No specific diet is recommended for those with Parkinson’s disease. However, a balanced, nutritional diet improves general health, and dietary measures can optimize the effects of Parkinson’s medications while easing some of the symptoms.

Basic principles of nutrition

A balanced diet should include a variety of whole grains, and at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, to provide vitamins, minerals, fibers and complex carbohydrates.

Dairy products, protein-rich foods such as meat and beans, and healthy fats found in nuts, olive oil, fish and eggs are also recommended while keeping overall fat, saturated fat and cholesterol intake low. Restrict sugar intake if possible.

Diet and Parkinson’s disease medication

Dietary proteins interact with levodopa and carbidopa treatment by competing for absorption in the small intestine, causing these drugs to work less effectively or more slowly. This may be addressed by taking medication on an empty stomach, 30 minutes before or 60 minutes after food. However, this frequently results in nausea. A carbohydrate-based snack such as a plain cracker or biscuit, prescription anti-sickness tablets or a large drink of water might help, while taking medication with a cold drink or yogurt can also help with swallowing difficulties.

Those taking monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) inhibitors such as Azilect (rasagiline) or Eldepryl (selegeline) should avoid foods containing tyramine (including cured, fermented or air-dried meats or fish, aged cheeses, fermented cabbage, soybean products, and red wine and tap beer) because they could lead to high blood pressure. Iron supplements also reduce levodopa absorption, so a minimum two-hour interval is required between these medications.

Constipation

Constipation is a common problem for people with Parkinson’s. Drinking more fluid, exercising and increasing fiber intake are all good strategies, though laxatives are sometimes necessary.

Low blood pressure

Low blood pressure can result from the disease itself or the medication used to treat it. Low blood pressure may be managed by avoiding large meals, limiting carbohydrate intake, increasing salt and fluid intake, and decreasing alcohol intake. Seek professional advice if problems persist.

Bone health

Parkinson’s disease is associated with reduced bone density. Therefore, taking calcium and vitamin D supplements may help. However, do not take any supplements before consulting a healthcare professional.

Dehydration

Medications for Parkinson’s can sometimes cause dehydration. Therefore it is important to drink sufficient fluids. However, eating food with a high water content such as celery, grapefruit and watermelon rather than drinking more water can reduce the need to urinate.

Tremors and eating

Tremors and stiffness may make it difficult to eat. Rubber mats underneath dishes can prevent slippage and weighted utensils and cups with lids or straws can also help.

Swallowing problems

Parkinson’s patients may experience swallowing problems with coughing, choking or the sensation of food getting stuck. Several strategies can be used to avoid this. If the length of time taken to eat a meal means that the food gets cold, consider heated plates or smaller regular meals. It is also preferable to eat main meals when less tired and when medication is working optimally. If swallowing becomes difficult, semi-solid mashable food may be an option. Having a drink alongside meals and taking smaller mouthfuls can also help, and thickening agents can be added to drinks.

Weight maintenance and unplanned weight loss

In addition to the measures above, try supplementing meals with extra fats such as cream, butter and oil, and additional snacks and drinks such as milkshakes. Dietitians can provide specific advice about this. In the long term, if swallowing difficulties make it too difficult to maintain adequate nutrition, tube feeding directly into the stomach may eventually be considered and can be carried out at home or in a care setting.

Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.