Can changing your diet cut your chances of developing Parkinson’s? Research from Harvard seems to suggest so. The findings, published in the journal Neurology, claim that eating a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet – high in fruit, veg, whole grains, nuts and legumes and low in red meat – can affect early symptoms associated with an increased risk of developing the disease.

Parkinson’s develops when nerve cells in the brain stop working properly and are lost over time. Some brain cells produce a chemical called dopamine, which allows messages to be sent to the parts of the brain that coordinate movement. Without enough dopamine-producing cells, messages cannot get through and mild physical symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as tremor (shaking), slowness of movement and rigidity (muscle stiffness), appear.

But the loss of other cells using different chemical trigger symptoms, such as constipation, depression and sleep problems, can occur before these movement problems. Parkinson’s has more than 40 symptoms, each of which can affect people differently.

There are a variety of pharmaceutical treatments. But not all drugs suit everyone, and many may work only for a while. Some can have severe side-effects, such as compulsive behaviour.

That’s why looking at lifestyle interventions, such as diet, is important – and this research is very interesting. What it shows is that eating a diet full of antioxidants and foods that are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect can decrease the risk of developing early symptoms. A diet with emphasis on fibrous vegetables such as onions and asparagus can foster the right kind of gut bacteria. You can also supplement your diet with naturally occurring antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Flavonoids, found in foods such as turmeric, are a good example.

You also need to ditch the sugary, high-fat foods. Too much sugar can cause type 2 diabetes – another risk factor for Parkinson’s.

In addition, the high cholesterol that furs up the arteries in your chest is doing the same thing in your brain and restricting oxygen supply. A good rule of thumb is that if something in your diet is not heart-healthy, it is not good for your brain either.

The next question is when to change your diet to decrease the risk of Parkinson’s. To steal a march on the condition altogether, changes to your diet should be made from your thirties.

Reducing inflammation and protecting the brain with antioxidants could potentially slow progression, but it will be a while before results from clinical trials confirm this.

Regular exercise can keep you healthy, but it also has a role to play in symptom control and can be as important as medication. Aim for two and a half hours of exercise a week.

The Daily Telegraph

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