A common concern among those with Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the role of nutrition — foods and supplements — in the management of their disease. In order to live life to the fullest, it is important to know how particular foods and supplements interact with PD and to be aware of some potential issues.

Many people ask us about alcohol. Because people with PD may have an unsteady gait and balance impairment, they need to be more thoughtful about their alcohol intake than the general population. People should take a common-sense approach of limiting alcohol in mild PD and be extra cautious if there are balance issues from PD. Social drinking for people with mild PD and no balance or gait issues is considered to be fine.

Dairy is another area of concern for those affected by PD. Population studies show a slightly elevated risk of PD in those who report high consumption of dairy as compared to those who don’t. The reason for the association between increased risk of PD and dairy is not yet known. The two theories that have been suggested but not proven to explain the connection are:

  1. Dairy may contain a pesticide that contributes to PD risk.
  2. Dairy may lower uric acid in the body — a substance that could protect against PD.

The bottom line is that there is currently not enough information to make a particular dietary recommendation concerning dairy for people with PD, so it’s always best to consult with your doctor.

The “protein effect” is also something often talked about among those with PD. Many have heard that protein can interfere with the absorption of levodopa — a commonly prescribed PD medication. On a recent episode of APDA’s Dr. Gilbert Hosts, Dr. Drew Falconer shed some light on the effects of protein in those with PD. Dr. Falconer explains that the protein effect rarely occurs in early stages of the disease and often never becomes a problem even as the disease progresses. He also says that those with PD should make sure they have the protein effect before they change their eating habits. You can do this by comparing your response to levodopa when eating protein and not eating protein. If the effect is the same, then you don’t have the protein effect and you are free to eat whatever you like, whenever you like.

Similarly, common supplements such as iron can bind with levodopa and reduce the amount of medication that is absorbed by your system. If you require iron supplementation because of another medical condition, discuss this with your doctor so you can determine how to most effectively get the iron you need while not impacting your PD medications.

Always consult your healthcare team before making any changes to your diet. Learn more about how diet can affect PD.

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