While movement problems are the main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, people with the disease often have non-motor symptoms such as constipation, daytime sleepiness, and depression 10 or more years before the movement problems start.
In a new study, researchers found that eating a healthy diet in middle age may be linked to having fewer of these preceding symptoms.
The research was conducted by a team at Harvard University.
The study tested 47,679 people who were asked about their diet every four years starting in the 1980s when they were middle-aged.
Then in 2012, people were asked whether they had two conditions that are common in people who are later diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease: constipation and a sleep disorder called rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, which includes acting out dreams during sleep by movement such as flailing arms or shouting or screaming.
In 2014-2015, 17,400 of the participants were asked about five more symptoms that can precede Parkinson’s disease: loss of sense of smell, impaired color vision, excessive daytime sleepiness, body pain, and depression.
The researchers looked at how closely people’s diets followed either the alternate Mediterranean diet, which is similar to the Mediterranean diet but includes only whole grains and does not consider dairy or the Alternative Healthy Eating Index.
Both diets encourage eating fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes and discourage eating red meat. They divided the participants into five groups based on how closely they followed the diets.
The study found that people with the highest adherence to the diets were less likely to have three or more symptoms that precede Parkinson’s disease than the people with the lowest adherence.
Those in the high group for adherence to the Mediterranean diet were 33% less likely to have three or more symptoms than those in the low adherence group.
These results were found after researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect the risk of developing these preceding symptoms, such as physical activity, smoking and body mass index (BMI).
The researchers found a similarly strong link between following the Alternative Healthy Eating Index diet pattern and having three or more of these non-motor symptoms.
Looking at individual food groups, the researchers found that eating more vegetables, nuts, legumes, and consuming a moderate amount of alcohol were all linked to a lower risk of having three or more of the preceding symptoms.
Moderate alcohol consumption was considered no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.
The team says this study provides yet another reason for getting more vegetables, nuts, and legumes in a daily diet.
One author of the study is Samantha Molsberry, Ph.D.
The study is published in Neurology.
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