Your Diet and Parkinson’s Disease: Can a Healthy diet reduce the risks?

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In the 21st century, more and more individuals are opting for a more plant-based, sustainable diet as compared to previous generations. When these new, more clean diets started taking off many were skeptical warning individuals about their lack in certain vitamins and nutrients, however, research has shown that this change in diet has had a mostly positive effect on most people’s wellbeing and health. Interestingly, new research has just found that these types of diets incorporating more vegetables and less meat may even decrease a person’s probability of developing Parkinson’s Disease (PD) symptoms.

PD is a progressive nervous system disorder that currently affects about 10 million persons worldwide. It generally affects movement and commonly causes stiffness and slowing of movement.  This disease is caused by the impairment or death of neurons that deliver dopamine within a region of the brain known as the substantia nigra. The movement of dopamine within this region is normally responsible for relaying messages that plan and control body movement.

pcori. Improving Life for Women with Parkinson’s Disease. (2019).

A new research study published by the American Academy of Neurology suggests that eating a healthy diet in middle age may be linked to having fewer symptoms associated with PD such as constipation, daytime sleepiness, and depression.  In this study, researchers analyzed 47,679 participants from two prospective studies, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Dietary information data for both cohorts have been collected every four years since 1986 when participants were middle-aged. In addition, adherence scores were calculated for different diet patterns including, the alternative Mediterranean diet and the Alternative Healthy Eating Index. Then in 2012 participants were asked whether they had two conditions common in people who are later diagnosed with PD; constipation and rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder. In 2014-15, 17,400 of the participants were asked about five more symptoms that can precede PD which included, loss of sense of smell, impaired color vision, excessive daytime sleepiness, body pain, and depression.

Results demonstrated that individuals in the high group for adherence to the Mediterranean diet were 33% less likely to have three or more symptoms than those in the low adherence group. Similar results and relationships were found for the Alternative Healthy Eating Index diet. It should be noted that these findings were found after researchers adjusted for other factors that may affect the risk of developing these preceding symptoms, such as physical activity, smoking, and BMI. The specific statistics of the study can be found below:

  • Out of the 29,899 women – 37% of the low adherence group (LA) had constipation compared to 32% in the high adherence group (HA).
  • Out of 11,493 women with all of the non-motor symptoms measured, 15% of LA had body pain, compared to 13% in HA. Additionally, 17% of LA had symptoms of depression compared to 14% in HA.
  • Out of 17,770 men, 22% in LA had constipation compared to 12% in HA.
  • Out of 5,907 men with data on all of the non-motor symptoms, 13% of LA had symptoms of depression compared to 13% in HA.

After analyzing individual food groups, researchers found that eating more vegetables, nuts, legumes, and consuming moderate amounts of alcohol were all associated with a lower risk of having three or more of the preceding symptoms linked to PD. Despite no cause and effect relationship being established, the study does offer another positive insight into adopting a more plant-based diet.

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