Nutrition and Yoga for Parkinson's
This blog post is dedicated to an inspiring friend of mine, who is battling Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson's disease affects the neuron's of the brain and results in difficulty with balance, muscle control, and trembling. It begins in the brain stem and spreads to the entire brain, resulting in a shortage of dopamine. The disease is twice as common in men as women and affects 500,000 people in the United States. Early symptoms include decreased arm swing or stride length on one side, difficulty with buttons and handwriting due to loss of fine motor coordination, tremors during times of stress, and constipation. Progressive symptoms include increased tremors, slowness of movement, freezing, postural instability, sleep disturbance, and psychiatric symptoms.
A major risk factor for Parkinson’s disease is exposure to environmental toxins. Environmental exposure can include pesticides, solvents, manganese, welding, heavy metals, and well water containing pesticides or heavy metals. As much as possible reduce exposure to these toxins and always drink filtered water. Interestingly enough, coffee and cigarette smoking are correlated with a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Of course, the risks of cigarette smoking do not outweigh the benefits of lowered risk.
While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are alternative therapies that can be supportive. Stress reduction is important since stress aggravates symptoms. Both aerobic and balancing exercises like Tai Chi or yoga are helpful for managing physical symptoms and stress. Cross body moves can help with brain health so any moves involving reaching to touch feet with the opposite hand are encouraged. Practicing balancing postures in yoga helps with balance off the mat, which can be challenging for those with Parkinson’s disease. If the balancing postures in yoga become difficult, the wall can be used as a balance aid. In addition, during the final rest period of savasana, using sand bags on the hands to still tremors can be comforting and allow a deeper relaxation to relieve stress.
Nutrition for Parkinson’s disease is consistent with the general advice for a whole foods diet with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables and reduced animal meats. People with Parkinson’s disease have lower levels of anti-oxidants in the brain and eating lots of fruits and vegetables ensures a healthy supply of anti-oxidants. At the same time, the fruits and vegetables supply fiber which can alleviate constipation which occurs with Parkinson’s. If someone is taking medication for Parkinson’s, then they are advised to eat less protein and consume it away from the medication as protein can alter the effectivity of Parkinson’s medication (levodopa).
Since the disease may be caused by higher levels of toxins in the body, supporting the body’s natural ability to detoxify is important. Sulfur containing vegetables like garlic, onions, water soluble fiber like guar gum, oat bran, pectin, psyllium seed, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower can support detoxification. As the body eliminates toxins, it is helpful to minimize any toxins brought into the body and thus eating as much organically grown food as possible and avoiding cooking in aluminum pans is helpful.
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, which helps with lowering inflammation in the body. Many studies have shown the benefits of Omega-3 on the brain. Foods like salmon, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds are high in Omega-3 and should be included in the diet of those with Parkinson’s to support brain health by reducing dopamine loss and minimizing inflammation.
One of the most widely studied and recommended supplements for Parkinson’s is green tea, which contains EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) an anti-inflammatory which prevents loss of dopamine producing cells and l-theanine which may also prevent death of the dopamine producing brain cells. In one study, green tea prevented Parkinson’s in mice. The current recommendation is to have three cups of green tea per day.
One fascinating supplement for Parkinson’s is naturally occurring levodopa. Mucuna Pruriens or sometimes called velvet bean or cowhage or kapikacchu seed is a leguminous plant used in Ayurveda for Parkinson’s treatment. The mucuna beans contain natural levodopa, as well as, the anti-oxidants CoQ10 and NADH. Broad beans or fava beans also contain natural levodopa. These plant based sources of levodopa have been shown to act faster than the pharmaceuticals and have less side effects.
Other supplements suggested include CoQ10, glutathione or NAC, curcumin, B vitamins, Vitamin D, and creatine. Glutathione and CoQ10 are anti-oxidants. It is known that people with Parkinson’s disease have lower levels of glutathione in the substantia nigra region of the brain so researchers have focused on increasing these levels with glutathione supplementation or its precursor NAC. Studies with CoQ10 initially showed promise, but recent studies have had conflicting results. Curcumin is a powerful anti-inflammatory and in animal studies slowed the loss of glutathione. Vitamin D is widely known to be protective of the brain and has been shown to be at lower levels in people with Parkinson’s. Adequate B vitamins can help to lower blood homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid, which we get primarily from animal meats and has been linked to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. In earlier studies, creatine showed some promise but in a subsequent 2017 analysis, creatine did not show any benefit over placebos.
More research is needed to help prevent Parkinson’s disease and support people with the disease. The use natural alternatives like exercise, stress relief, a clean whole foods diet, and select supplements can improve quality of life.
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