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Preventing Parkinson’s Disease

elderly woman and nurse

Each year, about 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), which is second only to Alzheimer’s as the most common neurodegenerative condition. Alzheimer’s disease primarily affects memory, and PD primarily affects movement. There is a devastating loss of independence as slow and impaired physical movement interferes with daily activities.2-3 Fortunately, risk for PD is primarily environmental and can be greatly reduced with excellent nutrition and lifestyle habits.

Avoid pesticide exposure: A large number of epidemiological studies have concluded that pesticide exposure is a major risk factor for PD.1,2 To limit your exposure, buy organic produce when possible, avoid household insecticide products, do not drink well water, and minimize your consumption of dairy, meat, and fish (since agricultural pesticides accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals).

Supplement with DHA and Vitamin D: Maintaining adequate levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA in the brain is an important measure for preventing neurodegeneration in later life. In my experience with patients, I have observed a significant, severe deficiency of DHA in elderly vegan males, and a number of these elderly vegan males developed Parkinson’s disease. Plus, studies in animals clearly show that supplementation of DHA can alter brain DHA concentrations and produce protective effects in the brain that can reduce the risk of PD.3,4

Vitamin D deficiency and osteoporosis are prevalent in patients with PD.5 Researchers have not yet studied whether vitamin D deficiency is a contributor to or a consequence of PD, but vitamin D adequacy has many vital functions in the human body, and careful attention should be paid to maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels.

Base your diet on high-nutrient plant foods: In a recent large prospective study, subjects whose diets included the greatest amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains had a 22% decreased risk of PD over the 16-year follow-up period.6 Natural plant foods provide countless beneficial phytochemicals that work together to support the health of the entire body, including the brain. Plus, oxidative damage plays a significant role in the progression of PD, so eating plenty of high antioxidant, nutrient-dense foods like berries and leafy greens is another important preventive measure.7,8,9

Minimize animal foods: In addition to pesticide exposure, animal products are also a concern because individuals with high intakes of total fat, total calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, and iron have been found to be at increased risk of PD.7,10 Dairy consumption in particular is associated PD — men who eat large amounts of dairy products have an 80% increase in risk of PD.11 To protect your brain, keep meat and dairy consumption to a minimum.

Exercise: Physical activity has favorable effects on the brain, and high levels of physical activity are associated with a significant reduction in risk for PD.12

For more information about preventing Parkinson’s disease, read Dr. Fuhrman’s Healthy Times Newsletter #41.

References
1. Brown TP, Rumsby PC, Capleton AC, et al: Pesticides and Parkinson's disease--is there a link? Environ Health Perspect 2006;114:156-164.
2. Priyadarshi A, Khuder SA, Schaub EA, et al: A meta-analysis of Parkinson's disease and exposure to pesticides. Neurotoxicology 2000;21:435-440.
3. Calon F, Cole G: Neuroprotective action of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids against neurodegenerative diseases: evidence from animal studies. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2007;77:287-293.
4. Bousquet M, Saint-Pierre M, Julien C, et al: Beneficial effects of dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid on toxin-induced neuronal degeneration in an animal model of Parkinson's disease. FASEB J 2008;22:1213-1225.
5. Sato Y, Kikuyama M, Oizumi K: High prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and reduced bone mass in Parkinson's disease. Neurology 1997;49:1273-1278.
6. Gao X, Chen H, Fung TT, et al: Prospective study of dietary pattern and risk of Parkinson disease. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;86:1486-1494.
7. Kidd PM: Parkinson's disease as multifactorial oxidative neurodegeneration: implications for integrative management. Altern Med Rev 2000;5:502-529.
8. Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B, Willis LM: Grape juice, berries, and walnuts affect brain aging and behavior. J Nutr 2009;139:1813S-1817S.
9. Joseph J, Cole G, Head E, et al: Nutrition, brain aging, and neurodegeneration. J Neurosci 2009;29:12795-12801.
10. Johnson CC, Gorell JM, Rybicki BA, et al: Adult nutrient intake as a risk factor for Parkinson's disease. Int J Epidemiol 1999;28:1102-1109.
11. Chen H, O'Reilly E, McCullough ML, et al: Consumption of dairy products and risk of Parkinson's disease. Am J Epidemiol 2007;165:998-1006.
12. Hamer M, Chida Y: Physical activity and risk of neurodegenerative disease: a systematic review of prospective evidence. Psychol Med 2009;39:3-11.

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