“Living Well with Parkinson’s: Nutrition and Neuroplasticity” – Event Highlights 30 Days of Hope

Written by Annie Long and Larry Kahn

PD Gladiators has been conducting our 30 Days of Hope campaign to mark Parkinson’s Awareness Month, emphasizing the enormous potential of exercise and other lifestyle modifications to slow the progression of PD and improve quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s. The highlight of the campaign was a free educational program we co-hosted with the Parkinson’s Foundation: “Living Well with Parkinson’s: Nutrition and Neuroplasticity,” on April 14th. Over 200 members of the Atlanta Parkinson’s community crowded into the exhibit hall at the Lenbrook Life Plan Community in Buckhead hoping for inspiration from featured speakers, Laurie Mischley (ND, MPH, PhD) and Giri Krishnamurthy (PhD).

They were not disappointed.

Dr. Mischley is a dynamo, a path-blazing researcher at Bastyr University in Seattle, whose excitement about her Parkinson’s research is palpable. Her overarching theme was that while easy, convenient disease-modifying strategies don’t exist, people with PD can influence their outcomes with a heavy investment in self-care: exercise, diet, sleep and other lifestyle modifications. To bring the point home, Dr. Mischley noted that, based on preliminary results from her study of almost 2,000 people with PD, a person with PD who exercises vigorously seven days a week is likely to gain six high quality years over a sedentary counterpart! How’s that for inspiration? 89% of our post-event survey respondents said they will make changes to their routine based on the speakers’ advice.

Dr. Mischley’s study, Complementary & Alternative Medicine Care in Parkinson’s Disease (CAM Care in PD) (still recruiting), identifies people with PD who are progressing slower (or faster) than average, and then attempts to identify modifiable behaviors associated with different rates of PD progression. (Click HERE to calculate your “PRO-PD score” and compare it to the scores of study participants.) While she emphasized in her presentation that modifications to diet and exercise habits can have a dramatic impact on the rate of disease progression, Dr. Mischley observed that in preliminary data analysis the top predictor for a fast progression is an affirmative response to the question “Are you lonely?” She cautions that it is important for us to stay connected to friends and family and avoid the temptation to withdraw as symptoms advance. (Note: PD Gladiators fitness classes provide an excellent opportunity to socialize with new friends who share a common bond!)

Dr. Mischley’s Presentation on Nutrition and Natural Therapies is available for download in PDF format (click the link), but here are the high points of her “recipe” for success:

  • Plant-based (Mediterranean) diet
  • Things to eat: fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, fish, olive and coconut oil, wine, spices
  • Things to avoid: red meat, dairy, soda, fried foods, canned fruits and vegetables
  • Work with your physician on a supplementation plan (should be individualized!)
  • Commonly recommended supplements for her PD patients include: fish oil, CoQ10, glutathione, vitamin D, B-vitamins, melatonin (fun fact – she recommends taking this in the middle of the night when you might wake up rather than before bed)
  • Daily exercise (30+ minutes daily / at least three days a week, with statistically significant incremental benefits for each additional exercise day) – increase heart rate and get outside of your comfort zone!
  • Social interactions are VERY important – get to a group exercise class, join a social club
  • Practice mindfulness (meditation, yoga, mindful eating, MBSR courses)
  • SLEEP – get to bed early, avoid distractions

 

For support of Dr. Mischley’s recommendations and more details, check out her peer-reviewed research article “Role of Diet and Nutritional Supplements in Parkinson’s Disease Progression.” Dr. Mischley is a Naturopathic Physician in Seattle; she limits her practice to Parkinson’s patients and is available for private consultations via Skype.

The second half of the April 14th program featured Venkatagiri “Giri” Krishnamurthy, PhD, a Research Associate in the Department of Neurology at Emory University. He explained how a healthy brain guides movement and then took a deeper look at how neuroplasticity offers proactive people with Parkinson’s hope for delaying disease progression and compensating for impairments with exercise and other activity.

According to Dr. Krishnamurthy, neuroplasticity refers to changes to the brain’s structure, functions and connections. These changes may protect dopamine neurons, improve impaired neurotransmission through learning, and possibly even generate new neurons throughout life. He explained that when you challenge your brain with new activities and experiences, new synaptic connections form between brain cells, and/or there is better communication between brain cells. When the new challenge, activity or exercise is ongoing, people will see an even greater benefit through learning. Dismantling the old notion that the brain is hardwired and you are stuck with what you’ve got, Dr. Krishnamurthy illustrated the ways we can improve brain functioning through intense aerobic exercise, dance and other novel, positive experiences like learning how to cook or playing an instrument.

In the end, Dr. Krishnamurthy’s conclusion was an enthusiastic repetition of what has become our mantra throughout the 30 Days of Hope campaign: Exercise = Hope.

Click the link to download a PDF of Dr. Krisnamurthy’s Presentation on Neuroplasticity.

 

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