Treating Parkinson’s Disease With Diet

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Caffeine consumption appears to help prevent Parkinson’s, but what if you already have the condition? A recent study found that giving folks the equivalent of about two cups of coffee a day worth of caffeine significantly improved symptoms of the disease. Of course, there’s only so much you can charge for coffee, so drug companies took caffeine and added a few side groups so they could patent it into new drugs (Preladenant and Istradefylline). These drugs appear to work no better than plain caffeine, which is dramatically cheaper and probably safer. You can see more of the risks and benefits of coffee and caffeine in Coffee and Cancer and What About the Caffeine?

Similarly, certain plants, such as berries, and plant-based diets in general may help prevent Parkinson’s. See my last post Avoiding Dairy to Prevent Parkinson’s. This may be partially because of pollutants that magnify up the food chain into the meat and dairy supply, but it could also be from the protective phytonutrients in healthy plant foods. For example, as you can see in my 3-min video Treating Parkinson’s Disease With Diet, I profile a case report in which a dietician struck with Parkinson’s was able to successfully clear most of her symptoms with a plant-based diet rich in strawberries, whole wheat, and brown rice. These are rich sources of two particular phytonutrients, N-hexacosanol and fisetin, but there hadn’t been a formal interventional trial published, until now.

At its root, Parkinson’s is a dopamine deficiency disease due to a die-off of dopamine-generating cells in the brain. These cells make dopamine from L-dopa derived from an amino acid in our diet. Just like we saw with the serotonin story I described in my three-part series The Wrong Way to Boost SerotoninA Better Way to Boost Serotonin, and The Best Way to Boost Serotonin, the consumption of animal products blocks the transport of L-dopa into the brain, crowding it out.  With this knowledge, researchers first tried what’s called a “protein redistribution diet.” This is where people could only eat meat for supper so the patients would hopefully be sleeping by the time the negative effects of the animal protein hit.

The researchers didn’t consider cutting out all animal products altogether until it was discovered that fiber consumption naturally boosts L-dopa levels. Thus, a plant-based diet would be expected to raise levodopa bioavailability and bring some advantages in the management of the disease through two mechanisms: reduced animal protein intake and an increased fiber intake. That’s why plant protein is superior, because that’s where fiber is found. So researchers put folks on a strictly vegan diet, saving beans for the end of the day, and indeed found a significant improvement in symptoms.

More on what fiber can do for us in videos such as:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2014 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image credit:  royalconstantinesociety/Flickr

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  • j

    Cool, but why did they “save beans for the end of the day” as you wrote in the last paragraph? Is there anything about eating beans earlier in the day that would prevent boosting l-dopa levels?

    • Veganrunner

      Because beans have protein and one would want any negative effects to come when patient is sleeping.

      • j

        What negative effect would a plant based protein have on sleeping? I don’t see how a bean such as black beans would produce the negative effects. Dr. Greger mentions in this blog here that animal based proteins were causing the negative effects.

        • Veganrunner

          Well this is specifically about Parkinson’s, protein and sleep. I am assuming the only reason you would limit beans at night has to do with the study about protein. Does anything else make sense?

          • J

            I watched the video. It makes no mention of negative effects of plant protein (beans). It only mentions animal protein. Therefore, I don’t see why it would matter if someone had beans earlier in the day (they are eating a plant based protein and this is not what was found to cause the problem). And they also mentioned that plant proteins work best and are a significant source of fiber. They’ve seem to have left out any reason why any plant protein would cause the same problems as the animal proteins. In fact, they seem to imply the opposite.

          • cjazz

            Your question prompted me to do a search. Apparently, PD meds (typically Levadopamine) and protein don’t get along. If a patient takes the meds to soon before or after eating protein, the drug and protein compete to get taken up into the bloodstream; the protein always wins. The patient doesn’t then get what they need from the meds. It doesn’t matter if the protein is animal or plant based. Patients are urged to have their protein meals in the evening. Source article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/website-helps-parkinsons-patients-avoid-protein-medication-interaction/article12601255/

  • Omar

    Do you have any citations for the studies referenced?

