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Nutrition & Parkinson’s Disease: Recognizing Parkinson’s Awareness Month

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month commemorating the birth month of Dr. James Parkinson who first wrote about “paralysis agitans”, now known as Parkinson’s disease.

Good nutrition is key to preventing weight loss and bone thinning as PD develops. Our RDNs counsel our clients with PD on food and nutrition and lifestyle tips like the ones below to help them along the trajectory of their illness and treatment.

“Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that predominantly affects dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra (1).”  Symptoms may develop slowly over time and can include tremor, bradykinesia (slow movement), limb rigidity, and gait and balance problems.

The cause of PD is unknown and there is no cure, though treatments are available to mitigate symptoms and promote a better quality of life. Dopaminergic medications, such as Levodopa, may be necessary to combat low levels of dopamine in the brain. Side effects of Levodopa include upper respiratory infection, cough, nausea, anorexia, compulsive eating, pain in oropharynx, edema (fluid retention) and insomnia.

The ability to eat and maintain the body’s nutritional needs can be interrupted by PD. Weight loss or gain may occur because of nausea, loss of appetite, diminished sense of taste or smell, depression, and reduced activity. “Unplanned weight loss along with malnutrition can lead to a weakened immune system, muscle wasting, loss of vital nutrients and risk for other diseases and possibly even death over an extended period of time.” (1)

To combat weight loss, it is important to maintain a balanced diet with physical activity. It helps to keep favorite foods on hand to make eating a more enjoyable experience. More tips to manage weight loss and encourage weight gain can be found below:

To gain weight: (suggestions by the Parkinson’s Foundation)

  • Eat small, frequent meals, every two to three hours or eat a nutritious snack between meals.
  • Eat foods you enjoy.
  • Save your energy for eating by keeping easy-to-prepare foods on hand.
  • Stimulate your appetite by seasoning food with herbs, spices, and sauces.
  • Include some high-calorie foods like cream and butter (if recommended by your primary care provider) in your diet.
  • Consider drinking a nutritional supplement, such as Ensure or Carnation Breakfast Essentials.
  • Avoid filling up on coffee, tea, and clear soups.
  • Limit fatigue by choosing foods that are easy to chew (like smoothies, ground meats or other soft proteins)
  • Ask for help cutting proteins into smaller pieces.
  • Increase consumption of whole grains (whole grain rice, breads).

Additionally, there is an increased risk of bone thinning as PD advances. This can increase the risk of falls.

Tips to keep bones strong:

  • Eat meals that provide bone-strengthening nutrients including calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K.
  • Regular exposure to sunlight.
  • Walking and other weight-bearing exercises can help keep bones strong and less likely to fracture or break.


Contributed by: Mary O’Hara, MS, RDN, CDN
Researched by: Peri Saat, Nutrition Volunteer



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