Parkinson’s Disease– Can Specific Foods Reduce Your Risk?

Parkinson’s Disease– Can Specific Foods Reduce Your Risk?

Published on Friday, April 28, 2023 by Andy De Santis

Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease. 

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurological disorder that results in an impaired ability to facilitate voluntary movement.

PD is the second most common neurological disorder behind Alzheimer’s and is more likely to occur in older age, affecting around 1% of the population 60 years and older with the proportion affected increasing with further years of age.

Movement impairment in PD is characterized primarily by:

  1. Tremor
  2. Rigidity
  3. Bradykinesia (slowness)

Researchers believe that Parkinson’s Disease is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, meaning that those with a family history may be particularly inclined to learn the role good nutrition may play in reducing their risk.

That’s what I’m here today to explore, so let’s find out. 

Nutrition & Parkinson’s Disease Risk

In the last few decades, numerous studies exploring the extent to which one’s overall dietary pattern affects PD risk have been conducted.

One of the more notable and recently completed studies, published by the Journal Of Parkinson’s Disease in 2021, followed over 3,500 older adults of an average age of around 80 over 7 years.

That same paper also included a meta-analysis of four other similar studies, with all five in sum clearly demonstrating that older adults with overall higher-quality diets were less likely to end up with Parkinson’s disease during the study period.

But what are the characteristics of a “higher-quality diet”?

One of the big ones, and my main focus today, is total dietary antioxidant intake. 

Dietary Antioxidants & Parkinson’s Risk

Antioxidants are beneficial biological compounds found mostly in plant-based foods which have unique protective effects on the cells of the brain and body.

Recent evidence has clearly demonstrated that individuals with higher total antioxidant intakes are at a lower risk of Parkinson’s Disease.

The specific antioxidants of interest include:

  • Vitamin E – found in leafy greens, sunflower seeds, nuts, avocado, fish, and various fruits/veggies.
  • Anthocyanins -  found in all types of berries as well as cherries, grapes, pomegranates, and plums.
  • Lutein – found in leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, broccoli, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts.
  • Zinc -  found in chicken, tofu, lentils, beef, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, and yogurt, among others.
  • Beta-Carotenefound in orange/green items like squash, carrots, sweet potato, bell peppers, and broccoli.

The exact foods mentioned in the categories above, with the addition of olive oil, herbs, and spices, were also found to be associated with a reduced rate of disease progression in those already living with the condition – although the research in this area is very limited

It doesn’t stop here though, antioxidant-rich caffeinated beverages like coffee and green tea may also have a role to play in Parkinson’s prevention.

Caffeine & Parkinson’s Disease

A 2020 meta-analysis out of the Nutrients journal found that caffeine consumers had both a lower risk of Parkinson’s Disease and of its progression in those who already had it.

The majority of caffeine consumed in North America comes from either coffee or tea, beverages that also boast a host of other beneficial properties including a unique array of antioxidant compounds that can further contribute to good health.

Dark chocolate is another caffeine-containing food item with a robust amount of beneficial compounds.

But wait!

The best available evidence suggests, interestingly enough, it is the caffeine in these foods that may be most relevant to Parkinson’s Disease with decaffeinated coffee failing to show the same protective benefits.

According to work out of the Neurology journal, the research in this area is skewed towards men, with those who drank 4+ cups of coffee today having up to a 5x lower risk of PD.

  1. Tysnes, O. B., & Storstein, A. (2017). Epidemiology of Parkinson's disease. Journal of neural transmission (Vienna, Austria : 1996), 124(8), 901–905. 
  2. Liu, Y. H., Jensen, G. L., Na, M., Mitchell, D. C., Wood, G. C., Still, C. D., & Gao, X. (2021). Diet Quality and Risk of Parkinson's Disease: A Prospective Study and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Parkinson's disease, 11(1), 337–347. 
  3. Talebi, S., Ghoreishy, S. M., Jayedi, A., Travica, N., & Mohammadi, H. (2022). Dietary Antioxidants and Risk of Parkinson's Disease: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-analysis of Observational Studies. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 13(5), 1493–1504. 
  4. Wu, L. Y., Chen, J. X., Chen, G. S., Gao, H., Huo, J. H., Pang, Y. F., & Gao, Q. H. (2022). Dietary β-carotene and vitamin A and risk of Parkinson disease: A protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine, 101(41), e31002. 
  5. Mischley, L. K., Lau, R. C., & Bennett, R. D. (2017). Role of Diet and Nutritional Supplements in Parkinson's Disease Progression. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2017, 6405278. 
  6. Hong, C. T., Chan, L., & Bai, C. H. (2020). The Effect of Caffeine on the Risk and Progression of Parkinson's Disease: A Meta-Analysis. Nutrients, 12(6), 1860. 
  7. Li, C., Lin, J., Yang, T., & Shang, H. (2022). Green Tea Intake and Parkinson's Disease Progression: A Mendelian Randomization Study. Frontiers in nutrition, 9, 848223. 
  8. Munoz, D. G., & Fujioka, S. (2018). Caffeine and Parkinson disease: A possible diagnostic and pathogenic breakthrough. Neurology, 90(5), 205–206. 

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