By Deb Helfrich, Co-Founder of Out-Thinking Parkinson's.
When someone with Parkinson's comes into your life, you have a lot of catching up to do. It is simultaneously a remarkably simple disease – movement is affected – and a remarkably complex disease. To get a handle on much of what is going on with the medicines, the surgery options, and the current status that it is a lifelong degenerative disease will require a lot of time - reading and learning and pondering. Then comes the biggest hurdle of all – feeling truly helpless as you watch the simple tasks of life become epic battles of will, control, and coordination.
At the beginning of this year, I wanted to offer Gary some options based on what had worked for me, on my own body, and that focused on helping his symptoms. We got started on these nutritional basics:
- Reducing alcohol to celebrations only
- Eliminating gluten for a trial period of 3 months
- Adding nuts as his go-to healthy snack
- Using lemon juice to ease the stomach pains caused by poor digestion
- Using Magnesium spray
The first intervention, as we will call all of the quality of life techniques that we use to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, was to ask him to consider alcohol off of the table, except for celebrations. This was simply a practical step, in my mind, as alcohol impairs movement, causes balance issues, and provides no appreciable nutritional content in exchange for the burden on the liver to metabolize its breakdown.
Then we removed gluten. Gary was not eating very nutritious food. The rigors of dealing daily with the symptoms of PD caused him to turn alcohol and comforting convenience food as small ways to gain a measure of control. The problem was that his digestion was bad, he had pains in his stomach when he would eat, and he was clearly underweight. As he was committed to seeing if we could improve the swings in his symptoms, he needed to eat a healthy diet. The reason we focused on removing gluten is that my own experience has been that my joints become inflamed and I have difficulty moving when I am eating products containing gluten consistently. After many attempts to test the affects of eating gluten versus abstaining, I could definitely pinpoint that after refraining from gluten for 5 days, I would be able to walk far more fluidly. A little research turned up some others cases where removing gluten led to a reduction in PD symptoms, so it was well worth a trial. If for no other reason than that it would keep him from a lot of convenience foods that were bad for him in multiple ways.
When we took gluten away, we had to replace those calories with something and nuts became his go-to replacement. They are easy and quick to eat when he has been unable to move for quite some time and is starving when he comes around. They have a wide range of vitamins and minerals and a very beneficial fat, protein, and carbohydrate macronutrient ratio. The nuts are so successful at meeting his nutritional and taste needs, he rarely seems to miss the biscuits.
Next, I mentioned that I had had a few days of a pretty intense pressure in my stomach when I was on a low carb diet and that adding some pure lemon juice to water resolved the pain remarkably quickly and reliably. He tried it and had the same benefits.
Finally, the last step in our first nutritional strategy was to add in some magnesium spray. He often had excruciating pain in his shoulders and I related that to the seasonal Charley horses – an incredibly painful cramp in my calf muscle - that I would get before I started supplementing with Magnesium. But as his digestion was poor, it made sense to apply the spray to his skin so that it could absorb into his system bypassing his digestive tract. The spray worked well enough that it only took a couple days before he noticed relief and it has now been a couple weeks since he would describe his shoulders as excruciating, which was almost a daily occurrence in the previous months. I highly recommend the book The Magnesium Miracle by Carolyn Dean.
The point of this article is to open up your eyes to ways that you can start with what you know and begin to offer some support to someone who has a condition that is very complex and confusing to us laypeople. We began looking at Gary's diet as a place to start to ensure that improper nutrition, deficiencies, and/or food allergies aren't adding to the suffering that Parkinson's brings on. Parkinson's requires a lot of uncontrollable physical exertion of the people who have it, and having an optimally healthy diet may indeed offer the ability to experience less pain and discomfort from the symptoms of PD. We thought it was worth a try to improve his diet over the course of this year, and in January we began to see improvements. So stay tuned for the next set of diet changes....
Have you made some diet changes that helped with PD symptoms? Please let us know so that we can start to develop shared best practices.