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Common Nutritional Concerns in Parkinson's

Bone thinning

As Parkinson’s progresses, mobility challenges become more common, including an increased risk of falls. Unfortunately, studies have shown that people with PD are also at increased risk for bone thinning, a combination that can lead to injury.

Therefore, it is especially important for people with PD to eat meals that provide bone-strengthening nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium and vitamins D and K. Regular exposure to sunlight is also helpful, as it increases vitamin D in the body.

Walking and other weight-bearing exercises can keep bones strong and less likely to fracture or break.

Dehydration

PD medications can raise the risk for dehydration, leading to confusion, weakness, balance problems, respiratory failure, kidney problems and even death. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to avoid dehydration; work toward eight 8-ounce glasses daily.

Did you know that in the United States alone, dehydration is responsible for 1.8 million days of hospital care each year (about ten days per patient) and costs more than $1 billion annually?

Bowel impaction

PD can slow the movement of the colon, causing constipation, so make sure to get enough fiber in your diet (at least 20-25 grams daily).

If the constipation does not get resolved it can lead to bowel impaction. This is when a mass of dry, hard feces becomes impossible to pass normally. Bowel impaction can require hospitalization and even surgery.

Unplanned weight loss

Weight loss may occur with advancing Parkinson’s. Difficulty swallowing, feeling full or bloated, and improperly fitting partial plates or dentures are all potential reasons.

Also, some people with PD feel full after eating a small quantity of food. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can help.

Unplanned weight loss along with malnutrition can lead to a weakened immune system, muscle wasting, loss of vital nutrients and risk for other diseases and possibly even death over an extended period of time. Discuss concerns about weight loss with your medical team.

Medication side effects

While medications play an important role in managing the symptoms of PD they may also have unwanted side effects. Taking more than one medication, which most people with Parkinson’s do, may increase the level of unwanted side effects.

Common side effects include:
  • Nausea
  • Appetite loss, often followed by weight loss
  • Edema (fluid retention)
  • Compulsive eating and weight gain

Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing anything unusual.

Protein-levodopa interaction

One of the more important medications used to treat PD is levodopa. However, both levodopa and protein in food are absorbed by the small intestine. If you take the medication too soon before or after eating, the protein in your diet might interfere with the carbidopa/levodopa absorption. Ask your medical team for help timing medications in relation to your meals.

For more information on how diet can help improve some symptoms of PD and optimize the effects of medication, and for tips on getting adequate nutrition, listen to the podcast episode "The Importance of Good Nutrition for People with Parkinson's."