I watched my grandfather suffer from Parkinson’s disease. It was difficult to watch. Before he died, my grandfather was a shell of his previous self. The man everyone knew and loved had disappeared long before death took him. His last years were spent in a wheel chair, and he was completely dependent on caregivers to feed, bathe and dress him.
Parkinson’s is a neurological condition that primarily affects the motor system. By the time people are diagnosed they are usually experiencing tremors or shaking, problems with balance, slow movements and rigidity that can impair their ability to move. Less noticeable symptoms include constipation (the bowels have troubles moving too!), trouble swallowing, sleep problems, depression and dementia. These symptoms result from reduced activity of dopamine-secreting cells in the substantia nigra region of the brain.
Traditional treatment options include pharmaceuticals and deep brain stimulation. Drugs such as L-DOPA (levodopa) are commonly used, along with COMP inhibitors, but some people experience side effects from these. For people who don’t tolerate drugs, deep brain stimulation is an option, where neurostimulators are implanted in the brain. These stimulators send electrical signals to parts of the brain to help regulate motor function. Implanting these devices requires surgery. Brain surgery comes with risks as well.
Our understanding of Parkinson’s is starting to shift. In neurology, the focus is always on the brain, but now our understanding of Parkinson’s is moving into the field of gastroenterology. Recent research is showing us that the microbiome in people with Parkinson’s disease is different than that of healthy controls (Source). The microbiome refers to the trillions of organisms that live in our guts. As the progression of the disease has become better understood, the role of the gut and the organisms that live in it is being recognized. It is now theorized that the disease may have its beginnings in the gut. It’s speculated that organisms in the gut are either directly involved in the creation of Lewy bodies, or that inflammation generated by an unhealthy microbiome has a role in the creation of Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are thought to play a role in the development of Parkinson’s disease, and there is growing evidence that the disease spreads from the gut to the brain (Source).
This is exciting news from a nutritional perspective, because we know how to eat to support a healthy microbiome. It just so happens, that the best way to eat to bring your microbiome back to health, is the same way to eat to best nourish the brain. Restoring the gut microbiome helps to manage symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Regardless of your Parkinson’s treatment(s), dietary change is an important addition.
Unfortunately for my grandfather, he died before any of this information was known. I wish I had been able to help him. To honor his memory, my goal now is to help others suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Diet can also be used preventatively for those with a family history.
You can help me with that goal, by letting others know that a change in diet can make a difference.
Do you have a family member who suffers from Parkinson's? Are you worried it might be in your future?
Happy, Healthy Eating!