that the recommended amount of protein is being consumed

Many people consume significantly more protein than is recommended. A good rule to remember is that the protein should be about the size and depth of a deck of cards.1,3

Adequate hydration

Some drugs used to treat PD can raise the risk of dehydration. Proper hydration is critical for health. Dehydration can lead to confusion, weakness, balance problems, respiratory failure, and even death.4

Bladder or urinary difficulties are common in people with PD. Those who experience urinary incontinence or an urgent need to urinate frequently may tend to limit their fluid intake. Because proper hydration is critical in people with PD, those who experience urinary incontinence should talk to their doctor about possible treatments to help with urinary issues.3

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: May 2021