Living with Parkinson’s Disease — Some foods may be helpful

Published Apr 30, 2017 at 9:00am

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Does it just cause uncontrollable movements and make people walk slowly? Is it just a balance problem that causes people to be unsteady on their feet?

Parkinson’s Disease is easily misunderstood by many people. It is a disease that affects the brain cells responsible for making dopamine. Once these brain cells degenerate and stop making dopamine, it can cause stiffness and make a person uncoordinated.

Parkinson’s typically occurs in people’s 60s or 70s. The disease affects 1.6 percent of the population, but males are slightly more susceptible to the disease. Parkinson’s is a chronic condition and typically progresses slowly.  

If a person is asked to picture a person suffering from Parkinson’s disease, most people would immediately think of the movement, or motor symptoms, like tremors, slow movement, and rigid muscles.

What many people don’t recognize is that people that suffer from Parkinson’s disease also suffer from many non-motor symptoms or problems. These non-motor problems can be as prominent as the
typical motor problems, and can affect a person afflicted with Parkinson’s just as much as the motor problems. Many of these non-motor problems are treatable and manageable. Treatment of these symptoms can impact how active and independent a person remains as the disease progresses.

Additional treatments for non-motor symptoms are specific to the problems. Some of these symptoms and the treatments can include:

• Constipation – ensuring adequate fluid and dietary or supplemental fiber intake.

• Excessive saliva from reduced swallowing – chewing gum or sucking on hard candy can encourage swallowing.

• Difficulty swallowing – avoid foods that are difficult to swallow, take smaller bites, referral to a speech or physical therapist for more individualized therapy.

• Lightheadedness associated with low blood pressure – ask a physician if an adjustment in the drug dosage may help, drink adequate amounts of water, eat frequent, small meals, shifting slowly from lying down to standing.

• Depression – counseling may be helpful, or ask a physician if a carefully selected antidepressant could be helpful.

• Anxiety – counseling, meditation, exercise, and relaxation techniques can be helpful, or consult your physician about an anxiety-related drug.

• Pain management – physical therapy, massage, exercise and stretching, counseling, alternative therapies like acupuncture.

• Difficulty sleeping – regular bedtime, a cool, quiet sleep environment, address sleep-interrupters like the need to urinate at night, restless leg syndrome, or sleep apnea, a bedtime dose of dopamine medication can be helpful if Parkinson’s symptoms interfere with sleep.

• Cognitive decline – regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and taking other heart and brain-healthy steps like controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels can potentially reduce the risk or pace of cognitive decline.  

A number of foods can be potentially helpful, especially with regard to these Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.  

• Vitamin D – found in cheese, margarine, butter, fortified milk, healthy cereals, and fatty fish.

• Berries and cherries.

• Beans – especially dried beans of all kinds.

• Ground flax seed – take caution though, because flax can slow down the rate at which your body absorbs oral medications.

• Fatty fish – salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, halibut.

• Tea – black, green, white, and oolong – more than 2 cups per day can upset the stomach, and more than 2 cups per day of green tea can bind iron and prevent its absorption.

• Honey – use with caution if you have diabetes as it can raise blood glucose levels.

• Nuts.

• Ginger – is a blood thinner, so use with caution if taking Coumadin or Warfarin.

• Turmeric.

• Omega 3 Fatty Acids – use with caution because it may strengthen the effects of blood thinning medications.

While there is not currently a cure for Parkinson’s Disease, treatments are available to improve a person’s quality of life for a very long time. Many of the non-motor symptoms can be treated independently to improve quality of life.  

This recipe can offer a change from typical red sauce pasta dishes because the goat cheese melts and clings to the pasta, tricking your taste buds into thinking it’s a cream-based sauce.

Angel Hair Pasta with Shrimp, Vegetables & Goat Cheese

Makes 4 servings

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup diced red onion

2 tsp. minced garlic

1 medium zucchini, sliced

1 medium yellow squash

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. dried basil

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

1 bag large shrimp (21/25 count), peeled, deveined, tails removed

1/4 cup dry white wine or vegetable broth

2 cups arugula or baby spinach

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

3 cups cooked whole-grain angel hair pasta

1/3 cup soft goat cheese

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and pour in 1 Tbsp. of oil. When oil shimmers, add onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes, reducing heat as needed.

Add zucchini, squash, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper and cook for 6 minutes until tender.

Add shrimp and wine; cover with a lid left slightly ajar and cook until almost done, about 4 minutes.

Add arugula or spinach and tomatoes and cook until wilted and shrimp is cooked through, about 2 minutes.

Add cooked pasta and reheat.

Remove from heat and add pieces of goat cheese; stir until melted and toss with remaining Tbsp. of oil and the lemon juice.

Garnish with Parmesan cheese and serve hot.