Nutrition and Symptom Reduction

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a highly variable disease. Each person experiences their own unique combination of symptoms and disease progression. However, dietary changes and nutritional advice can help manage the symptoms of PD and improve quality of life.

Registered dietitians or nutritionists can provide a nutritional assessment to help people with PD. This includes an evaluation of:

  • Food and nutrient intake
  • Lifestyle
  • Medical history

Nutritional advice should be customized to treat the specific needs of each person. Nutritional assessments should be routinely performed in people with PD since their needs often change as the disease progresses.1,2

Dietary changes and nutritional advice often focus on health concerns that are common in people with PD.

Reducing constipation

Constipation is defined as difficult bowel movements or when there are fewer than 3 bowel movements per week. It is the most common gastrointestinal symptom experienced by people with PD. Constipation may occur in early or late stages of the disease. However, it generally worsens with disease progression. Drugs used to treat PD may also cause constipation as a side effect.1

Fiber intake plays an important role in the management of constipation. It is recommended that people with PD consume enough fiber and drink plenty of water each day. Good sources of fiber include:1

  • Fruits with the peel
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Whole grains

Talk to your doctor or dietitian about how much fiber and water should be part of your diet each day.

Some doctors may recommend fiber supplements. However, laxatives should be avoided. Increased fluid intake and physical activity can also help with constipation.1

Improving brain health

Some research suggests that certain nuts can promote brain health, such as walnuts, cashews, and almonds. However, it is recommended that these nuts be consumed in moderation. A doctor or dietitian can help you determine what amount is right for you.3

Foods high in antioxidants may also help support brain health and protect against cellular damage. Antioxidants are molecules that help clear toxins from the body. Antioxidants can be found in:3,4

  • Vegetables like artichokes, okra, kale, bell peppers, and potatoes)
  • Berries and fruits like pears, apples, and grapes)
  • Grains
  • Eggs
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts
  • Dark chocolate
  • Drinks like red wine, coffee, and tea

Supporting bone health

People with PD are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. This is a condition characterized by low bone mineral density. Osteoporosis is especially concerning for people with PD because of their increased risk of falling. Osteoporosis weakens bone and can lead to an increased risk of fractures.3

To support bone health, it is important that people with PD consume proper calcium and vitamin D. Sources of calcium include:

  • Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Dary, leafy greens like kale and spinach

Vitamin D can be obtained by spending a short amount of time in the sunshine. Some foods are also fortified with vitamin D, like cereals and milk. Vitamin D is also found in fatty fish.

While it is best to get calcium and vitamin D from your diet, they are also available as over-the-counter supplements. Talk to your doctor about how much calcium and vitamin D is right for you.3

Supporting healthy sleep

Sleep disturbances are common in people with PD. However, good nutrition can support healthy sleep. To support sleep, people with PD should limit their sugar intake. They should also limit alcohol and caffeine consumption after lunchtime. Sugar, alcohol, and caffeine are especially troublesome to sleep when consumed in the evening before bedtime.3

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: May 2021