DIET AND EXERCISE CAN CURB EFFECTS OF PARKINSON’S DISEASECategory: Newsworthy Notes
Excerpted from Peak Fitness, presented by Mercola.com and The Seventy Percent Solution.
Neuromuscular and neurodegenerative illnesses are devastating for obvious reasons: loss of independence, reduced quality of life, financial strain, emotional effects (such as depression), and the toll these conditions take on loved ones, particularly if one or more of them assume a caregiving role. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis, ALS, and Alzheimer’s disease are even more difficult to navigate because there are essentially no effective pharmaceutical interventions. There may be drugs to reduce or relieve symptoms in the short term, but these do nothing to address the root cause(s) of the conditions, nor to stop or prevent future decline.
Fortunately, there is a growing awareness that what many neurodegenerative conditions have in common is some degree of mitochondrial dysfunction. Although how these conditions ultimately manifest in the body may differ, a common—and nearly universal—characteristic is impaired mitochondrial energy generation. This being the case, there are therapeutic strategies ripe for exploration and research which may hold promise and potential for many conditions that are otherwise intractable and extremely difficult to treat. The ketogenic diet is one such strategy that may be beneficial for Parkinson’s disease. It has already shown great promise for other neurodegenerative issues.
Animal studies and preliminary studies in humans indicate that ketogenic diets—especially when combined with a rich intake of ketone-boosting medium-chain triglycerides—may improve quality of life in ALS patients. This approach has also proven quite promising for Alzheimer’s disease, and Terry Wahls, MD, skyrocketed to fame in the functional medicine community after her TED Talk, in which she shared her account of reversing her progressive multiple sclerosis via diet and lifestyle interventions, which included raising serum ketone levels.
While there is some degree of genetic susceptibility behind some of these conditions, Dr. Wahls noted, “70 to 90% of the risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and autoimmunity is due to environmental factors. The genes do not drive most chronic diseases. It is the environment. It is time we stop blaming our genes and focus on the 70% under the individual’s control. That is the real solution to the health care crisis.” If this is true for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and autoimmunity, then there’s reason to suspect environmental factors have a powerful influence over whether some of these genetic tendencies for neurological issues manifest as chronic illness. For Parkinson’s disease (PD), specifically, symptoms stem primarily from the death of dopamine-secreting neurons.
While there are drugs that are effective—at least in the short term—their efficacy wanes over time. Moreover, some Parkinson’s medications—specifically, the dopamine receptor agonists—come with truly disturbing potential side-effects. Not totally surprisingly, these include behavioral and personality changes that may be associated with the role of dopamine in the “reward” pathways: compulsive gambling, shopping and eating, and hypersexuality. (Researchers believe these issues are under-reported by patients and caregivers, and are under-recognized by the treating physicians.) Besides intermittent fasting, yet another dietary intervention that may be of particular importance for those with Parkinson's is the so-called ketogenic diet. One 2006 study14,15 suggests that a diet high in fat (upwards of 90 percent) and nearly devoid of protein and carbohydrates has neuroprotective effects in both Parkinson's and Alzheimer's sufferers. While this was an admittedly extreme form of ketogenic diet, when used on patients with Parkinson's disease, it resulted in improvements in balance, tremors, and mood.
There are various theories as to how it helps, including shifting your brain's metabolism from blood sugar to ketone bodies, a secondary energy source derived from fat metabolization. Your heart, as well as other muscles, operates quite efficiently when fueled by ketones. Your muscles can store more glucose (as glycogen) than your brain because they have an enzyme that helps them maintain their glycogen stores. But your brain actually lacks this enzyme, so it prefers to be fueled by glucose. When your blood glucose levels are falling, your ketone levels are typically rising, and vice versa. You might be wondering, then, how your brain is able to function when you're in a state of ketosis. It turns out that your body has a mechanism for providing your brain with a fuel source it CAN use when glucose is in short supply. When your glucose is low, your brain tells your liver to produce a ketone-like compound called beta-hydroxybutyrate (or beta-hydroxybutyric acid). This compound is able to fuel your brain very efficiently, especially with "practice."
The more efficient your body is at burning fats, the more easily it can move seamlessly between its fat-burning and carbohydrate-burning engines, and the more stable your blood sugar will be. Strategies that can add years to your life, and help prevent Parkinson’s disease, too A key factor for living a long healthy life is optimizing your insulin and leptin sensitivity, and there's cause to believe that this is important for neurological disorders like Parkinson's as well. Exercise, intermittent fasting, and eating a diet high in healthy fat, along with low amounts of non-vegetable carbs and moderate amounts of protein can likely go a long way toward preventing and treating Parkinson's and many other health concerns. Additional lifestyle factors to take into consideration include the following:
- Eating an organic, whole food diet. For a complete guide about which foods to eat and which to avoid, see my comprehensive nutrition plan. Generally speaking, you should focus your diet on whole, ideally organic, unprocessed foods that come from healthy, sustainable and preferably local sources. For the highest nutritional benefit, eat a good portion of your food raw. This type of diet will naturally optimize your insulin signaling. Refined sugar and processed fructose in particular can act as a toxin when consumed in excess, driving multiple disease processes in your body – including insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and systemic inflammation.
- Enjoy a comprehensive exercise program. Even if you're eating the best diet in the world, you still need to exercise—and exercise effectively—if you wish to optimize your health. You should include core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and the right kind of stretching, as well as high-intensity "burst-type" activities. Consider combining this with intermittent fasting to supercharge your metabolism. Also remember that chronic sitting is an independent risk factor for an early demise, so strive to reduce sitting as much as possible. I also recommend walking 7,000-10,000 steps each day, over and above your regular fitness regimen.
- Optimize your vitamin D. Researchers report that there is a correlation between insufficient levels of vitamin D and the development of early Parkinson's disease. The important factor when it comes to vitamin D is your serum level, which should ideally be between 50-70 ng/ml year-round, and the only way to determine this is with a blood test. Sun exposure or a tanning bed is the preferred method, but a vitamin D3 supplement can be used when necessary. If you take supplemental vitamin D, make sure you're getting enough vitamin K2 and magnesium as well.
- Get plenty of animal-based omega-3. Omega-3 fats, such as that found in krill oil, serve an important role in protecting your brain cells. It works in part by preventing the misfolding of a protein resulting from a gene mutation in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's.
- Avoid as many chemicals and toxins as possible. This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives. An organic diet is the best way to limit exposure to pesticides associated with Parkinson's disease. Also avoid prescription drugs in favor of more natural approaches, whenever possible.
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