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March 28, 2011, last updated June 25, 2016
By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Doctors, Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other
members of our Editorial Board.]

Parkinson’s disease is one condition guaranteed to spark
feelings of fear and dread. The condition is also surrounded by
misinformation and confusion – does Parkinson’s disease mean
you can’t walk? Will Parkinson’s disease kill you? Is Parkinson’
s disease caused by coffee, or milk? Is there an ideal diet to
prevent Parkinson's disease or help its symptoms?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological condition,
which means it affects your central nervous system. It’s a long-
term condition and gets worse over time. More than 1.5 million
people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease (American
Parkinson's Disease Association) and 50,000 new diagnoses
are made each year (National Institutes of Health). According
to Parkinson’s UK, one person in every 500 in the UK has
Parkinson’s disease.

If you have Parkinson’s disease you don’t have enough
dopamine – a brain chemical – a shortage which causes slow
movements. You will be less able to move spontaneously, and
you may have difficulty walking and suffer from tremors. There
is no cure for Parkinson’s disease but many experts talk about
the importance of diet for minimizing symptoms of Parkinson’s
disease. Which foods are best for managing Parkinson’s
disease? Do any foods increase your risk of Parkinson’s

What Are the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

Dr. James Parkinson of London, England first described the
symptoms of the condition in 1817, calling it “shaking palsy”.
Since the 1960's, we have learned a lot more about how
Parkinson’s disease manifests itself in the body.

Everyone has different symptoms. This makes it difficult
sometimes to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. But the main
symptoms are striking – tremor and shaking, rigidity and
slowness of movement.

The tremor associated with Parkinson’s is a “resting tremor” –
it starts when you are relaxed. The tremor usually occurs in the
hand at first, and can travel to other parts of the body over
time. People with Parkinson’s may walk with a halted
movement, in slow steps. Slowness of movement can even be
communicated through the face with a mask-like appearance.
The stiffness and rigidity of muscles in Parkinson’s disease can
cause cramps and pain.

As well as symptoms relating to movement, Parkinson’s disease
also causes problems such as
depression, constipation,
memory loss and anxiety. These symptoms can cause
considerable disruption and distress and if untreated can have
a bigger effect on life than the movement-related symptoms
Parkinson’s disease causes.

What Are the Causes of Parkinson’s Disease?

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease occur when the brain loses
nerve cells called
"dopaminergic cells".

These nerve cells are responsible for producing dopamine, a
chemical neurotransmitter that helps transmit messages from
the brain to control your body movements. If the nerve cells
don’t produce enough dopamine, the messages don’t get from
your brain to your body movements. When four-fifths of the
nerve cells are lost, Parkinson’s disease symptoms occur and
they get worse as dopamine levels continue to fall.

Unfortunately, experts don’t know for sure why the nerve cells
die or become damaged. Some scientists think Parkinson’s
disease is caused by environmental factors – exposure to
certain chemicals such as carbon monoxide, pesticides and
herbicides increases the risk, they say.

According to a 2007 study from the University of Aberdeen and
researchers in five European countries, the risk of Parkinson’s
disease is significantly higher with exposure to pesticides.
Some experts point to a genetic link to the risk of suffering
from Parkinson’s disease but this is believed to come about
through the interaction of certain genes with the environment.

A 2008 study from the University Medical Center in Durham,
North Carolina, and the University of Miami Miller School of
Medicine, Florida showed people with Parkinson's disease were
significantly more likely to have been exposed to pesticides
than family members who didn’t have the condition. The
strongest link was between Parkinson’s disease and exposure
to herbicides and pesticides like organochlorides and


The damage to dopaminergic cells, at the chemical level, may
be blocked in part by administration of Vitamin D-3, according
to a 2001 study from the National Defense Medical Center,
Taipei, Taiwan.

In the study, lab rats were pretreated with Vitamin D-3 for 8
days did not develop Parkinson's even when their
dopaminergic cells were artificially injured.

The Vitamin D-3 seemed to block toxins that might otherwise
have damaged the neurons.  As the scientists noted, the  
"neuroprotection seen here may operate via a reversal of such
a toxic mechanism."

The most plentiful source of
Vitamin D-3 is the sun. ]

Who Suffers From Parkinson’s Disease?

While Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating condition, many
people achieve a lot in their lives despite the condition. Not
least the celebrities of the big and small screen, politics and
sport who are affected by Parkinson’s disease. Michael J Fox is
perhaps the most well-known of all Parkinson’s disease
sufferers. The
Back to the Future and Family Ties star was
diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1991 and has since
retired from acting. Late actors James Doohan (who played
Montgomery "Scotty" Scott in
Star Trek) and Hollywood
actress Deborah Kerr suffered from Parkinson’s disease.
Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno suffers from the
condition, as does former Alabama governor George Wallace
and the legendary former boxer Muhammad Ali.

You are more likely to suffer from Parkinson’s disease when
you are older, age 50 or more. Although Parkinson’s disease
can affect younger people, this is rare. According to Parkinson’
s UK, one in 20 Parkinson’s disease sufferers is under the age
of 40. Suffering from the condition under the age of 18 is
extremely rare. If you’re a man, you are also more likely to
develop the condition – but only slightly more likely.

Parkinson’s disease is treated with medication to control the
symptoms of rigidity, tremor and slowness of movement. But is
there anything else you can do to help treat Parkinson’s
disease? Can you alter your diet to give yourself a fighting
chance of controlling the condition? We’ve read through the
latest scientific research and come up with a list of foods that
can help Parkinson’s disease sufferers.

Top 10 Foods That Help Parkinson's Disease

1. Berries, Fruit Lower Parkinson’s Disease Risk

Full of flavor and with numerous reported health benefits,
berries are associated with a lower risk of developing
Parkinson’s disease.

A 2011 study from the American Academy of Neurology
supported by the National Institutes of Health found men and
women who regularly put berries on the menu were less likely
to develop the condition. The study looked at 49,281 men and
80,336 women over 20 to 22 years.

The study also found that men were less likely to develop
Parkinson’s disease if they ate apples, oranges and other
sources of flavonoids. However, when it comes to women, the
results were different. This link between overall consumption
of flavonoids with lower risk of the condition wasn’t found in
women. Flavonoids are found in berries, fruit, chocolate, tea,
red wine and citrus. Increase your flavonoid levels for an
overall body-protective effect even if the associations with
Parkinson’s disease have not yet been fully established.

Curry Spice Curcumin Protects Against Cell Death in
Parkinson’s Disease

Curry helps prevent Parkinson's? This spicy substance, derived
from curry spice turmeric, has antioxidant and anti-
inflammatory properties. Due to its prowess in this area,
researchers tested to see if curcumin has an effect on cell
death as it relates to Parkinson’s disease.

One 2008 study which took place at the Johns Hopkins
University School of Medicine claimed it did – curcumin does
prevent cells from dying in a laboratory model of Parkinson’s
disease. Adding turmeric to your dishes may have a protective
effect relating to Parkinson’s disease as well as other

conditions. (Read more about curry's ability to fight another
disease, Alzheimer's

Green Tea Protects Against Parkinson’s Disease

A daily cup of green tea is linked with many health benefits and
now researchers believe green tea can protect against the loss
of dopamine-producing brain cells. A 2007 study undertaken
by the Institute of Biophysics, Academia Sinica, Beijing, China
found green tea polyphenols – chemical substances in plants
that also have an antioxidant effect – have neuro-protective
effects in Parkinson’s disease as they safeguard dopamine-
producing cells. If green tea continues to prove a positive
protector against Parkinson’s disease, an oral drug using its
benefits would be the next step. Meanwhile, green tea may
help sufferers.

Is Vitamin D Linked With Parkinson’s Disease?

Research surrounding Vitamin D and its impact on Parkinson’s
disease is interesting. Do high levels of Vitamin D help protect
against Parkinson’s disease? A 2011 study from Emory
University School of Medicine and the Atlanta Veterans Affairs
Medical Center claims newly-diagnosed Parkinson’s disease
sufferers have a high prevalence of Vitamin D deficiency –
almost 70 percent of patients in the study had low levels of
Vitamin D in their blood. A study carried out between 1978 to
1980 by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare,
Finland discovered people who got lower levels of Vitamin D
early in life were more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.

But not enough is known about the vitamin’s direct effect on
Parkinson’s disease. Does
Vitamin D deficiency raise the risk of
Parkinson’s disease or does having a high level of Vitamin
protect against the condition? Researchers aren’t sure, and
more studies are needed. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient. We
get some of it through our diet but most of it through
exposure to sunlight. At the moment it’s not recommended to
take high levels of Vitamin D because too much of the vitamin
can be a bad thing (and too much sun bathing can also be

Is Vitamin E Beneficial For Parkinson’s Disease?

