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Michael Greger MD

Michael Greger MD

Posted August 30, 2013

Published in Health

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Treating Parkinson's Disease With Diet

Read More: animal protein, beef, berries, bioaccumulation, brown rice, caffeine, cancer, cheese, chicken, cholesterol, coffee, dairy, dopamine, fisetin, fish, Istradefylline, L-dopa, levodopa, meat, milk, N-hexacosanol, Parkinson's, phytonutrients, plant-based diet, pollutants, Preladenant, protein redistribution diet, serotonin, strawberries, vegan, vegetarian, whole wheat, yogurt

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Caffeine consumption appears to help prevent Parkinson's, but what if you already have the condition? A recent study found that giving folks the equivalent of about two cups of coffee a day worth of caffeine significantly improved symptoms of the disease. Of course, there's only so much you can charge for coffee, so drug companies took caffeine and added a few side groups so they could patent it into new drugs (Preladenant and Istradefylline). These drugs appear to work no better than plain caffeine, which is dramatically cheaper and probably safer. You can see more of the risks and benefits of coffee and caffeine in Coffee and Cancer and What About the Caffeine?

Similarly, certain plants, such as berries, and plant-based diets in general may help prevent Parkinson's. See my last post Avoiding Dairy to Prevent Parkinson's. This may be partially because of pollutants that magnify up the food chain into the meat and dairy supply, but it could also be from the protective phytonutrients in healthy plant foods. For example, as you can see in my 3-min video Treating Parkinson's Disease With Diet, I profile a case report in which a dietician struck with Parkinson's was able to successfully clear most of her symptoms with a plant-based diet rich in strawberries, whole wheat, and brown rice. These are rich sources of two particular phytonutrients, N-hexacosanol and fisetin, but there hadn't been a formal interventional trial published, until now.

At its root, Parkinson's is a dopamine deficiency disease due to a die-off of dopamine-generating cells in the brain. These cells make dopamine from L-dopa derived from an amino acid in our diet. Just like we saw with the serotonin story I described in my three-part series The Wrong Way to Boost Serotonin, A Better Way to Boost Serotonin, and The Best Way to Boost Serotonin, the consumption of animal products blocks the transport of L-dopa into the brain, crowding it out. With this knowledge, researchers first tried what's called a "protein redistribution diet." This is where people could only eat meat for supper so the patients would hopefully be sleeping by the time the negative effects of the animal protein hit.

The researchers didn't consider cutting out all animal products altogether until it was discovered that fiber consumption naturally boosts L-dopa levels. Thus, a plant-based diet would be expected to raise levodopa bioavailability and bring some advantages in the management of the disease through two mechanisms: reduced animal protein intake and an increased fiber intake. That's why plant protein is superior, because that's where fiber is found. So researchers put folks on a strictly vegan diet, saving beans for the end of the day, and indeed found a significant improvement in symptoms.

More on what fiber can do for us in videos such as:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image credit: royalconstantinesociety/Flickr


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