foods to avoid (Parkinson’s disease)

Certain foods interfere with the action of anti-parkinson’s medications or exacerbate symptoms such as slowed gastric motility, slowed peristalsis, and constipation. It is important for the person with Parkinson’s disease to eat a nutritiously balanced diet, and avoiding foods that can cause problems helps to keep symptoms and discomforts in check. in the early stages of Parkinson’s, most people have little difficulty eating their favorite foods, although this period provides the ideal opportunity to shift toward a more healthful diet by replacing high-fat foods with fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products. This diet aids the digestive process, helping to minimize problems such as constipation.

Food interference becomes more of a concern as Parkinson’s progresses, and foods that are high on the list of those to avoid are those that are high in protein (such as meats, dry beans, nuts, and dairy products). During digestion, dietary protein competes with Levodopa, the primary anti-Parkinson medication, for absorption from the intestine. Levodopa is an amino acid, as are proteins (digestion breaks down proteins into their component amino acids). The body can only absorb so many amino acids at one time, and it is not selective in how it does so. When the amino acid “quota” is met, the intestine simply stops absorbing amino acid.

This is not so much of a problem in the early stages of Parkinson’s as levodopa dosages are fairly low and amino acid competition is slight. As symptoms progress and the person requires increasingly higher amounts of levodopa, however, the circumstances change. By the mid stages of Parkinson’s, or when fluctuations in symptoms begin to appear, most doctors recommend restricting protein to the minimum and shifting most protein-rich foods to the evening meal (levodopa doses are structured to be highest during waking hours for maximal effectiveness in controlling symptoms).

Other foods to avoid are those that are likely to contribute to problems such as gastric reflux and constipation. Gastric reflux, in which acid and stomach contents leak back into the esophagus, is a common problem in people with Parkinson’s as the disease affects the functioning of the smooth muscle tissues of the stomach. This effect slows stomach function and gastric motility (movement of food from the stomach into the intestine). To compensate, the stomach increases acid production. Foods most likely to exacerbate gastric reflux include tomatoes and tomato sauce, citrus fruits, caffeine (coffee, tea, and colas), alcoholic beverages, garlic, and chocolate. Other foods may also create problems; each person has unique “triggers” for gastric reflux and should avoid them as much as possible. Cigarette smoking also contributes to gastric reflux because of nicotine’s effect on smooth muscle function.

Although fiber is important to proper bowel function, when peristalsis (intestinal movement) is slowed, as is the case in Parkinson’s disease, presence of too much fiber can slow digestion even further. Foods that are high in fiber include whole grains and whole grain products, fruits, and vegetables. Most people learn through experimentation what is the appropriate balance of these foods in their diet, information that is essential for good nutrition.


Foods to Avoid or

 

Eat in Minimal Amounts

Reason

Meat, chicken, dairy products

Interfere with levodopa

(milk, cheese, ice cream)

absorption

Lentils, legumes (dry beans),

Interfere with levodopa

nuts

absorption

Clams, shrimp, red meat,

Can interfere with

beef liver

absorption; potential

 

for high iron levels to

 

be deposited in the

 

brain

Tomatoes and tomato sauce,

Precipitate or exacerbate

citrus fruits, caffeine (coffee,

gastric reflux

tea, and colas), alcoholic

 

beverages, garlic, chocolate


 

Legumes, bran

Can cause constipation

Foods containing excess

Interferes with levodopa

vitamin B6

absorption

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