For Immediate Release May 13, 2021

By Kiranmayi Adimoolam, MD, FAAFP

Parkinson's disease is a brain disorder that affects the body and how it moves.

It begins with tremors, stiffness and balance problems that get worse with time. In addition, many people with Parkinson's disease feel tired, depressed, constipated, have trouble sleeping and can lose the sense of smell. They may also have trouble remembering, concentrating, learning new things, as well as have trouble talking or making decisions that affect their everyday life. Many people with Parkinson's disease also have difficulty walking which can put them at increased risk of falls.

Both men and women can get Parkinson's disease, but it is 50% more common in men. Most often, the disease first shows signs around age 60, but some people develop "early-onset" Parkinson's, which begins around age 50. Prevalence rates in the United States rise from 1% of the population at age 60 to 3% at age 80.

Although the exact cause for Parkinson's Disease is not known, environmental factors and genetics are thought to play a significant role. Research is underway to learn more. Researchers have also been trying to discover ways to prevent Parkinson's disease or slow it down. So far, only two theories have shown to be helpful: exercise and diet.

According to studies, physical activity is not only a good way to treat patients with Parkinson's disease, it appears to help prevent or delay the onset. Getting the body moving helps build strength, balance, endurance and coordination. It is even better when the heart is involved, like with aerobic exercise. Research indicates that getting the blood pumping helps the brain tissue build up protective mechanisms. In fact, studies have shown that people who have Parkinson's disease and have strong and fit hearts do better on both thinking and muscle control tests and often live longer. Additionally, an exercise that gets the heart rate up also helps the neurons in the brain to both maintain old connections and form new connections, which means the brain works better longer. Beyond being good for the heart and the brain, exercise appears to help prevent or lessen the chance of developing many other chronic diseases.

A proper diet is essential to having energy and being healthy overall. Aim for a balanced diet of whole foods, like vegetables and fruits, lean protein, beans and legumes, and whole grains along with the right balance between Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. It is also important to stay hydrated. Research also showed that the Mediterranean diet might be helpful in reducing blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. This type of diet is high in good fats, like olive oil, and contains lots of fish that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon. It also encourages foods that contain antioxidants, such as purple, red and blue grapes; blueberries; red berries, like raspberries and strawberries; dark green veggies, like broccoli, spinach and kale; and orange vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and acorn or butternut squash. The key is a wide variety of less processed foods.

There are theories about supplements, caffeine and other ways to prevent Parkinson's disease. Unfortunately, research to date has not found anything that supports those. However, both exercising and eating a balanced diet are ways science supports living healthier longer, with or without Parkinson's disease.

Kiranmayi Adimoolam, MD, FAAFP is a family and senior care physician at UM Baltimore Washington Medical Group — Adult and Senior Care at Pasadena. She can be reached at 410-553-2900.

Originally appeared in the CAPITAL GAZETTE | MAY 13, 2021 AT 10:26 AM