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Diet Affects Likelihood of Developing Parkinsonís Disease

New research suggests that the way people eat may impact whether they develop Parkinson’s disease (PD). Two studies, one carried out at a PDF Research Center at Columbia University in New York and published in the journal Movement Disorders and another carried out at hospitals in Japan and published in the European Journal of Neurology, found that adherence to a particular type of diet was associated with reduced odds of having Parkinson’s.

Previous research suggested that diet might play a role in the development of Parkinson’s. In particular, a single large study found that people who consumed a diet high in vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes along with moderately high levels of fish but low to moderate levels of dairy, meat, and poultry — the so-called “Mediterranean-style diet” — had a lower chance of developing Parkinson’s.

In these two studies, researchers from a large Japanese consortium of neurologists called the Fukuoka Kinki Parkinson’s Disease Study Group in Japan and a PDF-supported group at Columbia University led by Roy Alcalay, M.D., M.Sc., both followed up on those previous findings. They recruited groups of people with and without Parkinson’s, and used surveys to collect data on what people in each group ate. They then looked to see whether there was a significant association between the types of diets people consumed and whether they had Parkinson’s.


  • Eating a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with significantly reduced odds of developing Parkinson’s.
  • Those who followed a diet other than Mediterranean-style did not have an increased the risk of developing Parkinson’s.
  • The New York study found that, among people with Parkinson’s, those who did not follow the Mediterranean-style diet developed the disease earlier in life than those who did follow the diet.
  • In the Japanese study, a healthy diet that was characterized by a high intake of vegetables, seaweed, pulses, mushrooms, fruits and fish, was inversely associated with the risk of Parkinson’s with a border-line significance.

What Does it Mean?

These studies add to the growing body of research that has found a relationship between diet and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to note that this work does not show that eating a diet different than a Mediterranean-style diet will significantly increase the risk of Parkinson’s. Rather; it suggests that a Mediterranean-style diet is protective against the development of Parkinson’s. 

Previous nutritional studies have reported inconsistent findings about the relationship to diet and Parkinson’s.  The authors of both these studies suggest that these inconsistencies may be the result of focusing on single food items or nutrients such as just fish or vitamin E.  Such studies do not take into account how nutrients interact or diet as a whole.  Instead, these authors focused on the total diet in relationship to Parkinson’s. 

There are important limitations to these studies. Both studies were retrospective. They asked people with PD and controls to fill out questionnaires about their recent eating habits. Because PD has been shown to cause changes in sense of smell and appetite, and PD medications may further change dietary preferences, it is possible that the diets of subjects with PD changed after diagnosis, making it difficult to determine whether the diet led to Parkinson’s or Parkinson’s led to the diet.  Nevertheless, the results presented in these two studies agree with a previous study that tracked diet (prospectively) over time and also found that a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with a lower risk of PD.  Also, the participants in these two studies, combined, were ethnically diverse, increasing the likelihood these results may be applied to a broader population.

Taken together, these studies suggest that a diet high in fish, vegetables, whole grains, fruits and legumes is not only healthy but may also be protective against Parkinson’s.

References: Alcalay, R. N., Gu, Y., Mejia-Santana, H., Cote, L., Marder, K.S., Scarmeas, N. (2012). The Association between Mediterranean Diet Adherence and Parkinson’s Disease. Movement Disorders, Published online Feb 7, 2012. doi:10.1002/mds.24918

Okubo, H., Miyake, Y., Sasaki, S., Murakami, K., Tanaka, K., Fukushima, W., Kiyohara, C., Tsuboi, Y., Yamada, T., Oeda, T., Shimada, H., Kawamura, N., Sakae, N., Fukuyama, H., Hirota, Y., Nagai, M. and the Fukuoka Kinki Parkinson’s Disease Study Group (2011). Dietary patterns and risk of Parkinson’s disease: a case–control study in Japan. European Journal of Neurology. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-1331.2011.03600.x

Source Date: Feb 27 2012