Over the Counter & Complementary Therapies

Patients in a physical therapy session

Our understanding of Parkinson’s disease (PD) has evolved from the initial focus on motor symptoms to now include non-motor symptoms of the disease (such as mood, fatigue, constipation). People with PD who seek relief from their symptoms may decide to explore complementary therapies, which can support or complement traditional medicine. While there are many kinds of complementary medicine, this section focuses on herbs, vitamins and supplements.

Although there is little conclusive scientific information on natural supplements, researchers are examining several substances to evaluate their effectiveness on slowing PD progression and managing its symptoms.

Nutritional supplements are not regulated with the same approval method for prescription drugs. People with PD should discuss any medications (prescription or over the counter) with a doctor before taking them to avoid potentially dangerous interactions. If you are considering complementary medicine, we strongly urge you to investigate the credentials and experience of anyone offering advice or recommendations regarding such product.

Key Points

  • Most herbs and supplements have not been rigorously studied as safe and effective treatments for PD.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements.
  • There is no guarantee of safety, strength or purity of supplements not monitored by the FDA.

Antioxidants: Vitamin C and E and the Mediterranean Diet

Since there is evidence relating oxidative damage of nerve cells to PD, some researchers are studying antioxidants — substances often found in plants we eat that have cell-protection capability — for their potential to slow Parkinson's progression.

The Mediterranean Diet

There is some evidence that the Mediterranean diet, a diet high in monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, may be beneficial in reducing blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

  • The diet also emphasizes fish, especially those high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and foods containing antioxidants.
  • People with PD are often concerned about the possibility that protein intake can decrease the effectiveness of carbidopa/levodopa, the common medication used to treat PD. For some people with PD, levodopa absorption in the brain can be slowed by a high protein meal. As the disease progresses, most people find their symptoms are better controlled if they consume their protein later in the day.
  • Since PD can affect digestion, many people will notice symptoms such as constipation and early satiety (the sensation of feeling full after consuming a small amount of food).

Learn more about diet and nutrition.

Meeting Nutritional Needs

Making sure you get adequate nutrition is important for optimal well-being. Medications and other factors, such as the region where you live, might influence your dietary and nutritional needs.

Over-the-Counter Medications

Although nutritional supplements have shown some promising results in preliminary studies, it is important to remember that there is not sufficient scientific data to recommend them for Parkinson’s. Over-the-counter medications have side-effects and interactions with other drugs. They tend to be expensive and vary with different manufacturers. Before taking any of these medications, discuss them with your doctor.

Summary

It is important for people with Parkinson’s to let their health care providers know of any herbal products, vitamins, over-the-counter medications and dietary changes they have made on a regular basis. Some of these compounds may interact or interfere with PD medications.

Read more at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website.

Page reviewed by Dr. Bhavana Patel, Movement Disorders Neurologist at the University of Florida, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence.

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