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Vitamins for Parkinson’s Disease: Can Micronutrients Protect Your Brain?

Vitamins for Parkinson’s Disease: Can Micronutrients Protect Your Brain?

By Megan Grant
Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

If you're concerned about Parkinson's disease (PD), it might be time to take a close look at your diet—specifically, your vitamin and mineral intake.

A review of existing scientific data published in Nutrients determined that micronutrient deficiency—meaning not getting the recommended amount of certain vitamins and minerals—is related to the development of certain neurological diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Chronically low intake of various nutrients like selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, B, C, D and E have all been linked to worse outcomes and disease progression.

Roughly 500,000 Americans have been diagnosed with Parkinson's, and considering that so many people are undiagnosed or even misdiagnosed, realistically, that number may be much higher. Could something as simple as a nutrient-dense diet really make a difference to your brain health? Here's what the science says.

Micronutrients and brain health: what’s the connection?

Overall, the review found two main links between micronutrients and neurodegenerative diseases:

  1. Chronically low levels of vitamins A, D, E, B1 and C play a key role in Parkinson's development and progression.
  2. Lower plasma levels of vitamins A, B, C, D and E, and minerals selenium, copper and zinc, along with increased levels of homocysteine are associated with Alzheimer's progression.

All of this boils down to one principal message: micronutrients are absolutely crucial for cognitive health and function. While they are not a cure (and should not replace medication and treatment), it's imperative to prevent and address deficiencies for optimal cognitive performance.

What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. It results from depletion of dopamine-producing cells (dopaminergic neurons) in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. The causes of this disease are not clearly understood; however, oxidative stress, inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction are linked to the depletion of dopamine-producing cells, which results in a decline in movement and cognition. Eventually, people with Parkinson's develop dementia.

What are micronutrients?

You've likely heard of macronutrients, which our bodies need a lot of. There are three: protein, fat and carbohydrates. So what are micronutrients? The term refers to the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need in very small amounts. That doesn't mean they're not important, though. A lack of micronutrients can cause severe health complications and even be life-threatening.

What do micronutrients do, exactly? Well, they serve many different purposes! For example, they can help the body create enzymes, hormones, and other substances that we need for healthy growth and development.

Additionally, micronutrients are necessary to support a healthy metabolism and keep our tissues functioning optimally. Plus, many micronutrients have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help reduce the damage in the body done by oxidation by removing free radicals. Thus, antioxidants (like vitamin E and vitamin C) help us maintain our overall health—which is crucial for protecting dopaminergic neurons, the brain cells that produce dopamine.

Which vitamin deficiencies play a role in Parkinson's disease?

Research is ongoing, and you should always check with your healthcare provider before making dietary changes. However, if you're considering what nutrients you might need more of to decrease your risk of developing Parkinson's disease—or, if you've been diagnosed, to improve your symptoms—a good place to start is with the following: vitamin D, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. That's because deficiencies in these nutrients are thought to contribute to the development of Parkinson's disease since Parkinson's patients have been found to have low levels of them.

Vitamin D

We get vitamin D from fatty fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks, cheese and beef liver. Our bodies also produce it when we get sun exposure. And if that's not enough, you can get more vitamin D via diet and lifestyle choices.

Interestingly, science has found that PD patients have greater deficiencies of vitamin D compared to people who do not have PD. Along those lines, the greater the deficiency, the greater the severity and progression of Parkinson's disease appear to be. This makes sense considering that we know vitamin D is important for brain development and activity. It even offers a neuroprotective effect.

Furthermore, vitamin D can be good for muscle function, and one of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease is muscle weakness. And for what it's worth, vitamin D is vital for your mental health, in addition to your physical health. Don't skip out on this important micronutrient, because vitamin D packs a big punch!

If you're concerned that you might have low vitamin D levels, a simple blood test can give you the insight you need. Spending more time in the sun might be all your body wants, but if that's not enough, look into vitamin D dietary options.

Vitamin B12

Low vitamin B12 levels may play a role in PD. Research tells us that Parkinson's disease patients have lower levels of B12 compared with their counterparts. Additionally, lower levels of B12 have been linked to a faster rate of disease progression and related symptoms. Specifically, vitamin B12 can support memory by preventing the loss of neurons. B12 keeps your blood and nerve cells healthy, and it's also essential for DNA health.

You might be getting vitamin B12 from foods like eggs, dairy products (yogurt is also great for probiotics), salmon and beef. If you're not getting enough, this is your sign to reexamine your diet!
Another benefit of improving your vitamin B12 levels? It might help you maintain healthy bone mineral density—something that suffers as we age. Especially considering that older individuals are at greater risk of falls and fractures, getting more vitamin B12 could help to keep them safe.

Furthermore, B vitamins could protect you against macular degeneration, an eye disease that impairs your vision. This is because improving your vitamin B12 levels could lower your levels of homocysteine. (Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood.) Why does this matter? Well, elevated homocysteine levels seem to be correlated to an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Fun fact: By lowering homocysteine levels, vitamin B12 can also help encourage heart health, too.

Vitamin B6

Research says that consuming more vitamin B6 could be related to a lower risk of Parkinson's disease; this nutrient is good for your immune system, nervous system (which means it can potentially fight neuropathy) and brain development.

You can get more vitamin B6 from foods like bananas, avocados, eggs, salmon and spinach. As an added benefit, if you consume foods like bananas, avocados, and spinach, you're also getting a healthy dose of vitamin B9, also known as folate. Folate is essential in brain development and function. Another option is breads, cereals and other fortified foods. In these forms, technically, what you're getting is folic acid, which is the synthetic form of folate (vitamin B9).

