DASH diet can maximize potential of medications, prevent hospitalization, improve overall well-being

By Karen Hales, Neurology Solutions Contributing Writer

The DASH diet is a top anti-aging diet providing benefits for adults who are trying to control blood pressure, prevent diabetes and cognitive decline, and increase health and longevity.

A balanced diet is important for all adults, but even more so for persons living with Parkinson’s Disease. The benefits of this type of diet include increased energy, maximizing the potential of medications, preventing hospitalization and promoting overall well-being.

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), along with its cousin the Mediterranean diet, aids in preventing symptoms common to individuals with PD such as high blood pressure and fluid retention, and helps to slow the progression of neural cell damage.

The National Parkinson’s Foundation recommends a diet comprised of foods that are antioxidant, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory, and that increase serum urate.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants help destroy the oxidative compounds, mainly “free radicals,” that damage healthy cells. Neural cell damage is believed to be a major cause of motor-coordination loss associated with PD.

Antioxidants can be supplied by fruits and vegetables, fish, and nuts, and assist in slowing the decline of cognitive function, another effect of damage to neurons. A good rule of thumb is the more colorful the food the better – think purple, red and blue.

Anti-inflammatory

Chronic inflammation is recognized as a risk factor for numerous degenerative diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, PD, Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis. Inflammation in the nervous system occurs early in Parkinsonian conditions, accelerating the degeneration of dopamine-producing cells.

Anti-inflammatory foods reduce inflammatory proteins in the body. They include: dark leafy vegetables, oily fish such as mackerel, tuna and salmon, and soy.

Neuroprotective

Neuroprotective foods contain substances that are capable of preserving brain function and structure and may protect against chronic degenerative disorders. This includes fish, especially fresh wild caught, blueberries (high in polyphenols), nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios and brazil nuts, and herbs and spices such as rosemary, curry and curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric.

Omega-3 fats & Magnesium

Omega-3s and magnesium are linked to preserving brain-function. Omega-3s are an important building block of the brain and provide an essential component to cell membranes, where it is thought to facilitate the transmission of neural signals.

Fatty fish such as salmon, flax seed, endamame, walnuts, grass-fed beef, and enriched eggs are all natural sources of Omega-3s.  Halibut and mackerel, as well as spinach and nuts like almonds, provide the needed magnesium.

Calcium & Vitamin D

Individuals with PD have a high risk of developing osteoporosis. Calcium is the building block of bone, while vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. A deficiency in vitamin D is prevalent in PD patients.

While dairy is a good source of both calcium and vitamin D, it may interfere with the absorption of the PD medication Levodopa. Vegetable-based dairy products such as soy, rice milk, almond milk and dark leafy greens are a good source of calcium; lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts are good sources of vitamin D.

Fiber & Water

PD affects both the motility of the body and motility of the gastro-intestinal tract: As a result, 60 to 80 percent of PD patients complain of constipation. To counteract this effect of PD, individuals should increase both their fiber and fluid intake.

It’s recommended one consume 30 grams of fiber per day. Foods high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and legumes. These foods also contain vitamin E, B vitamins and magnesium.

Research shows that individuals with PD drink half as much water as people without. That’s largely due to the fact that people with PD develop a decreased thirst sensation, so they aren’t prompted to drink water when they may be dehydrated. A recommended daily H20 intake is the well-known 6-8 glasses per day, and a glass should be had either with or before each meal, making sure hydration is achieved with food intake. It also is recommended that you increase the intake of foods with high water content, such as tomato, cucumber, radishes, celery, broccoli and grapefruit. Drinking plenty of cold, clear liquids, especially ice water, also can help mitigate the feeling of nausea.

Protein

Protein is the building block of tissue and helps maintain lean muscle mass. While consuming a diet high in proteins such as meats, eggs, soy, beans and nuts is recommended, persons being treated for PD should avoid consuming protein immediately before or after taking Levodopa, as it may interfere with the effectiveness of the medication. A good rule of thumb is to take the Levodopa dose 30 minutes before or one hour after consuming meals containing protein foods.

Green Tea, Coffee and Black Tea

Increasing the consumption of green tea is recommended, as it is believed to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective. Likewise, those who have moderate caffeine intake, particularly men, are shown to have a lower incidence of PD.

Countering Nausea

A common side effect of Levodopa is nausea when taken on an empty stomach. An effective approach to food intake is to eat smaller, more frequent meals, keeping a consistent, non-excessive level of fullness.

Getting started

What many know to be a healthy approach to eating becomes even more necessary to produce a higher quality of life for those with PD. To prevent accelerated progression of the disease caused by the neural cell damage associated with inflammation, consider the following diet tips:

  • Generous amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • High in fiber, moderate in protein, and low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium
  • Eat a variety of foods, including vegetable-based proteins and fish twice per week
  • Stay hydrated

One way to begin seeing how DASH compares with your current food habits is to keep a diet diary. Fill it in for one or two days and see how it compares with the DASH plan. Download the DASH Diet Diary.

Check back soon in this space for additional resources, including sample meal plans, recipes and a DASH diet shopping list.

For additional tips and information on Living Well with Parkinson’s Disease, you may want to visit the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease. Click here for more on nutrition and Parkinson’s.

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