Do certain diets, such as keto, vegan, gluten-free, Mediterranean and intermittent fasting, live up to the hype when it comes to mitigating symptoms of PD? The jury is still out for most of them.

We all know how critical nutrition is for our health. With bone thinning, dehydration, gastrointestinal complaints, weight loss and lowered mobility commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease, it’s important to stick to a healthy diet.

We investigated five popular diet trends to see whether there is any concrete medical evidence backing up their potential benefits for people with PD. Spoiler alert: There wasn’t much! But we hope this information will be a good starting point for your journey into healthier meal-planning.

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet entails eating the same types of foods as those living in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Morocco and Croatia. This includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, olive oil and seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids.

The Mediterranean diet has been embraced by many for its “heart-healthy” components. For instance, the omega-3 fatty acids in seafood improve heart health, and olive oil is shown to lower cholesterol. Studies have confirmed that this diet is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. It is also recognized by the World Health Organization as a “healthy and sustainable dietary pattern.”

There are little to no difficulties in following the Mediterranean diet, as it is well-balanced nutritionally, and the ingredients are plentiful and easy to find. There are also no known health drawbacks. In fact, it is a frequently recommended diet for those living with Parkinson’s disease.

The Keto Diet

The keto diet consists of low-sugar, low-carb and high-fat foods. Doctors first started using the “Ketogenic Diet” in the 1920s to treat children with epilepsy, but in more recent years, it has been embraced by individuals looking to achieve rapid weight loss or an athletic edge.

An average American diet consists of mostly carbohydrates, which convert to blood sugar in your body. When you significantly reduce carbs and increase fats, your body stops using glucose and starts using fatty acids and ketone bodies (ketosis) to produce energy. This increases the rate at which we burn stored fat.

The keto diet faces some controversy for being a high-fat and relatively unbalanced diet. It is not advised as a long-term solution for weight loss. As to whether the keto diet is beneficial for those living with Parkinson’s, a couple of small studies have found potential evidence that it may help with some of the non-motor symptoms of PD.

The Vegan Diet

The vegan diet has been around for millennia and is often shrouded in controversy, as the purported benefits are usually considered more moral than health related.

Vegans eat plant-based diets that exclude all animal products, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. Doctors tend to warn vegans that removing all animal products from one’s diet without replacing essential nutrients like calcium, omega-3, vitamin B and protein, can lead to malnutrition.

However, some studies have shown that a carefully planned, vegetable-based diet free of processed foods and including plenty of essential nutrients can be helpful for overall health. In fact, there are some small case-controlled studies that theorize diets high in animal fat or cholesterol are associated with an increase in risk of Parkinson’s disease.

The Gluten-Free Diet

The gluten-free diet excludes the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. This protein can cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract of people who have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or a gluten allergy. It also could lead to non-specific symptoms, such as headaches, joint pain or even mood and memory changes.

At this time, no pre-clinical or clinical evidence exists to support the use of a gluten-free diet for Parkinson’s disease. People following a gluten-free diet should make sure they continue to get enough calcium, thiamin, fiber, niacin, riboflavin and folate to prevent malnutrition.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is more of an eating pattern than a diet. Rather than a list of acceptable foods, it is a program of timing for when you eat. A recent study found intermittent fasting in mice accelerated the retention of motor function and decreased the loss of dopaminergic neurons, suggesting that it might be beneficial to PD.

The most common methods of intermittent fasting are:
  • The 16/8 method: Also called the “Leangains protocol,” it involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 1-9 p.m. Then, you fast for 16 hours in between.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week, such as not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
  • The 5:2 diet: With this method, you consume only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week but eat normally the other five days.
  • Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all diet that will suit everyone’s needs or specifically address Parkinson’s symptoms. And while certain diet fads might be helpful for some people, they could be just as harmful to others. That’s why you must always consult with your doctor before changing your diet.

    Whether you’re making a meal at home, or eating out with friends, check out our comprehensive guide to Parkinson’s nutrition. Our nutrition information can help guide you to create your own healthy diet.