Can Fasting Help Fend Off Parkinson’s Disease?

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. 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.



How Long-Distance Caregiving Impacts Work Productivity

We have written a lot about the physical and emotional impact of being a long-distance caregiver, along with the high levels of stress that can lead to caregiver burnout. There is one more important issue to discuss and that is the impact that long-distance caregiving responsibilities can have on work. Caregiving duties can easily disrupt work schedules and career paths.

A national study of 1,130 long-distance caregivers conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving with Zogby International looked at the impact of caregiving on work and the MetLife Mature Market Institute℠ published a report on the findings. It paints a picture of compassionate caregivers who are struggling to balance caregiving, their personal life, and work.

There are approximately 34 million American caregivers and 15% of them live one hour or more away from the person in their care. In fact, among study participants, caregivers lived an average distance of 450 miles from their loved one and traveled 7.23 hours one-way to visit them.

The study found that when it comes to balancing work and caregiving responsibilities there are many challenges for caregivers including work interruptions because of time spent on the phone coordinating care, responding to calls from their loved one and more. The majority of respondents in this study, (80%), were working either full or part-time.

  • The percent of long-distance caregivers working part-time increased substantially from the 1997 study, growing from 8% to 18%.
  • More than four in ten had to rearrange their work schedules in order to take care of their caregiving responsibilities.
  • 36% reported missing days of work.
  • 12% took a leave of absence from work.
  • Men and women reported in equal numbers that they had to rearrange work schedules – leaving early, arriving late, taking unpaid leave, or considering changing employers to accommodate caregiving responsibilities.

Even though men and women both reported that caregiving disrupted their work, women reported losing greater numbers of hours. This is due to the fact that women in the study were more likely to report that they were the only or the main caregiver in their situation, thereby absorbing more of the impact of caregiving responsibilities.

  • Women reported missing an average of 24 hours of work per month as a result of caregiving as opposed to 17 hours reported by men.
  • Women also reported spending more time than men in helping the care recipient around their home; 23.5 hours for women as opposed to 21 hours for men.
  • Women reported spending 14.5 hours a month helping their loved one with personal care and men reported 11 hours.
  • On average, women spent more money each month on services needed by the care recipient, $751 as opposed to $490 spent by men.

These issues increase stress on long-distance caregivers exponentially. Not only do they worry about the health and well-being of their loved one, they also have to worry about the status of their job and their own financial well-being. As the senior population continues to grow, services need to address these conflicting priorities and help to support caregivers. You shouldn’t ever feel under-resourced, however, if you find yourself wondering what resources are out there for accommodating long-distance care here are few tips.

While employers become aware of these issues and hopefully move to create supportive workplaces, professional at-home caregivers can help. They can be an extension of care for the long-distance caregiver and serve as the eyes and ears in the home of their loved ones. Professional caregivers are trained in many specialties, from Alzheimer’s disease to Parkinson’s disease. They can provide hourly or daily care on a regular basis or in times of special need like after hospital discharge or suffering a stroke. Given the enormity of caregiving, having a professional to help on site with a loved one can be a relief and a great support system for long-distance caregivers.

Blackcurrant Fruit Provides Brain Health Benefits

Scientists from Plant & Food Research in New Zealand, in collaboration with Northumbria University in the United Kingdom, assessed the effects of blackcurrants on cognitive health and found that the fruit improved attention and regulated mood.

New Zealand BlackcurrantsThe study was conducted on 36 healthy participants aged 18 to 35 years old who consumed one of three drinks: a sugar and taste-matched placebo which did not contain blackcurrant, an anthocyanin-enriched New Zealand blackcurrant extract (Delcyan™), or a cold-pressed juice from the New Zealand blackcurrant variety called ‘Blackadder’. After consuming 250ml of their assigned drink, the participants underwent mental performance tests and a blood test.

Results showed that both of the blackcurrant juices improved attention and mood and reduced mental fatigue. Blood tests also revealed that the blackcurrant juice decreased the activity of the monoamine oxidase enzyme (MAO), a family of enzymes that break down serotonin and dopamine in the brain.

Chemicals that inhibit the activity of MAO enzymes are often used to treat depression and other mood disorders such as stress and anxiety. They also work as treatments for neurodegenerative symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s occurs when neurons in the area of the brain controlling movement die and produce less dopamine, which contributes to the physical motor symptoms. Chemicals that can inhibit MAO enzymes prolong the effects of dopamine by preventing its breakdown and may also prevent the removal of dopamine between nerve cells, all of which help to combat symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Previous research on berries has found a multitude of benefits, including the slowing of cognitive decline associated with aging. Blueberries, in particular, have been proven to promote heart health, thereby increasing blood flow to the brain to boost cognitive health. Try incorporating some berries into your next smoothie along with a nutrient-rich, varied diet and a regimen of light physical activity for a brain-health boost. Home Care Assistance Denver