Living with Parkinson's Disease (PD) can be challenging. You may wonder what you can do beyond the scope of medication to slow its progression and support a high quality of life. The good news is that scientific research suggests there may be multiple natural ways to combat Parkinson's. These options range from diet to exercise to cutting-edge, science-backed probiotics. Let’s talk about what the latest research has to say about natural approaches to living with Parkinson's.
Parkinson’s Progression and Medication
Parkinson's affects the central nervous system. It's a progressive disorder that may start slowly and worsens over time. While motor symptoms such as a small tremor in one hand, stiffness or slow movement may be the first thing you notice, “prodromal” non-motor symptoms like constipation may begin much earlier.
It's important to understand that Parkinson's affects people differently. Some people may experience a progression of PD over 20 years or more, while others may find their disease progresses more rapidly. Predicting the progression of the disease is difficult, but typically, there are five stages associated with the condition once motor symptoms appear.
You can make a proactive effort to keep PD at bay for as long as possible. Traditional medicines like levodopa and carbidopa are always an option. However, many people prefer to delay medication for as long as possible or avoid it entirely. Reasons supporting these decisions include:
- The potential side effects of PD medication - these may include dyskinesia, or involuntary movements.
- Severe consequences of suddenly stopping medications – for example, stopping levodopa may cause difficulty breathing or moving.
- Medications address symptoms but not root causes - Levodopa helps with symptoms of Parkinson’s by replacing lost dopamine activity, but it does not prevent additional dopamine-producing neurons from dying.
- Drug interactions - Some foods and vitamins may interfere with PD medications, and patients may need to adjust their diets.
If you prefer a natural approach, there are a variety of strategies that may help to support your mental and physical health that you can try. While these natural strategies, like Parkinson’s medication, are not a cure, you may find one or more of them that are helpful to your quality of life. As with any change to your health routine, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider.
Using Diet to Fight Parkinson's
One common method to ease PD symptoms is to eat a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, and avoid specific foods. There are several ways to tweak your diet, from adding certain foods into your diet to cutting others out.
Eat Foods Rich in Antioxidants and Other Nutrients
A Mediterranean diet is often recommended for those wishing to combat Parkinson's. This diet is high in vegetables, fish, fruit, legumes, whole grains, and unsaturated fats. Science shows a good correlation between reduced risk for PD and a diet high in fruit, vegetables, carotenoids (found in colorful foods), and omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish).
The Mediterranean diet is widely considered to be particularly healthy in general. People sometimes use it to decrease the risks of other conditions, like heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, inflammation, and depression. It is especially touted for its focus on foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and nutrients.
This diet emphasizes lots of fresh vegetables and whole grains, low amounts of fish and poultry consumed throughout the week, and minimal amounts of red meat, processed foods, and added sugars. Its primary source of fat is olive oil.
If you adhere to a Mediterranean diet, you will naturally introduce foods rich in omega-3s, antioxidants, and other nutrients, like:
- Olive oil
- Fresh vegetables
The Mediterranean diet is regularly recommended to help people fight Parkinson's naturally.
Avoid Specific Foods
Aside from the foods you should eat, there are also specific foods that people living with Parkinson's may choose to avoid. The progression of Parkinson’s is fueled by continued loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra, due to inflammation in this area of the brain. Therefore, some people choose to reduce exposure to inflammatory foods and toxins, although there are few clinical studies showing that these strategies are successful.
A review of clinical studies from 2014 noted the scientific literature sees a strong correlation between consuming a lot of milk and risk for PD. The authors suggested that milk may contain neurotoxic substances and also lead to decreased levels of uric acid in the blood, both of which may contribute to the observed increase in risk of PD.
While some studies suggest that foods with high saturated fat, high carbohydrate content, and red meat may be correlated with increased risk of PD, other studies do not show this correlation. Nevertheless, the Parkinson’s Foundation suggests avoiding the following:
- Large servings of protein
- Processed foods
- Foods with high saturated fat content
- Excess alcohol
Other foods should be avoided for reasons other than nutrition. Foods that are high in iron may interfere with Parkinson’s medications. People who have difficulty swallowing are cautioned to avoid hard-to-chew foods that may pose a choking hazard.
Everyone needs to stay well-hydrated, irrespective of their Parkinson's status. However, those with Parkinson's may need extra effort to prevent dehydration. While PD patients are at higher risk than others for dehydration, they may be less likely to realize they are dehydrated. This is because dehydration can mimic typical symptoms of PD, like fatigue or muscle cramping. Dehydration can lead to poor circulation, high blood pressure, and even organ failure.
People living with Parkinson's may drink only half as much fluid as those without it due to nausea, depression, fears of incontinence, and difficulty swallowing. If you have an unreliable thirst sensation, forget to drink enough, or generally don’t like to drink water, there are a variety of ways you can improve your hydration.
