Parkinson's is manageable

April 10th, 2017 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

Rosie Shelley BA, SAC.Dip, ITEC.Dip

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Health & Nutrition with Rosie Shelley

‘We know that alterations in the composition of gut microbiota have been linked to a range of disorders. Our study showed major disruption of the normal microbiome—the organisms in the gut—in individuals with Parkinson’s. This opens up new horizons, a totally new frontier.’

– Dr Haydeh Payami, Professor of Neurology


WITH next week marking World Parkinson’s Awareness Day, the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland tells me that around 12,000 people here are living with the condition. As the population ages, this figure is set to double within the next twenty years.

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive disorder involving a slow degeneration of the brain cells that produce dopamine, which is involved in movement/physical coordination, and also mood, appetite, sleep patterns, energy levels and brain function.

It’s not (yet) a curable condition, and causes are complex and not definitively understood, but it is a manageable one. What we know is that people with Parkinson’s Disease show high levels of toxicity – from environmental pollution, pesticides and so on – free radical damage to the brain cells, and so neurological inflammation. And now the ground-breaking work of Dr Payami and her team in the US, which was published just this February, is starting to make sense of this.

The balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut is increasingly understood as being at the root of multiple health conditions. Firstly, people with Parkinson’s Disease seem to lack the specific bacteria that deal with detoxifying those external pollutants; secondly, a poor gut bacteria profile leads directly to the chronic inflammation that characterises the condition; and thirdly, the symptoms of depression, insomnia and so on can be directly linked with a faulty gut profile because the gut is where most of our serotonin – the feel good brain chemical – is made.

So whether you’re looking to reduce your risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease, or to slow its progression, the first thing to do is repopulate the gut with favourable bacteria. Take a probiotic supplement, and include probiotic foods on a daily basis – fermented soya products (miso, tempeh) and vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, or homemade), live/bio yoghurt (not the sugary yoghurt drinks), kefir, hard aged cheeses, organic apple cider vinegar, and sourdough bread. Cut out products that feed the bad bacteria, that is sugar/refined grains, soft drinks and the trans fats found in processed foods. It’s also important to provide the gut with the prebiotic foods that feed the good bacteria, including garlic, celery, bitter salad leaves, artichokes, bananas, oats, and chicory root, which can be bought in coffee form.

The second thing to do is combat those free radicals with a diet rich in antioxidants, which are mainly found in brightly/deeply coloured vegetables and fruit, eggs, pulses and wholegrains, nuts and seeds, as well as coffee, cocoa, tea, white and green teas, spices, herbs and seaweeds. Coffee in particular has a proven ability to both protect against Parkinson’s Disease and slow its progression. 

And finally, shift the focus away from excess animal produce, which has an inflammatory effect, and towards potently anti-inflammatory foods like oily fish, the orange/yellow/dark green fruit and veg family and the blue/purple family, and the spices turmeric and ginger (which is also good for nausea). Research has shown that, while meat does contain nutrients that are valuable here, getting a good amount of your protein from fish, eggs, pulses (beans and lentils), fermented soya, quinoa and seed veg like broccoli, nuts and seeds, is the best option for slowing progression. A plant based diet, including plenty of wholegrains like oats, brown rice and quinoa, will also help prevent the common symptom of constipation.

For reasons too lengthy to go into, there are several nutrients which have an extensively proven track record in the prevention/relief of both physical and cognitive symptoms: calcium, magnesium, omega 3, vitamins C, D and E, and most importantly the B vitamins. Don’t take a B complex if you are taking Levadopa as B6 will interfere with it, but B12, niacin (B3) and folinic acid (not the synthetic folic acid) have potent and specific actions here. All of these nutrients are also found in the foods already mentioned. And just last month a study suggested that folate (the form of folinic acid found in greens) increases that crucial production of both serotonin and dopamine.

Fatigue is often an issue if you have Parkinson’s Disease, but studies have shown that six hours walking a week offers significant relief (as well as significant protection for everyone). And also that short bursts of intense exercise eases specific symptoms. It’s probable that the exertion raises blood levels of the calcium we know to affect dopamine levels. Any kind of exercise will help to boost appetite, relieve constipation, maintain balance, joint and muscle strength and agility, and just as importantly your mood.  


• For more information, go to, or call the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland on 1800 359359.


Dietary recommendations

Best supplements

These include magnesium, vitamin D3, vitamin C with bioflavonoids or rosehips, high strength B12, niacin, and folinic acid (available from Amazon), probiotic such as BioKult.

Balanced menu suggestion for one day:

This is adapted from one created by the National Parkinson’s Foundation’s dietician, particularly good for those with chewing/swallowing issues or those aiming to put weight on.

Breakfast: Porridge topped with ground nuts and seeds, Greek yoghurt, mashed banana or stewed apple with raisins and cinnamon. 

Snack: Tomato juice; scrambled egg with shopped spinach. 

Lunch: Puréed soup such as chicken/lentil and veg, with sourdough bread soaked into it.

Snack: Homemade muffin made with ground almonds, blueberries and banana.

Dinner: Baked potato (sweet potato if you can) topped with salmon, hummus or baked beans, garlic and red pepper very finely chopped and sautéed in olive oil until soft, and cream cheese; chopped steamed broccoli. 

Snack: Rice pudding with chopped poached pear. 

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