Parkinson’s disease is closely linked to a dopamine deficiency in the brain. While it’s not yet clear if Parkinson’s disease can be prevented, we may be able to reduce our risk by incorporating diet and lifestyle strategies that increase dopamine levels in the body.

Dopamine and Parkinson's Disease
Dopamine and Parkinson’s Disease

What Is Parkinson’s Disease

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, nearly one million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, with approximately 60,000 new cases being diagnosed each year in this country. Although Parkinson’s disease is often associated with old age, four percent of patients are diagnosed before age 50, and—although rare—teenagers can develop “young onset” Parkinson’s disease.

The first signs of Parkinson’s disease are tremors, rigidity, unsteadiness, and a slowing of movement. These muscular control and functional issues are associated with a deficiency in the neurotransmitter dopamine. This occurs when some of the brain cells responsible for producing dopamine die. For this reason, dopamine has long been considered the major culprit in the development of Parkinson’s disease,

Dopamine and Parkinson's Disease
Dopamine and Parkinson’s Disease
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Symptoms of Low Dopamine

Indicators of a dopamine deficiency include feelings of depression and boredom. Chronic fatigue and low energy are also common, and this typically results in one having less desire to exercise or move the body in any way. Drive, motivation, and enthusiasm are diminished.

So what can we do to help increase our dopamine levels? There are a few things to consider. For starters, we should be eating foods that are rich in the amino acid tyrosine. These include almonds, bananas, avocados, beans, fish, and chicken. Exercising regularly will also help.

Parkinson’s Disease Treatment Options

Scientists recently found evidence of a possible treatment option that may help to slow, stop, or even reverse the progression of Parkinson disease.

The 3-part, experimental study investigated whether using a novel delivery system to increase levels of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) can regenerate dying dopamine brain cells in patients with Parkinson disease and even reverse their condition. GDNF is a naturally occurring protein that promotes the survival of many types of neurons.

American Journal of Managed Care, April 12, 2019

Degenerative brain disorders like Parkinson’s disease can be devastating—not only to the patient but also the family members who watch as their loved one slowly wastes away. I have experienced this personally in recent years. My father was diagnosed with a rare condition called frontal lobe degeneration, which is not unlike Parkinson’s disease.

We watched over a 10-year period, as this man who was strong and full of life became someone who couldn’t even talk. Patients with frontal lobe degeneration have a lifespan of about 10 years from the time they are diagnosed. The body slowly deteriorates, and the patient becomes a shell of the person they once were. My dad was diagnosed at the age of 59 and passed away 10 years later at the young age of 69. He was the life and soul of every party, and for his life to end in that way was a tragedy.

It’s not yet clear if Parkinson’s disease can be prevented, but we can reduce our risk by keeping in mind the link to dopamine deficiency. As discussed above, tyrosine-rich foods like almonds and bananas can help in this regard. Other foods are known to nourish and protect brain cells, and these may help as well. They include berries, soy products, and coffee or other sources of caffeine. Research has also shown that regular exercise—particularly when we’re in our 30s and 40s—can lower the chances of a Parkinson’s diagnosis later in life by about 30%.

As research advances in this area, it’s empowering to know that we can help ourselves a little by opting for a healthy lifestyle, with the hope that we can live out our later years with dignity and joy.

Yours in Health, Sarah