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What we know about intermittent fasting and its impact on Parkinson’s
You’ve probably heard that fasting can cleanse your body and improve your health. But did you know it might dampen the effects of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s?
A promising study led by Dr. Mark Mattson of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine reveals how intermittent fasting — controlling caloric intake a couple of times per week — pushes our brains to perform in healthier ways. 1 According to Mattson’s work, lab experiments involving fasting can enhance neural connections in the hippocampus. 2 They can also prevent neurons from attracting a protein called amyloid plaques, which is very common among patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
As Dr. Mattson explains it, “Fasting is a challenge to your brain, and we think that your brain reacts by activating adaptive stress responses that help it cope with disease. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense your brain should be functioning well when you haven’t been able to obtain food for a while.”
How Does Fasting Help With Parkinson’s?
According to Dr. Mattson, fasting helps turn fat into ketone bodies — encouraging a healthy transformation in the structure of synapses that are critical for learning and memory, as well as overall brain health. 3
Why does this work? Most people consume three full meals a day, along with a couple of snacks. Eating food this close together doesn’t give your body an opportunity to fire up the ketone factory. A similar response happens when we exercise — and Mattson points out that walking or working out is good for brain health as well. In either case, a healthier brain may help reduce the impact of Parkinson’s.
Dietary Strategies For Better Brain Health
There are many ways your diet can improve brain health. Dr. Mattson suggests two ways to try out a calorie-restricted diet. First, there’s the 5:2 diet. On two non-consecutive days each week, you consume a total of 500 calories. On the other five days, just stick with a normal diet, which is around 2,000 calories for women or 2,500 for men.
You can also experiment with a time-restricted diet, where you condense eating into a single eight-hour period every day. This gives your body the remaining 16 hours to begin burning fat and creating ketones.
For any diet involving fasting, Dr. Mattson offers some commonsense advice. “The analogy with exercise applies here as well,” he says. “If you’ve been sedentary and then all of a sudden you try to run five miles, it’s not very pleasant and you’ll likely get discouraged. It’s the same thing as if you’ve been eating three meals a day plus snacks, and then you’re not eating anything at all for two days; you’re not going to like it.”
Mattson recommends beginning slowly. Start with moderate fasting one day per week. When your body gets used to it, add a second day. Symptoms such as headaches, lightheadedness, and grouchiness are common but typically pass.
Managing the Symptoms of Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease3 that primarily affects the neurons in the brain. The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremors or shaking, trouble moving and loss of sense of smell. The disease may also contribute to the development of dementia.
Fasting may help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s and other brain disorders in much the same way that exercise helps. A six-month study of the 5:2 diet, conducted by Mattson and other researchers, demonstrated an improvement in well-being. Dr. Mattson explains that a brain challenged by physical exertion, cognitive tasks or caloric restriction causes the body to produce a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factory). BDNF improves neural connections, helps create new neurons and can even be anti-depressive.
Treating Parkinson’s Disease
The new fasting regimes being explored by Dr. Mattson and others are part of a growing arsenal of weapons aimed at minimizing symptoms and maximizing quality of life for people coping with Parkinson’s. The good news? Parkinson’s is treatable.
Other Parkinson’s disease treatments include medication, physical therapy and lifestyle modifications, including dietary changes. Diet and nutrition play a huge role, as well as rest, improved sleep, enjoying fresh air and finding the right type of exercise. In addition, the emotional support provided by family, friends and caregivers cannot be overstated.
A Healthier Brain and a Better Life
Parkinson’s disease is a major challenge to one’s well-being and quality of life — physically, mentally and emotionally. Knowing what to expect from Parkinson’s can help you live life to the fullest. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to manage symptoms, promote brain health and live well with Parkinson’s.