    • Thea

      Omar: While Dr. Greger doesn’t repeat the sources sited in the blog section of this website, all citations are included underneath each relevant video and each blog links to the videos.

      It can be a bit of work going from a blog to finding what you are looking for, but it is possible. Just look for and expand the section, “Sources Sited” under the relevant video that talks about the study you are interested in.

      Hope that helps.

  • http://www.worldclasslasik.com/manhattan-lasik-center-must-ask-questions Right Lasik Procedure

    Great article

  • Darryl

    Fisetin, a flavonol found in strawberries and the Japanese wax tree, is becoming a candidate for the most valuable phytochemical (MVP) award. Fairly bioavailable, readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, reduces symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in humans, a neurotrophin that facilitates long-term memory in animal models, anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic in cancer, and lowers methylglyoxal production and protein glycation in diabetic complications. Of particular interest to me, fisetin about as potent as sulforaphane in inducing Nrf2-ARE mediated cytoprotective responses, but does so with switch-like kinetics – in high-throughput screening its the only low-toxicity phytochemical with with this attribute.

    PNAS 103.44 (2006): 16568-16573
    Free radical research 40.10 (2006): 1105-1111.
    Molecular pharmacology 71.6 (2007): 1703-1714.
    Genes & nutrition 4.4 (2009): 297-307.
    PloS one 6.6 (2011): e21226.
    Chemistry & biology 18.6 (2011): 752-765.
    International Journal of Cancer. 130.7 (2012): 1695.
    Carcinogenesis 33.2 (2012): 385-393.
    Journal of Medicinal Food 15.8 (2012): 758-761.

  • Darryl

    One case where black tea might be better than green: drinking >3 cups of black tea daily delayed onset of Parkinson’s disease motor symptoms by 7.7 years in this study.

    • VegAtHeart

      A noteworthy point from the study you cited was:

      “Smoking ≥10 pack-years delayed age of PD onset by 3.2 years”

      • Darryl

        Nicotine has been known to lower risk of Parkinson’s for decades. As lung cancer, alone, is responsible for 7.2 times as many deaths as PD in the U.S., its not really worth considering smoking as a preventative. Perhaps a low-TSNA smokeless tobacco, which lowered PD risk by 78% in this study, might be worthwhile for those with incipient PD.

        Besides caffeine and nicotine, these phytochemicals have have demonstrated protective effects in both neuron tissue culture and animal models of Parkinson’s and neurodegenerative disease:

        • sulforaphane (broccoli, cabbage, kale and other cruciferous vegetables)
        • curcumin (tumeric)
        • epigallocatechin gallate (green tea)
        • resveratrol (grape skins)
        • allicin (garlic)
        • hypericin (St. John’s wort)
        • carnosic acid (rosemary, sage)
        • luteolin (thyme, oregano, rosemary, pepperment, chamomile, olive oil, and others)

        • VegAtHeart

          Thank you once again Professor! I have learned a lot from your posts about PD, including the surprisingly protective role of higher blood levels of uric acid.

        • lara

          I highly recommend e-cigs and monster rehab black tea caffeine for anyone with PD. My boyfriend has the kind that hits in your early twenties and these really helped him feel better even though it’s still progressing.

  • Darryl

    Fisetin, a flavonol found in strawberries and the Japanese wax tree, is becoming a candidate for the most valuable phytochemical (MVP) award. Fisetin is fairly bioavailable, readily crosses the blood-brain barrier, reduces symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in humans, is a neurotrophin that facilitates long-term memory in animal models, is anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic as well as an angiogenesis inhibitor in cancer, and lowers methylglyoxal production and protein glycation responsible for the accelerated aging of diabetic complications. Fisetin is about as potent as sulforaphane in inducing Nrf2-ARE mediated cytoprotective responses, uniquely among food phytochemicals, but does so with switch-like kinetics in high-throughput screening.