Transcript: Treating Parkinson’s Disease With Diet
Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.
Caffeine consumption, both in Asian and Western populations, appears to protect against the development of Parkinson’s disease. But, what if you already have it?
A new 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 side group so they could patent it into new drugs, which appear to work no better than plain caffeine—which is dramatically cheaper, and probably safer.
Similarly, other plant foods, such as berries, may be protective. And, plant-based diets, in general, may help prevent Parkinson’s. Animal fat and dairy may increase risk, whereas “a plant-based diet dietary pattern may protect against [Parkinson’s disease].” We don’t know if it’s the animal fat per se, though; it could be the animal protein that’s increasing risk, or maybe it’s the dairy, the mercury in fish, the blood-based heme iron, or less of the protective antioxidants in plant foods and plant-based diets. We didn’t know, until recently.
There have been successful case reports, like this one, in which a dietician was struck down with Parkinson’s, and she was able to clear most of her symptoms with a plant-based diet rich in strawberries, whole wheat, and brown rice—rich sources of these two phytonutrients. But, there hasn’t been a formal interventional trial published—until now.
At its root, Parkinson’s is a dopamine-deficiency disease, because of a die-off of dopamine-generating cells in the brain. These cells make dopamine from L-dopa, derived from certain amino acids in our diet. But, just like we saw with the serotonin story, the consumption of animal protein may block the transport of L-dopa into the brain, crowding it out.
So, at first, researchers tried what’s called a “protein redistribution diet.” Let’s basically only let people eat meat for supper, so that patients are hopefully sleeping by the time the negative effects kick in. But researchers didn’t consider cutting out all animal products altogether, until it was discovered that fiber consumption naturally boosts L-dopa levels. So, hey, “a plant-based diet, particularly in its vegan variant, is expected to raise levodopa bioavailability and bring some advantages in the management of [Parkinson’s] disease through two mechanisms: a reduced protein intake and an increased fiber intake…”
That’s why plant protein works best, because that’s where fiber is found. So, they put folks on a strictly vegan diet, keeping beans towards the end of the day, and indeed found a significant improvement in symptoms.
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