Diet and Parkinson’s

Dietary habits make a big difference in quality of life for people with Parkinson’s. Eating-related symptoms often crop up. For example, difficulties with swallowing. Also, problems with constipation as a result of slow muscle response. And problematic food–drug interactions. On the plus side, some foods can reduce the free radicals common in Parkinson’s.

Here are some tips to discuss with your loved one.

  • Constipation. In the morning, a glass of warm fluids such as hot water, tea, or warmed prune juice helps kick-start the bowels. A high-fiber diet and 6–8 ounces of fluid per day is a natural remedy. High-fiber foods include vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Also fruits with the peel left on. There are prescription medicines that can help. And certainly, exercise helps all aspects of Parkinson’s.
  • Swallowing problems. Coughing or choking can be relieved by sitting upright at a 90° angle while eating and “tucking the chin” down toward the neck when swallowing. Also try drinking from a wide-rim glass or cup. Taking smaller bites and chewing thoroughly can help. (Plan for longer meal times. Also, smaller, more-frequent meals.) Talk with a speech therapist or dietitian about other solutions.
  • Medication-related issues. A key Parkinson’s drug, carbidopa/levodopa, works best when taken in the absence of protein-rich foods. Ideally, about an hour before or two hours after meals. This timing can be challenging. Other Parkinson’s drugs may conflict with certain foods and minerals or cause dehydration. Consult with your loved one’s doctor and ask for a session with a dietitian or nurse to create a workable plan.
  • Antioxidants. Your relative with Parkinson’s has more free radicals than their same-age peers do. Antioxidant foods help mop up these toxic elements. The best foods are deeply colored fruits and vegetables. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and red or purple grapes. Red cabbage, spinach, kale, and sweet potatoes.