The sooner people with Parkinson’s start eating berries the better. Berries are sweet, versatile and have a myriad of health benefits. They contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre plus a collection of flavonoids called anthocyanins. These anthocyanins have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and give berries their bright blue, red and purple colours. Research has suggested that anthocyanins, like those found in berries, may have neuroprotective effects. If you have Parkinson’s and do not currently eat berries, now is the perfect time to start eating these delicious fruits.
Examples of berries include:
- Goji berries
Anthocyanins and lower risk of Parkinson’s
Greater intake of berries is associated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s. In one large study, researchers examined whether greater intakes of total flavonoid or their subclasses, including anthocyanins, lowered risk of developing Parkinson’s1. The study also sought to examine the association between major flavonoid-rich foods, such as berries, and Parkinson’s risk. Participants were asked how often over the previous year they had consumed a specific amount of a food (e.g., half cup of strawberries) with 9 possible responses ranging from “never” to “6 or more times per day.” Results showed higher intakes of total flavonoids were significantly associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s with the association more pronounced in men than in women. In further analyses, researchers found greater intake of berries was significantly associated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s.
Berries and progression of parkinsonian signs
As part of the MIND diet berries are suggested to be eaten on a regular basis. The MIND diet combines characteristics of a Mediterranean style diet with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Adhering highly to the MIND diet has been significantly associated with lower rates of developing parkinsonism, and with slower progression of parkinsonian signs2. This dietary pattern has also been associated with protection against cognitive decline and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and disability3,4,5. The MIND diet has been designed to include foods specifically relevant to brain health which is why berries have been included. Evidence suggests that higher intake of flavonoids, particularly from berries, appears to reduce rates of cognitive decline in older adults6.
Berries and bowel health
Berries are a good source of fibre which is another reason why people with Parkinson’s should eat them on a regular basis. Constipation is a common non-motor symptom of Parkinson’s which can affect quality of life and impact the effectiveness of certain Parkinson’s medications. For healthy bowel function a diet containing an adequate amount of fibre and fluid is suggested with at least 25-30 grams of fibre and 6-8 glasses of fluid recommended each day. With a cup of raspberries providing about 6 grams of fibre, a cup of strawberries about 4 grams and a cup of blueberries about 3 grams, eating these fruits is a great way to boost your daily fibre intake! For more detailed information on managing and preventing constipation click here.
Berries and a Ketogenic diet
Whether you follow a Mediterranean style of eating, the MIND diet or prefer a vegetarian diet berries are a suitable option as part of many diets. They are also suitable as part of a ketogenic or keto diet which some people with Parkinson’s may choose to follow. The keto diet is a very high-fat, very low-carbohydrate, moderate protein diet which has been shown to improve certain symptoms of Parkinson’s in several small studies7,8,9. On a keto diet, berries can be included in small amounts as they tend to be lower in carbohydrate. For more detailed information on the keto diet and Parkinson’s click here.
How to eat more berries
- Make a berry smoothie.
- Add berries and chopped nuts or seeds to breakfast cereal such as oats.
- Prepare a fruit salad containing berries and serve as a dessert.
- Serve berries on top of whole-grain pancakes.
- Make home-made icy poles with chopped up berries and coconut water.
- Add a handful of berries to a salad.
- Combine dried berries to a nut and seed mixture and eat as a snack.
- Bake berries into wholegrain muffins.
- Make berry jam (without added sugar).
Berries are highly nutritious and provide many health benefits. They contain anthocyanins which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may have neuroprotective effects. Not only are berries sweet and delicious but when eaten as part of the MIND diet a significant association has been shown with slowing progression of parkinsonian signs and protecting against cognitive decline. If you have Parkinson’s and berries are not part of your diet, now is the perfect time to start eating a variety of these fruits.
Gao X, Cassidy A, Schwarzschild MA, Rimm EB, Ascherio A. Habitual intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of Parkinson disease. Neurology. 2012;78(15):1138-1145.
Agarwal, P., Wang, Y., Buchman, A.S. et al. MIND Diet Associated with Reduced Incidence and Delayed Progression of Parkinsonism in Old Age. J Nutr Health Aging 22, 1211–1215 (2018).
Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, et al., MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement 2015;11:1015–1022.
Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s Dement. 2015;11:1007–14
Agarwal, P., Wang, Y., Buchman, A. S., Bennett, D. A., & Morris, M. C. (2019). Dietary Patterns and Self-reported Incident Disability in Older Adults. The journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences, 74(8), 1331–1337.
Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MM, Grodstein F. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann Neurol. 2012; 72:135–143
Vanitallie TB, Nonas C, Di Rocco A, Boyar K, Hyams K, Heymsfield SB. Treatment of Parkinson disease with diet-induced hyperketonemia: a feasibility study. Neurology. 2005 Feb 22;64(4):728-30
Phillips, Matthew C L et al. “Low-fat versus ketogenic diet in Parkinson’s disease: A pilot randomized controlled trial.” Movement disorders : official journal of the Movement Disorder Society vol. 33,8 (2018): 1306-1314.
Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Summer SS, Sullivan PG, Duker AP, Isaacson RS, Espay AJ, available online 6 August 2019, Nutritional ketosis for mild cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease: A controlled pilot trial, Clinical Parkinsonism & Related Disorders.