Nutrition and Symptom Reduction

Dietary changes can help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). PD is a highly variable disease, with each person experiencing their own unique combination of symptoms and individual progression, and nutritional advice is individualized to treat the specific needs of the person. Registered dietitians, or nutritionists, can provide a nutritional assessment, which includes an evaluation of the individual’s food and nutrient intake, their lifestyle, and their medical history. Nutritional assessments should be performed routinely in people with PD, as their needs frequently change as the disease progresses. Nutritional advice can contribute to the improvement of PD symptoms and increase health-related quality of life.1,2

Reduce constipation

Constipation is defined as difficult bowel movements or when there are fewer than three bowel movements per week, and it is the most common gastrointestinal symptom experienced by people with PD. Constipation may occur in early or late stages of the disease, though it generally worsens with disease progression. Medications 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 at least 30-35 grams of fiber daily. In addition, it is important to get adequate hydration with fiber, drinking at least 1,500 mL (approximately 51 ounces) of water daily. Good sources of fiber include fruits with the peel, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.1

Increased fluid intake can also help with constipation, and physical activity can help. Some physicians may recommend fiber supplements; however, laxatives should be avoided.

Improve brain health

Some research suggests that certain foods can promote brain health, such as walnuts, cashews, almonds, or other nuts. However, it is recommended that these nuts be consumed in moderation (just a few a day). Individual recommendations should be discussed with a registered dietitian.3

Foods high in antioxidants, molecules that help clear toxins from the body, may also help support brain health as well as protect against overall cellular damage. Antioxidants can be found in vegetables (like artichokes, okra, kale, bell peppers, and potatoes), berries and other fruits (like pears, apples, and grapes), grains, eggs, beans and lentils, nuts, dark chocolate, and some beverages (like red wine, coffee, and tea).3,4

Support bone health

People with PD are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease characterized by low bone-mineral density. Osteoporosis is especially concerning for people with PD because of the 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. It is recommended that adults over the age of 50 consume 1500 mg of calcium and 800 IU of vitamin D every day. Sources of calcium include dairy products (milk, cheese, and yogurt) and dark leafy greens. Vitamin D can be obtained by spending a short amount of time in the sunshine. Some foods have been fortified with vitamin D, like some cereals or milk. Vitamin D can also be found in fatty fish.3 While it is best to obtain calcium and vitamin D from your diet, supplements are available over the counter as well.

Support healthy sleep

Good nutrition can support healthy sleep, and sleep disturbances are common in people with PD. To support sleep, people with PD should limit their sugar intake, as well as limiting 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: November 2020