What other vitamins are good for Parkinson's patients?

While the exact connection is unknown, the following nutrients have also been linked to reduced PD risk or improved PD outcomes:

Vitamin A

If carrots, sweet potatoes or mangoes are already making their way into your diet, you're doing a great job of getting vitamin A. This could help keep your brain healthy over time. Research tells us that vitamin A supports your central nervous system and helps regulate neuroplasticity. In other words, as changes occur in your brain, this important organ will be able to keep up with its own evolution. You can probably see how this is beneficial for aging individuals.

Vitamin C

You probably already know that vitamin C helps keep you healthy when the yearly flu or that nasty cold goes around. And it turns out it can protect your brain, too. Indeed, some studies have suggested a link between vitamin C and cognition. More specifically, because neurodegenerative diseases often involve high levels of oxidative stress, the antioxidant properties of vitamin C are excellent at quenching free radical activity. To up your levels of vitamin C, consume more broccoli, bell peppers, oranges and strawberries.

Vitamin E

There's a good reason to believe that vitamin E can support cognition in older individuals. It can reduce the amount of oxidative stress in the brain, boosting plasticity. This means that, for instance, you can retain your memory better as you get older.

Avocadoes, almonds, and kiwis are all great sources of vitamin E! You can even try sneaking them into your morning smoothie for a powerful dose of micronutrients.

Minerals that may help with PD

Micronutrients are not just vitamins—the term also refers to minerals. While we don't have conclusive, human clinical trials yet, the following minerals are being studied for their potential role in mitigating PD.

1. Selenium

If you're not eating Brazil nuts, eggs and sesame seeds, you'll want to try to get more selenium in your diet. This vital micronutrient boosts the central nervous system, supporting functions like motor performance, memory, cognition and coordination. This may play a role in the pathology of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's.

2. Copper

Dark chocolate, cashews, and chickpeas may be among of your best allies in supporting brain health. Science tells us that copper is involved in many of our biological processes and has both neurobehavioral and antioxidant effects. It's so powerful, in fact, that even a slight copper imbalance can cause serious brain concerns, like depression. It perhaps comes as no surprise that some studies have found a link between higher levels of copper and a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease—although research is preliminary and ongoing.

3. Zinc

Need a reason to get more zinc? It could help your neurons communicate better, especially in your hippocampus, which plays a big part in learning and forming memories. It can also impact the way your brain perceives and processes smell, sound and touch. To get more zinc, snack on pumpkin seeds, shellfish and dairy.

Do vitamins cure Parkinson’s disease?

No. To be clear, none of these vitamins should be considered a treatment for Parkinson's disease. Furthermore, we can't say that they'll "cure" things like neuropathy or any neurodegenerative disorders. Rather, getting more of them—in addition to medical interventions recommended by qualified healthcare providers—can be a promising approach to holistically help PD patients.

Avoiding a deficiency is also important for your general wellness. That being said, to address PD, healthcare providers may recommend a combination of nutrients, medication, and lifestyle changes as the best course of action.

One commonly prescribed medication is levodopa, also called L-dopa. Levodopa falls under the umbrella of a type of medication called central nervous system agents. It's often combined with carbidopa to treat symptoms of Parkinson's. Levodopa can fight the symptoms of PD because it's a precursor to dopamine—a hormone and neurotransmitter that, as we mentioned earlier, is involved in the development of Parkinson's disease.

How can I help lower the risk of developing Parkinson's?

Consuming enough nutrients, particularly ones with antioxidant properties, may potentially be beneficial in protecting the brain from Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders.

Here are six ways you can help protect your brain health at any age.

  1. Add color to your meals:

    Try cooking with saffron. It's packed with antioxidants, it can support your mental health, and it could protect you against cognitive impairment. Saffron contains zeaxanthin, which can improve blood flow to the parts of your brain involved in memory and recall. Plus, it's delicious. Pro tip: If you're not a breakfast person, you might want to try to become one. Skipping breakfast has been linked to faster cognitive impairment. Consider sipping on green tea in the morning. It can positively affect your brain both in the moment and long term, thanks to the polyphenols it contains.
  2. Prioritize sleep:

    Remember, too, that part of a healthy lifestyle is getting sufficient sleep, which plays a significant role in your cognitive function. How much sleep? Research suggests that getting seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep is crucial for optimal brain health.
  3. Stay active:

    Movement matters as well. Try to get at least 30 minutes of movement a day! Anything that challenges your timing and coordination, like ping pong or boxing, can be beneficial (although more than anything, the point is to move your body). Pro tip: Do resistance training (like weightlifting) two to three times a week to maintain muscle mass and protect against mitochondrial dysfunction that's associated with several diseases.
  4. Self-care and mental health:

    We'd be remiss if we didn't talk about managing your mental health. Good dietary habits are important, as are movement and sleep. Whether it's journaling, yoga, meditation, cooking, therapy or something else entirely, find what makes you feel best and stick to it.
  5. Find your zen:

    It's all a moot point if you're overcome by stress 24/7. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress (or any other mental challenges) is non-negotiable in safeguarding your health.
  6. Keep up with your blood work:

    Doing regular lab tests is a proactive way of staying on top of your health. Blood work helps you assess nutrient levels, like vitamin D and vitamin B12 levels, as well as other metrics. By knowing your numbers, you can address any potential health concerns early and make lifestyle changes accordingly.

And of course, if you're worried that a deficiency could be impacting your health and causing undesirable symptoms, speak with your healthcare provider for more guidance.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.