- Eat more foods that are high in water content. Examples include melons, citrus, and broth-based soups
- Monitor your water intake with a written log, timers or an app on your phone, or visual reminders like a pitcher you must finish or cups on the counter
- Drink flavored drinks that are low in caffeine and sugar. These can include adding a squeeze of citrus and/or slices of cucumber, or using a water flavoring
- Spread your drinking out during the day to help avoid incontinence
- Always drink before, during and after exercise or being outside in the heat of the day
Using Exercise to Feel Better with Parkinson's
Exercise and physical activity may ease nonmotor symptoms associated with Parkinson's, like constipation or depression.
Research from the Parkinson's Outcomes Project indicates that people with Parkinson's who incorporate exercise early in their condition for at least 2.5 hours per week may experience a slower reduction in their quality of life compared to those who don't exercise or who incorporate exercise later.
Some of the key types of exercises you can do to manage PD symptoms include:
- Stretching and flexibility
- Balance and agility
- Strength training
- Aerobic activity
Sometimes doctors prescribe physical therapy, but if you aren't in need of a therapist, you may be able to do some or all of these exercises yourself.
Find one or two activities that you enjoy enough that you will do them regularly. Make sure your choices “cover the bases” by including all four of the key types of exercise:
- Weight training
- Tai chi
Using Dopamine-Boosting Supplements for Parkinson’s
Another option is to include dopamine-boosting supplements to mitigate Parkinson’s symptoms. PD can occur when the brain produces a low level of dopamine. Supplements that may help boost dopamine levels typically do not actually contain dopamine. They instead help the body produce more of its own dopamine, or modify how dopamine is regulated.
Dopamine-boosting supplements include:
- Tyrosine and L-theanine
- Fish oil
- Vitamin D
- Mucuna pruriens
Using Probiotics to Fight Parkinson's Naturally
One of the most interesting and cutting-edge ways to combat PD may be probiotics. Researchers have been intrigued by the theory that gut issues may trigger brain-related issues linked to the disease. In the decades since, a growing body of evidence has been collected to support this idea. More research is required before anyone can make definitive statements, but the implications could be substantial for people living with Parkinson's.
The neuroprotective properties of L. plantarum PS128, a probiotic, were assessed in a Parkinson's-like mouse model. The findings indicate the potential for using psychobiotic PS128 to benefit patients living with PD. Although more research is needed, the implications of this study and other similar research may be profound.
Probiotics may be beneficial for people with Parkinson's in various ways:
Use Probiotics to Ease Constipation
Many people living with PD experience constipation. But some strains of probiotics can stimulate bowel movements to reduce the effects of constipation. Probiotics have even been recommended as a clinically useful therapeutic option for treating constipation in people with Parkinson's.
Use Probiotics to Enhance Mood & Movement
Other side effects sometimes associated with PD include neurological issues linked to mood and movement. People with Parkinson's experience a progressive loss of neurons that can synthesize dopamine. Dopamine helps you feel motivation, satisfaction, and pleasure. It's also linked to movement and motor skills.
Doctors may prescribe monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors to make dopamine more readily available. However, if you're searching for a more natural alternative, certain probiotics that balance levels of key neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain may be a good option. These kinds of probiotics are sometimes referred to as psychobiotics.
When people with PD are unable to synthesize dopamine at the normal rate, it can lead to issues with movement and mood. Preclinical studies in rodents suggest that the probiotic L. plantarum PS128 may be able to increase dopamine levels in vital brain regions.
A pilot study that involved 25 people with Parkinson's scrutinized the same probiotic. After 12 weeks of L. plantarum PS128 dosing combined with prescribed anti-Parkinson's drugs, a majority of participants reported fewer motor symptoms and better quality of life.*
Can Probiotics Prevent & Slow Parkinson's Onset?
There is evidence that for some people, Parkinson's may result from a gut imbalance. The theory is that an imbalance between beneficial and pathogenic bacteria in the gut can cause inflammation that may lead to alpha-synuclein particles. These particles may travel to the brain via the gut-brain axis, where they contribute to the neuron death associated with Parkinson's.
The obvious follow-up question to this theory is, can you fight Parkinson's with probiotics that are helpful for gut disorders? Science hasn't delivered a definitive answer, but the link between Parkinson's and gastrointestinal symptoms deserves more attention.
If it is possible to slow the onset of Parkinson's through probiotics, it is cause for consideration. The potential benefits of adding probiotics to your routine may far outweigh their potential minor side effects.
Lifestyle Interventions for Parkinson’s Disease
Mitigating the impact of PD on your life isn't restricted to a single tactic. You may find that an aggressive, multipronged approach is best. You may choose to combine dopamine-boosting supplements, diet, exercise, and probiotics to use every possible tool against the onset of Parkinson's.
The good news is that you can choose the approach that works best for you. For example, if you can't fit an exercise program into your daily routine, then perhaps focusing on a healthy diet and a psychobiotic such as L. plantarum PS128 is the best tactic for you to support your physical and mental health.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.