Lower Risk of Parkinson’s Disease with a Plant-Based Diet

Lower Risk of Parkinson’s Disease with a Plant-Based Diet

A new study found that people who ate a healthy plant-based diet had a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. 

Plant-based diets continue to gain a great deal of attention for their ongoing health benefits, with more attention lately on protecting brain health. A recent study published in August 2023 examined the relationship between plant-based dietary patterns and Parkinson’s disease. The researchers concluded that people eating a healthy plant-based diet had a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. In particular, those who ate a diet with high quality plant-based foods had a lower risk of 22%, and those who ate the most vegetables had a 28% lower risk. However, those that ate greater amounts of unhealthful plant-based foods had a 38% higher risk. 

Scientists found that eating more vegetables was protective against Parkinson’s. Get inspired with this recipe for Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Shawarma Spice and Herbed Vegan Yogurt.

What Is Parkinson’s Disease? 

Nearly 90,000 cases of Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed each year in the US. Parkinson’s disease occurs because of nerve cell damage. Due to the damage, dopamine levels drop. Individuals with Parkinson’s also lose the nerve endings that produce norepinephrine, which is a brain chemical messenger that regulates cognitive functions, stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. The decreased rates of dopamine are associated with impaired movement and muscle coordination. This is why people with Parkinson’s disease may have tremors in their hands, arms, legs, or jaw, which can interfere with movement. The low levels of norepinephrine cause symptoms unrelated to movement, such as depression, fatigue, sudden drops in blood pressure, and constipation.  

What causes Parkinson’s disease? Researchers think it’s a combination of genetics and exposure to toxins. Some risk factors include family history, age (as people get older, they are at higher risk), sex (men are more likely than women to get it), and increased exposure to toxins, such as pesticides. 

The study showed that including more whole healthy plant foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes, is linked with lower Parkinson’s risk. Try this recipe for Barley Vegetable Stone Soup.

What Did the Study Find?

The study looked specifically at the healthfulness of the plant-based dietary plan that people followed and the associations with developing Parkinson’s. Participants in this study included 126,283 UK participants from 2006-2010. Their dietary information was evaluated using the Oxford WebQ dietary questionnaire. They were asked about consuming roughly 200 foods and 30 drinks over the previous 24 hours. At least two dietary recalls over an 11.8-year span were required to participate in this study.  

The food diary entries were categorized into healthful plant-based, unhealthful plant-based, and animal foods. Healthful plant-based groups consisted of individuals eating primarily whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetarian protein alternatives, and tea and coffee. Unhealthful plant-based diets were classified by fruit juices, refined grains, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, and desserts. The study did not collect any data related to alcohol consumption. Numerical plant index scores were calculated for the recalls. Scores ranged from 17-85.  

Diary entries were evaluated and ranked based on healthfulness. The research concluded that individuals eating a healthy plant-based diet had a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease. Those with the highest intake of healthful plant-based foods had lower risk of Parkinson’s by 22%, whereas a higher intake of unhealthful plant-based foods was linked with a 38% higher risk. Individuals in the top quintile of vegetable intake data had a 28% lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than the lowest quintile. The researchers found statistically significant evidence that increased vegetable, nut, and green tea intake reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease.  

Include more whole grains, nuts, and fruit in your diet for brain protection, starting with this recipe for Best Trail Mix with Pears.

Why the Plant-Based Benefits?

Scientists theorize that Parkinson’s disease’s first manifestation is in the gastrointestinal system before symptoms can be seen. Gut dysbiosis (when the gut loses good bacteria) might cause neuroinflammation, leading to Parkinson’s. Plant-based diets are high in polyphenols and fiber that promote gut biodiversity. Highly processed foods typically aren’t as nutrient-rich, so they won’t produce the same effects as whole plant-based foods. The main takeaway is to keep incorporating high quality plants into your diet! They taste delicious, and there are many health benefits to doing so. 

Read more about this study here

Read more recent research on the benefits of plant-based diets here:

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