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Research Roundup: Parkinson’s Nutrition

Countless studies have found that exercise is effective when it comes to mitigating Parkinson’s symptoms, but what about diet? Research on this topic offers fascinating, but mixed, results.

We know that a healthy lifestyle is fundamental to mitigating Parkinson’s symptoms, and there has been extensive research done over the years that demonstrates the benefits of exercise on Parkinson’s disease (PD). But how might other lifestyle aspects, such as diet, play a role in PD, and is there any research exploring those avenues? The short answer is … yes!

There has been myriad research conducted over the years investigating the connection between Parkinson’s and diet. Some studies explored whether nutritional supplements like fish oil could help mitigate symptoms or slow down disease progression, while others investigated if a certain diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, could potentially reduce one’s risk of developing early signs of Parkinson’s disease.

Here is a roundup of current developments in Parkinson’s diet research.

Mediterranean diet related to lower probability of prodromal Parkinson’s

We know that a Mediterranean diet is frequently recommended for people with Parkinson’s disease, but has there been any research to indicate whether it could slow disease progression or even reduce one’s risk of developing the disease?

A study published in the October 2018 issue of Movement Disorders suggests that adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with lower prodromal PD in older adults. Prodromal PD refers to the stage in which individuals are not officially diagnosed with Parkinson’s but exhibit signs and symptoms that indicate a higher-than-average risk of developing motor symptoms and a PD diagnosis in the future.

A large group of older adults in Greece took a detailed food frequency questionnaire that was used to evaluate their Mediterranean diet intake score, with higher scores indicating a higher adherence to that specific diet. Researchers found that individuals with a higher Mediterranean diet intake score were less likely to develop prodromal PD.

The data was driven by mostly non-motor markers of PD: depression, constipation and daytime drowsiness, and authors of the study noted that further research was needed to determine the potential relation to Mediterranean diet and delayed onset or lower incidence of PD. Click here to read more.

Keto diet may affect motor and nonmotor symptoms in Parkinson’s

Scientists have long been speculating whether diet can influence motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s, but they haven’t always agreed on the ideal fat to carbohydrate ratio.

A group of researchers designed a pilot study to compare the safety and efficacy of a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet vs. a high-fat, low-carbohydrate, “ketogenic” diet in a group of Parkinson’s patients in New Zealand. There were 47 people with PD who participated, of which 44 commenced the diets and 38 completed the study. The results of the study were published in the August 2018 edition of Movement Disorders.

Study participants were divided into two groups – one on a traditional low-fat, high-carb diet and the other on a high-fat, low-carb keto diet. The researchers found that both diet groups significantly improved in motor and nonmotor symptoms; however, the ketogenic group showed greater improvements in nonmotor symptoms. To read more, click here.

Fish oil, uridine show potential for offsetting gastrointestinal issues in PD

One of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is gastrointestinal (GI) issues, such as constipation. It is understood that some of these non-motor symptoms precede the classic motor symptoms like bradykinesia by many years and that their occurrence in otherwise healthy people may be an indicator of increased PD risk.

That’s why, in recent years, scientists have shifted their attention to investigating the GI tract and the enteric nervous system (ENS) – a mesh-like system of neurons that governs the function of the gastrointestinal tract – in relation to the development of Parkinson’s disease. In a study published online in March 2017 in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, researchers speculated whether introduction of a diet rich in uridine and fish oil might offset some of the GI issues connected to Parkinson’s.

To test their theory, they administered the neurotoxin rotenone in mice in order to induce a Parkinson’s-like neurological disease. As suspected, the mice began to exhibit PD-like motor symptoms, dopamine loss and constipation. The mice who were given a diet rich in fish oil and uridine a week before their exposure to rotenone had reduced motor and GI dysfunctions compared to the mice who didn’t.

While more research on this topic is needed, the researchers noted, it’s feasible that a diet rich in fish oil and uridine may possibly offset some of the motor symptoms and gastrointestinal issues in PD patients. For more information on this study, click here.

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