Healthy Eating and Exercise Habits Can Reduce Parkinson's Disease Risk

September 06, 2022


According to new research reported in the August 19, 2022 edition of JAMA Network Open, adopting healthy eating and exercise habits before or after a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease could greatly reduce mortality risk. Sabrina Barata, M.D., a primary care physician who treats patients at Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville, reviewed the study and offered insights.

1. What are your thoughts about the findings of the study?

This was an interesting study. The authors evaluated data from two large US cohorts, the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS). This allowed the team to query a robust number of participants dating back to 1984, and further evaluate the association between pre- and post-diagnosis diets and exercise with mortality. The authors found a significant inverse association with high AHEI scores (i.e., patients with the healthiest diets) and mortality.

The better the diet, the lower the mortality. To note, the statistical comparison here was patients with the best diets vs. patients with the worst diets. The authors specifically found, when evaluating the various components of a diet, that high intake of whole grains, nuts and legumes, and lower intake of red or processed meats was associated with decreased mortality. Similar findings were found when looking at the highest level of physical activity vs. the lowest level of physical activity, and when the authors combined physical activity and dietary indices.

This study was impressive in the number of patients evaluated, and importantly, placing numerical estimates for the decrease in mortality that diet and exercise can contribute in patients with Parkinson Disease.

2. Can you provide a clear definition of what the "Alternative Healthy Eating Index" is and its purpose?

The AHEI is a scoring system for individual diets. It is a way to assign a value to your intake in dietary aspects that are associated with chronic disease, such as fruits, vegetables, proteins, etc. In the literature, higher scores on the AHEI have been associated with decreased risk of chronic conditions, especially coronary artery disease and diabetes; decreased risk of mortality from these chronic conditions, and improved physical activity in older men and women.

3. Can you weigh in on the specific eating habits you should apply to your life in order to reduce Parkinson's risk mortality based on this study?

Based on the data in this study, the individual components of the AHEI that were significantly associated with decreased mortality in PD included: higher intake of whole grains, higher intake of nuts and legumes, and lower intake of red or processed meats.

4. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Studies such as the one presented here are important for the medical community. Results in large cohorts assist in counseling patients, and provide more objective data for how lifestyle components can improve mortality outcomes. It also provides a platform for further research based on the findings in the study.

Dr. Sabrina Barata serves patients ages 18 and older who live and work in the Cockeysville, Hunt Valley, Lutherville and Timonium areas of Northern Baltimore County. She works closely with her patients to assess, diagnose and manage acute and chronic conditions such as asthma, congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, Dr. Barata is a first-generation Brazilian-American who has worked with the Latino population, focusing on preventive health and mental health disparities. She earned her medical degree at Medical Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

About Mercy

Founded in 1874 in Downtown Baltimore by the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Medical Center is a 183-licensed bed, acute care, university-affiliated teaching hospital. Mercy has been recognized as a high-performing Maryland hospital (U.S. News & World Report); has achieved an overall 5-Star quality, safety, and patient experience rating (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services); is A-rated for Hospital Safety (Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade); and is certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a Magnet™ hospital. Mercy Health Services is a not-for-profit health system and the parent company of Mercy Medical Center and Mercy Personal Physicians.

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