Eating a varied, healthful diet may reduce a person’s risk of Parkinson’s disease. Limiting, or avoiding processed foods and saturated fats may slow Parkinson’s progression and reduce symptom severity.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological condition that affects a person’s movement. It can affect anyone. However, it affects around 50% more males than females.

Some common symptoms of Parkinson’s include:

  • shaking
  • stiffness
  • difficulty with walking
  • balance issues
  • problems with coordination

The symptoms of Parkinson’s tend to develop gradually over a period of several years. Early symptoms might include a slight tremor in one hand and a general feeling of stiffness in the body.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) point out that, in the United States, around 50,000 people receive a diagnosis of Parkinson’s each year.

Diet is one potential factor that may reduce the risk of Parkinson’s or slow its progression.

This article will look at foods that may help a person reduce their Parkinson’s symptoms. It will also look at foods that may make the symptoms worse.

Close up of fava beans, which are good food for Parkinson's. Share on Pinterest
Tali Aiona/EyeEm/Getty Images

The following foods may be beneficial for slowing disease progression or for lowering the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids

Some research suggests that fish oil may help slow the progression of Parkinson’s.

Studies suggest that omega-3 fats may help reduce nerve inflammation, improve neurotransmission, and slow neurodegeneration. Therefore, consuming more fatty fish rich in omega-3s or taking an omega-3 supplement may benefit people with Parkinson’s.

Fish and seafood that contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids include:

Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have a number of other health benefits. It may also help improve cardiovascular health and brain function and help slow the rate of cognitive decline.

In addition to possibly offering direct benefits to those with Parkinson’s, omega-3 fatty acids may also help reduce the risk of dementia and confusion more generally. These are also secondary symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Learn more about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids here.

Fava beans

The most effective medication for Parkinson’s is levodopa. Fava beans contain levodopa, so some people believe that they can help treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Fava beans may help people with Parkinson’s, but it is important that people do not use them as an alternative to prescription treatments.

There has not been a lot of research into the efficacy of fava beans in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s. However, one study does suggest that the consumption of fava beans may lead to a marked improvement in the motor performance of people with Parkinson’s, without causing any side effects.

Foods containing nutrients that people may be deficient in

Some research suggests that people with Parkinson’s often have certain nutrient deficiencies, including deficiencies in iron, vitamin B1, vitamin C, zinc, and vitamin D.

The above study points out that some of these deficiencies may be associated with neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, which are key factors in Parkinson’s.

Therefore, people with Parkinson’s may wish to consume more of the following foods.

Foods containing iron

The following foods are good sources of iron:

Foods containing vitamin B1

The following foods are good sources of vitamin B1:

Foods containing vitamin C

The following foods are good sources of vitamin C:

Foods containing zinc

The following foods are good sources of zinc:

  • meat
  • shellfish
  • bread
  • cereal products, such as wheat germ

Foods containing vitamin D

The following foods are good sources of vitamin D:

Foods containing antioxidants

Free radicals are unstable molecules in the body. They are necessary for health. However, if there is an imbalance and there are more free radicals present than necessary, they can cause damage to fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in the body.

The damage that these free radicals cause is known as oxidative stress. This is a condition that occurs when the amount of free radicals in the body is too high, which contributes to cellular damage. Some research has linked oxidative stress to the progression of Parkinson’s.

Antioxidants keep free radicals in check, so following a diet high in antioxidants can help combat oxidative stress. Therefore, a person with Parkinson’s may wish to consume antioxidant-rich foods in their diet.

Some good sources of antioxidants include:

A healthy diet in general

While the above foods may be beneficial for people with Parkinson’s, it is most important for people with Parkinson’s to focus on their diet as a whole.

The Parkinson’s Foundation suggest that people with Parkinson’s follow these dietary tips:

  • Avoid fad diets and try to consume foods from all food groups.
  • Consume plenty of grains, vegetables, and fruits.
  • Limit sugar intake.
  • Reduce salt and sodium intake.
  • Consume foods that contain antioxidants, such as brightly colored and dark fruits and vegetables.
  • Follow a diet that is low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.

There are a number of foods that may worsen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or speed up the progression of the condition. These foods include the following.

Processed foods

Some studies suggest that eating a “Western-style” diet may be linked with symptom severity in Parkinson’s.

This type of diet is high in processed foods. Some examples of processed foods include:

  • canned foods
  • sodas
  • breakfast cereals
  • chips
  • bacon
  • ready meals
  • candy
  • cakes

One study suggests that several of these items, including canned foods and sodas, may be associated with “more rapid [Parkinson’s] progression.”

Also, the researcher behind another study points out that eating a lot of processed foods “contributes to increased intestinal permeability and dysbiosis due to an overgrowth of gram-negative bacteria.”

They add that there seems to be a “positive correlation” between this increased intestinal permeability and the severity of Parkinson’s symptoms.

The researcher suggests that this may be due to the neurotoxic molecules produced by these bacteria passing into the bloodstream and causing gut-related symptoms that extend to the esophagus (food pipe) and oropharyngeal cavity.

Symptoms such as difficulty swallowing and problems with speech and smell are common in Parkinson’s.

Given that processed foods may be linked with symptom severity in Parkinson’s, people with this condition may wish to avoid them.

Certain dairy foods

Some research suggests that dairy products may be linked with a higher risk of Parkinson’s. For example, one study suggests that the consumption of skim and low fat milk may be associated with an increased risk of the condition.

Another study adds that yogurt and cheese consumption may be associated with faster disease progression in Parkinson’s.

Therefore, a person with Parkinson’s may wish to avoid consuming large quantities of these dairy products.

Foods containing saturated fat and cholesterol

Some studies suggest that dietary fat intake may increase the risk of Parkinson’s.

Although having a higher intake of cholesterol can elevate a person’s Parkinson’s risk, having a higher intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce the risk.

Therefore, a person with Parkinson’s may wish to reduce their intake of cholesterol to help control the symptoms of the condition. They may also wish to reduce the amount of saturated fat in their diet.

However, further studies are required to explore the link between dietary fat and Parkinson’s.

Foods that are hard to chew

Many people with Parkinson’s have difficulty with chewing and swallowing foods. A person needs medical help if this is the case. A speech and language therapist may be able to help a person overcome this issue.

However, if a person is finding certain foods hard to chew and swallow, they may wish to avoid these foods.

Such foods include:

  • hard foods
  • dry, crumbly foods
  • tough or chewy meats

If a person does wish to eat chewy meats, they could try using gravy or sauce to soften them and make eating easier.

They could also try chopping meat into smaller pieces or incorporating meat into casseroles, which can make it more tender.

Having a drink with a meal can also make chewing and swallowing easier.

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative condition. It is characterized by shaking, stiffness, and difficulty walking and balancing. A person with Parkinson’s may also have problems with their coordination.

There are a number of foods that a person can eat that may reduce their Parkinson’s symptoms. These include fish oils, fava beans, foods that are high in antioxidants, and foods that are rich in vitamins B1, C, and D.

There are also some foods that a person with Parkinson’s may wish to avoid. These include processed foods such as canned fruits and vegetables, dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and low fat milk, and those that are high in cholesterol and saturated fat.

A person with Parkinson’s may also have difficulty with chewing and swallowing foods. Therefore, they may also wish to avoid foods that are difficult to chew and swallow, such as tough meats.