Vitamin E, found in nuts and whole grains, may help slow the
progression of Parkinson’s disease according to experts. Its
power comes from its role in fighting free radicals that have
been shown to play a part in causing Parkinson’s disease.
However, large studies such as 1993 research from University
of Rochester Medical Center haven’t found statistically
significant benefits from taking Vitamin E.

What About Vitamin C For Treating Parkinson’s Disease?

Vitamin C has slightly more going for it as a Parkinson’s
disease remedy. One 1983 study by Reilly, Hershey, and Rivera-
Calimlim published in Advance in Neurology tested Vitamin C as
a remedy for the so-called “freezing up” effect of levodopa
drug treatment for Parkinson’s disease. This is when the
patient moves freely for several hours until the drug seems to
switch off and rigidity returns. The study found a minimal
positive effect for Vitamin C.

Mucuna Pruriens as a Parkinson’s Disease Treatment

Have you heard of the herb Mucuna pruriens? This tropical
legume plant also known as velvet bean or cowitch contains L-
dopa and one small 2004 study undertaken by researchers at
National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London, UK
found the herb gave benefits to Parkinson’s disease sufferers.
However, don’t take it straight from the plant – this herb
causes extreme itching on contact.

CDP-choline Supplements For Parkinson’s Disease

The supplement CDP-choline, an element that closely
resembled choline from the Vitamin B family, may help increase
the levels of dopamine in the brain. As low levels of dopamine
contribute to Parkinson’s disease, could CDP-choline help
protect against Parkinson’s disease? A 1990 study from the
Pharmacologic Institute for Clinical Research, Munich, Germany
demonstrated that oral CDP-choline was just as effective as
standard drug therapy in treating 74 people with Parkinson’s
disease, and caused few side effects.

Coenzyme Q 10 Helps Treat Parkinson’s Disease

According to many, food supplement coenzyme Q 10 is
effective for treating Parkinson's disease. Is this true? Can
coenzyme Q 10 help slow the progression or Parkinson’s
disease or improve symptoms?

A 2003 study from St. Josef Hospital, Ruhr University, Germany
found that 360mg of coenzyme Q 10 produced a mild
improvement in symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. And a 2002
study from The University of California found coenzyme Q 10
reduced the loss of movement caused by Parkinson’s disease
by 44 percent. In that same year, a study by a team of
researchers from various universities and agencies (chaired by
Dr. Clifford Shults and funded by the National Institutes of
Health) examined the effects of giving doses of 600 mg, 900
mg and 1200 mg daily to Parkinson's disease sufferers. This
study discovered that coenzyme Q 10 significantly slowed the
decline in function of those with Parkinson's, and that those
who received the highest dosage ---1200mg-- improved the

However, subsequent studies have failed to find statistically
significant benefits associated with the supplement and larger
studies are needed.

Foods to Avoid With a Negative Link To Parkinson’s Disease

On the flip side, are there bad foods that make your Parkinson’
s disease symptoms worse, or foods that contribute to the risk
of getting Parkinson’s disease? According to one 1999 study
from University of Washington School of Public Health and
Community Medicine, animal fats are associated with an
increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

And a 2007 study by National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina discovered
men consuming high levels of dairy products have an increased
risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

There was a clear pattern among men, particularly related to
milk, but no such link was found for women. Men with the
highest level of dairy consumption were 60 percent more likely
to develop Parkinson’s disease than those that consumed the
least. One theory is that pesticides or toxins in milk may
contribute to a greater Parkinson’s disease risk but further
research is needed to clarify any hypotheses. (Read more
health dangers associated with drinking cow's milk.)

Be careful with supplements and herbs if you have Parkinson’s
disease. What may start out as a help could harm your health.
Avoid the herb kava – reports suggest the herb may counter
the effects of dopamine. Iron may interfere with the
absorption of Parkinson’s disease drugs – take iron
supplements after two hours following your Parkinson’s
disease medication and only after consulting with your doctor.


Drinking Coffee Cuts Risk of Parkinson's in Half. A 2001
study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that men
who drink 4 or 5 cups of coffee a day have 50% less risk of
Parkinson's disease.  And women who drink up to 3 cups also
cut their risk by 50%. But be careful, there is no benefit to
going beyond the limits. Drinking more than 5 cups if you are a
man or more than 3 cups if you are a woman will
not reduce
your risk even more than 50%.

[Meet the
Doctors and Nurses on our Medical Review team.]

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Michael J. Fox developed juvenile
Parkinson's in 1991 when he was just 30.
The mucuna pruriens herb has shown
promise in treating Parksinson's