Common Nutritional Concerns for People with Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that affects the central nervous system. This disorder mainly affects the elderly, and is caused by a physiological decrease of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine generating cells begin to die off at alarming rates in people who have Parkinson’s disease. The reduction in the neurotransmitter dopamine results in many movement disabilities such as shaking, poverty of movement, and rigidity of muscles. In more advanced stages of the disease, dementia can occur and patients can undergo numerous psychological issues. Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease yet, patients can take various medications to slow the progression of their disease and they can adjust their nutrition to aid in their symptomatology. Here are a few common nutritional concerns and fixes for patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Bone Thinning

Patients with Parkinson’s disease have an increased risk of bone thinning. As people grow older their bones tend to thin anyway, but patients with Parkinson’s disease have shown an increase in the rate of bone thinning. This could lead to bone fractures and breaks, and could put the patient at higher risk for falls. As Parkinson’s disease progresses, patients will have an increased risk of falling due to their bones thinning out. To combat this, it is important to eat meals that are packed full of calcium, vitamin D, K and magnesium. These vitamins and minerals will help strengthen their bones and help slow the progression of bone thinning. Foods high in these vitamins and minerals include dairy products, green vegetables and fortified cereals. Patients should also complete weight bearing exercises in order to keep their bones and muscles strong. Exercising can help strengthen the muscles around the bones in order to prevent falls.

Dehydration

Dehydration is a concern for any elderly patient with Parkinson’s disease. The medication that helps slow the progression of the disease can also increase the patient’s risk of dehydration. A person presenting with dehydration will be confused, weak and have balance issues. Chronic dehydration can even lead to respiratory or kidney failure. To combat dehydration, constantly drink water. Patients should strive to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day to prevent dehydration. To do so, it is important to drink water with each meal and snack eaten throughout the day.

Bowel Impaction

The loss of dopamine in a patient’s system can cause their digestive system to slow down. This can cause issues such as constipation and bowel impaction. Constipation is the first sign of a patient’s digestive system not working properly, and if it continues then it can lead to bowel impactions that must be treated by a doctor. Bowel impactions could lead to both hospitalizations and surgery. To aid the digestive system of a patient with Parkinson’s disease it is vital that they eat fiber. This nutrient will help regulate a patient’s digestive system and ensure that they are having regular bowel movements. Foods that are high in fiber include fruits and vegetables and fiber enriched cereals. Fiber pills and supplements are also available over the counter and could be taken to aid in a patient’s overall fiber intake. Always talk with your doctor though before adding a supplement to your diet.

Unplanned Weight Loss

People with Parkinson’s disease often lose weight unexpectedly. Doctors believe their weight loss is often due to nausea, loss of appetite and depression. It is important for the patient’s overall health that they stay at a healthy weight and continue to eat and exercise normally after a diagnosis. To ensure that patients do not lose weight unexpectedly it is important to eat three meals per day. These meals should be well balanced and full of nutrients such as calcium to prevent bone and muscle wasting. If a patient continues to lose weight then they could become malnourished and their immune system could become affected. Overtime, malnutrition could lead to excessive sickness and even death. Always make sure you or your relative with Parkinson’s disease is eating properly and not losing excessive amounts of weight.

Medication Side Effects

Medications for Parkinson’s disease are key to slowing down the progression of the disease. However, every medication comes with its own side effects, and these side effects can greatly affect someone’s life. Common medication side effects include nausea, weight loss, or weight gain. To combat side effects, talk with your doctor. If the side effects are very bad then they can change your medications or give you other medications to combat the side effects. Nutritionally, it is important to continue eating properly. Aim for three square meals per day and at least one snack. Also try to drink 6-8 glasses of water per day to stay hydrated.

Protein-Levodopa Interaction

Levodopa is an important medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease. However, due to its mechanism of action it often will compete with protein molecules in your small intestines to be absorbed. Overtime, your body will either crave protein or you will not get enough of the Levodopa mediation. To combat this, it is important that you time your meals properly. Never take Levodopa with a meal so that you can reduce the competition between protein molecules and the medication in your digestive system.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that affects millions of people around the world. The cause of the disease is a major decrease in the neurotransmitter dopamine due to the death of dopamine producing cells in the brain. Patients with the disease may shake uncontrollably, feel rigidity in their muscles, or have poverty of movement. To combat the disorder, patients will take medications that will boost their dopamine levels in their blood. However, the disease is progressive and will continue to get worse as patients grow older. Besides taking medications, one great way to combat the disease is to eat well and drink a lot of water. Patients with Parkinson’s disease have complex nutritional needs and concerns. The list above will help you or your elderly relative with Parkinson’s to cope with the nutritional aspects and concerns of the disease.

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