Cognitive decline is one of the most common non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. But there are nutrients that can help support memory and cognition in Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is primarily defined as a movement disorder characterized by the loss of neurons in the brain that produce dopamine. But PD is being recognized more as a multi-system disorder with non-motor symptoms just as significant to both identify and manage.
Cognitive decline is one of the most common non-motor symptoms. Research demonstrates that people with PD have a more rapid decline in cognitive domains including memory. While dementia, a decline in memory or thinking skills, is a common problem in advanced stages, pre-dementia and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can show up earlier in the progression of PD. It is worth noting that the gut microbiome also has been associated with impairment in the region of the brain necessary for encoding memory.
Potential mechanisms for cognitive decline in PD include; protein misfolding, neurotransmitter activity, synaptic dysfunction, neuroinflammation, or mitochondrial dysfunction.
Here are 5 of the top nutrition considerations to support memory and cognitive health:
Walnuts (Juglans regia) are one of the best foods for brain health. They are an excellent example of what is referred to as the “doctrine of signatures” when a plant resembles the part of the body it treats. A recent study determined that a handful of walnuts daily can improve cognitive health. Another study was able to demonstrate their ability to delay cognitive dysfunction.
Monunsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs)
The brain is comprised of 60% fat so it’s no surprise that healthy fats support its function. Fatty acids are crucial determinants of both the integrity and ability of the brain to perform. MUFAs have been shown to have significant association with a decrease in risk of MCI. Foods that are the best sources of MUFAs include eggs, olives and avocado.
Carotenoids are yellow, orange and red pigments made in plants. Examples of carotenoids include a-carotene, B-carotene, B-crytoxanthin, lycopene, zeaxanthin and lutein. Studies show that incorporating lutein in the diet has a benefit in maintaining cognitive health. The best sources of lutein are found in dark green leafy veggies. The top 6 sources include spinach, kale, turnip greens, collards, dandelion greens and mustard greens.
Vitamin C, most commonly associated for its ability to fight colds, is a potent antioxidant that also supports brain health. It has been identified as one of the highest protective nutrients against MCI. While oranges are perhaps the most familiar food source, some even better options include papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, strawberries and pineapple.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is also one of the top protective nutrients against cognitive impairment as it has a major role in neurotransmitter metabolism and mitochondrial function. In fact, individuals who have an inborn metabolism disorders of this vitamin will end up having B6-responsive epilepsy. Top food sources include tuna, turkey, beef, chicken and salmon. Sweet potatoes are the best a best plant-based option.
“You are what you eat”, applies to both your body and mind. For those managing Parkinson’s disease memory and cognitive function are common non-motor symptoms. Try incorporating these memory boosting foods to support brain health as people with Parkinson’s living inspired lives. Learn more about Parkinson’s nutrition by reading the Brian Grant Foundation’s nutritional recommendations.
Dr. Bethany Tennant is a Naturopathic Physician & Certified Nutrition Specialist and has been involved with BGF since 2012. Dr. Tennant is passionate about neurodegenerative conditions, natural sports medicine and medical nutrition. She sees patients at 2bwell Clinic in Lake Oswego, OR.