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The #1 Best Eating Habit to Help With Parkinson's Disease, Says Study

Research suggests this habit helps with neurological functions.
FACT CHECKED BY Kiersten Hickman

Each year, about 60,000 new cases of Parkinson's Disease are identified, with it affecting 13 per 100,000 people in the United States. According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, causes of potential risk factors for Parkinson's can include genetics, environmental factors such as significant exposure to pesticides or certain heavy metals and repeated head injuries. Age, however, is a main risk factor, as Parkinson's disease is most commonly found in adults over the age of 50.

There are ways to help control the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, such as medicines that use dopamine– a way to treat symptoms of shock by improving blood flow. There's also new data suggesting what you eat can play a role in helping control Parkinson's. According to research, a ketogenic diet can help improve motor and nonmotor symptoms in those who have Parkinson's Disease. 

The study posted in the Movement Disorders Journal developed a pilot randomized, controlled trial to compare the reasonability, safety, and potential effectiveness of a low‐fat, high‐carbohydrate diet versus a ketogenic diet in a hospital clinic of patients with Parkinson's Disease.

Researchers randomly assigned 47 patients to either the low-fat or ketogenic diet and studied the results over the course of 8 weeks. Out of 44 patients who began the diets, 38 completed the entire study. The ketogenic diet group maintained physiological ketosis—a normal response to low glucose availability that provides an additional energy source for the brain in the form of ketones. The ketone bodies work as antioxidants and bypass a defect in the mitochondria (the cells' powerhouses) to fuel the body's energy production.

Overall, both the low-fat and ketogenic diets significantly improved in motor and nonmotor symptoms, however the group who participated in the ketogenic diet showed greater improvements in many of the more disabling nonmotor symptoms, including pain, fatigue, trouble sleeping and eating, and cognitive changes such as problems with attention, planning, language, and memory.

Woman holding plate of keto foods at a table
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The research also showed that it is possible that the ketogenic diet could play a complementary role alongside L‐dopa—a disorder characterized by childhood or adolescent onset of dystonia sometimes associated with parkinsonism—in the treatment of Parkinson's. However, more controlled studies are needed before this can be stated with confidence.

The ketogenic diet has been shown to help other diseases and neurological disorders as well, such as epilepsy. Since at least 500 BCE, fasting and other dietary regimens have been used to treat epilepsy. In the 1920s, modern physicians tried to mimic the metabolism of fasting by introducing the ketogenic diet as a treatment for epilepsy. Over the past 15 years, there has been a large increase in both the use and scientific interest in the ketogenic diet.

RELATED: This is How the Keto Diet Affects Aging, Science Says

Kayla Garritano
Kayla Garritano is a Staff Writer for Eat This, Not That! She graduated from Hofstra University, where she majored in Journalism and double minored in Marketing and Creative Writing. Read more