‘Bananas and Beans, not Burgers’: High-Protein Meals and Levodopa

protein

No one told me that breakfast bacon, ham, or sausage would make me feel awful!

I had seen my off-periods worsen after a heavy meat meal, but I shrugged it off as “just a bad off-period.” Now, after being on levodopa for five years, I am positive that animal protein meals are a serious issue. Overlapping a high meat meal with levodopa can result in not just an off-period, but also one that lasts much of the day.

“Bananas and beans, not burgers” is the mantra to remind me that diet is very important in the development of a rehab plan for folks with PD. I am not a nutritionist. I am writing from the perspective of a PD patient warrior and rehab clinician.

Research suggests that changes to your diet could help alleviate some symptoms of your PD. The American Parkinson Disease Association (APDA) notes that levodopa crosses the wall of the small intestine via molecules in the intestinal wall that transport amino acids. When dietary protein (beef, chicken, pork, fish, eggs, nuts, and dairy) is also present in the small intestine, fewer transporters are available for levodopa to use. We may experience the “protein effect” when the medication competes with a high-protein meal.

One of the most compelling statements in a 2014 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience is that a “growing body of evidence suggests that nutrition may play an important role in PD.”

The study “Irregular gastrointestinal drug absorption in Parkinson’s disease” in the journal Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology states that levodopa transit time in the small intestine is approximately three hours. Therefore, gastric emptying is a major determining factor for the onset of symptom relief. When PD delays gastric emptying, it has the potential to cause motor fluctuations, known to us as off-periods.

Research also shows that with your microbiome (the microorganisms in your body), a relationship exists between Parkinson’s disease and improved gut health. In “Parkinson’s disease and bacteriophages as its overlooked contributors,” published in the journal Scientific Reports, George Tetz and his colleagues examined the viruses that live in the gut, as well as the role the microbiome may play in Parkinson’s disease. According to Parkinson.org, “this has sparked the idea that we might be able to improve the symptoms if we change the microbiome through diet or other ways. … These bacteria play a role in the processes that produce dopamine and affect the intestine’s ability to absorb.”

Like many aspects of Parkinson’s symptoms, the protein effect is highly variable. Some people do not experience it at all. Others are extremely sensitive to protein’s effect on medication absorption. This diet concern was presented at my local PD support group, and the group’s PD warriors and caregivers agreed almost unanimously with having experienced or witnessed the adverse effects.

It typically becomes more of an issue as PD progresses. The APDA suggests that if someone experiences the protein effect, two potential strategies might help. One is to refrain from eating protein during the day, eating it at night instead, when the medication’s effect is less critical. The second is to distribute protein intake evenly throughout the day so that medication absorption is enhanced during that time.

The solution I have found that works best for me has two parts. First, I space the levodopa dosing so that it occurs between meals to minimize absorption issues. Second, I eat the day’s moderate meat meal at lunch, not dinner or breakfast.

Reducing meat in your diet may be beneficial not just to levapoda absorption. An amazing study on diet and overall health by Thomas Campbell and T. Colin Campbell, called “The China Study,” clearly showed that decreasing meat intake is a good change for all of us. Bananas and beans, not burgers.

What diet changes have you found to be helpful? Share in the comments below.

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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