With World Parkinson’s Day upon us, we decided to unpack the signs and symptoms of the disease, its causes, along with its peculiar relationship with sugar. Here’s what you need to know.
An estimated four out of 1000 Aussies have Parkinson's disease, but that number jumps to around one in 100 for those over 60. Let's unpack what the condition actually entails, including the signs and symptoms.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects movement, posture and balance. Patients experience a degeneration of neurons that produce the hormone known as dopamine – you’ve probably heard of it as the “feel-good” hormone due to its role in the brain’s reward system; pet a dog? You can probably recall that dopamine hit! Enjoy a slice of cake – yep, it’s that dopamine at it again – but this hormone also plays a role in controlling our movement and coordination. The incidence of the disease increases with age, and while the root cause hasn’t been definitively pinned down yet, we do know that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may be involved. Let’s take a look at some of the major signs and symptoms of the disease:
- Tremors: Tremors are one of the major hallmarks of Parkinson’s – although not all patients will present with this symptom. A tremor involves involuntary shaking or twitching, often in the hands, arms, legs or head. Tremors are often most noticeable when inactive and may decrease during movement.
- Rigidity: Rigidity refers to stiffness or resistance in the muscles, making it difficult to move smoothly. It can also cause muscle cramps and pain.
- Slowness of movement: Also known as bradykinesia, slowness of movement is a common sign of the disease, and it often results in patients having difficulty with everyday activities like walking and getting dressed.
- Postural instability: This refers to difficulty with balance and coordination, leaving many unable to stand or walk without assistance.
- Impaired sense of smell: Changes in the sense of smell are common in people with PD, often occurring years before other symptoms develop.
- Sleep disturbances: People may have trouble falling or staying asleep, or experience sudden movements during sleep.
- Speech impairment and swallowing difficulties: Parkinson’s can affect the muscles involved in speaking and swallowing, leading to symptoms like slurred speech and issues with swallowing.
- Cognitive degeneration: The disease can also cause cognitive issues, from memory impairment to poor attention and executive function.
The link between sugar and Parkinson’s
While sugar doesn’t directly cause Parkinson’s, there are a number of concerning associations between the progression of symptoms and sugar, along with an increased incidence of sugar cravings among patients.
Researchers have found that when those with Parkinson's kept their blood-sugar levels stable, their motor symptoms progressed at a slower rate. The research also found that patients may experience a slower rate of cognitive decline when limiting their sugar intake.
We know this isn’t exactly easy when processed sugar is all around us – from staples like bread and condiments down to your morning cereal. Now, while you don’t have to cut added sugar out completely, restricting your intake has many proven benefits – in the case of Parkinson’s disease, further research found a concerning link between patients and sugar cravings. This 2006 study found that those with the condition had greater sugar cravings than the control group, while a more recent study from 2021 found that people with the disease were more likely to have an increased rate of sugar consumption. This means those with Parkinson’s may have to take more care to fight sugar cravings and keep their added sugar intake to a minimum to prevent the worsening of symptoms.
So, how can you reduce your sugar intake? For starters, opting for foods that are satiating can help keep cravings at bay – think healthy fats and protein. Take a look at some tasty snacks to reach for when those cravings arise:
- Peanut butter and celery
- Guacamole and raw veggies
- Roast chickpeas
- Boiled eggs
- Hummus or tzatziki and veggies
If you’re craving something sweet, stick to whole foods like fruit – berries, apples and pineapples are all loaded with fibre and antioxidants, making them an ideal snack in moderation. Plus, they’ll satisfy your sweet tooth!
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So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to join. We’d love to help you get started on your health journey. Sign up HERE today!