The awareness about Parkinson’s Disease has increased as it has impacted more high profile people such as actors and sporting personalities, but what is Parkinson’s Disease and what can be done to help?
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the brain and nervous system that can cause tremors, slow movements and difficulty controlling them, rigid muscles and/or changes in posture and balance. There can also be symptoms referred to as non-motor symptoms which can include trouble sleeping, anxiety/depression and problems with memory.
Many of these symptoms are caused by damage to nerve cells that produce dopamine, a chemical that is vital for the control of muscles and movement. Parkinson’s is diagnosed based on your medical history, your symptoms and a neurological exam performed by a neurologist.
There are some scary treatment options out there for Parkinson’s Disease but there are also some great conservative treatments that have the potential to slow Parkinson’s or at the very least ease some of the symptoms.
Exercise is Medicine!
- Research shows that exercise may have a protective effect on the brain, slowing the degeneration of brain cells.
- Increasing physical activity to at least 2.5 hours a week can slow Parkinson’s symptom progression
- In addition, exercise helps to improve balance and mobility issues, improves mood, can ease constipation and can decrease brain fog
- Exercise can depend on your specific symptoms or fitness levels but general rule of thumb is that something is better than nothing
- If you aren’t used to being active, simply starting with a short walk every day can be immensely beneficial
- The most important exercise for Parkinson’s is exercise you enjoy and are able to feel safe doing
- Foods that help promote brain health and support the nervous system
- Walnuts for Omega 3’s with early studies associate with decreased risk of dementia
- Pistachios for vitamin K and antioxidants which may have the potential for helping reestablish lost connections between neurons
- Macadamia nuts whos oils may increase the production of neurotransmitters that help the brain cells communicate with each other
- Cashews for iron, zinc and magnesium which may boost serotonin which is linked to better mood and reduced memory loss
- Anti-inflammatory Foods
- Coconut oil, rosemary, salmon, tuna, dark leafy green veggies and soy products are anti-inflammtory foods. Less inflammation in your body can help decrease stress on the body and the brain
- Foods with high water content
- Tomato, cucumber, celery broccoli and grapefruit are all foods with high water content and can be helpful if urinary incontinence or urgency becomes a problem with drinking more water
- Increase your fibre
- Constipation can be quite common in Parkinson’s Disease so it is important to increase your fibre intake by eating fruits and veggies
- Be aware
- If you are on the medication Levodopa for Parkinson’s, it’s important to note that high protein or high fat foods can interfere with the medications absorption, it is best to speak to your GP about meal timing when it comes to those medications
- Check your magnesium
- Deficiency in magnesium can include insomnia, fatigue and weakness; muscle cramps, spasms and twitches; restless legs; confusion, irritability and depression, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing.
- Magnesium deficiency is quite widespread in people with Parkinson’s so it is a good idea to chat to your GP
- Leafy green veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds and whole grains are all good dietary sources of magnesium
- Useful for sleep/insomnia
- Chamomile & Passionflower
- May help with sleep and anxiety
- Always check with your GP before supplementing
Mind Body Practises
- Mindfulness Meditation
- May help to reduce stress, improve concentration, decrease anxiety, improve sleep
- Some evidence to indicate improvements with flexibility, stress relief and relaxation
- T’ai Chi
- Safe & gentle
- Some evidence that may improve balance, reduce falls and improve mobility
- There is some evidence to suggest that acupuncture, osteopathy and massage therapy can help overall wellbeing & relaxation
- Manual therapy can also help with muscle aches and pains associated with the symptoms of Parkinson’s as well as aiding postural changes and exercise advice
- A small human trial of Laser light therapy has been shown to decrease symptoms of Parkinson’s disease by targeting dopamine production via the Gut-Brain-Axis
When it comes to making lifestyle changes to help ease symptoms of Parkinson’s, it is always a good idea to make one change at a time so you know what works and what doesn’t; if you have a good or bad reaction you know which change contributed to that reaction; and one change at a time is unlikely to stress the body as much as making several changes at once. It is also helpful to get a team around you; in addition to family and friends, doctors, manual therapists, personal trainers, dieticians and support groups can be helpful so you aren’t doing it alone & you always have someone who can help you if you don’t know where to start or you need a hand.
- Liebert A, Bicknell B, Laakso EL, Heller G, Jalilitabaei P, Tilley S, Mitrofanis J, Kiat H. Improvements in clinical signs of Parkinson’s disease using photobiomodulation: a prospective proof-of-concept study. BMC Neurol. 2021 Jul 2;21(1):256. doi: 10.1186/s12883-021-02248-y. PMID: 34215216; PMCID: PMC8249215.