Autism and Parkinson’s Disease (PD) are very different conditions. However, one common factor is the role diet plays in managing symptoms of both conditions. Specifically, an anti-inflammatory diet. Why? Studies show inflammation in the brain is found in brain disorders including Autism and Parkinson’s Disease.
“An anti-inflammatory diet is an eating plan that is thought to prevent or reduce chronic inflammation, a key risk factor for a variety of health problems. The typical anti-inflammatory diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.” – verywellhealth.com
What is Inflammation?
Most people are familiar with inflammation as the redness, swelling, warmth and/or pain that occurs in response to a wound or injury, like when you get a cut or an insect bite. This acute inflammation is a normal response of the body to prevent tissues from infection, injury, or disease.
This inflammation response typically promotes healing, but if uncontrolled it may become harmful and cause tissue damage. Uncontrolled or prolonged inflammation is called chronic inflammation. Studies show that chronic inflammation is a root cause of many serious diseases.
Reducing inflammation in the body and brain is the best strategy for decreasing risk for disease. In addition, reducing inflammation can help manage symptoms of Autism, Parkinson’s Disease, and other conditions.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a range of brain development conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 44 children in the United States are diagnosed with Autism. Autism spectrum disorder impacts the nervous system. People with Autism have different ways of communicating, learning, and moving.
My experience with Autism was teaching and developing the first integrative classroom in the United States for Autistic children in Marshfield, Massachusetts (1972-1974.) As part of this integrative program, I introduced the first use of sign language to help Autistic children
communicate. Also introduced was the importance of nutrition and how it relates to many of the symptoms of Autism.
About Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that affects dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that plays an important role in movement and coordination. When approximately 60 to 80% of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged and do not produce enough dopamine, the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear. These symptoms include shaking, stiffness and difficulty with balance, coordination, and walking.
“While there is no prescription for a PD-specific diet, to maintain overall good health most people living with Parkinson’s disease should eat a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, milk and dairy products, and protein-rich foods such as meat and beans.” – parkinson.org
Dr. Diane® Brain Health Diet
Over the past 42 years as a board-certified health psychologist and neuropsychologist, I have become keenly aware of how inflammation can affect the body and brain. I encourage my clients and patients to follow Dr. Diane®’s Brain Health Diet, which I customize for them.
When I first meet with a client or patient, I ask them to make a list of their symptoms and rank them by severity. For example, a hand tremor may be a symptom for a person with Parkinson’s Disease or light sensitivity for a person with Autism.
Based on their symptoms, I create two food lists. One titled YES and one titled NO. The person can eat all they want from the YES list, but they must avoid all the foods from the NO list for two weeks.
After two weeks, I ask them to review their symptom list and evaluate which symptoms have improved from this elimination diet. In cases with children with Autism and sensory issues, it may take longer than two weeks to change their eating habits.
Once that has been done, they will re-introduce one food from the NO list each day and note how THAT food has affected them. If that food makes the symptom return or worsen, I recommend they eliminate that food permanently.
I developed this method from my struggles with food sensitivity, including being allergic to carrots. This method has proven successful in helping my clients and patients overcome symptoms caused by diet.
Dr. Diane Brain Health Diet Examples:
Eat plenty of foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids:
- Fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish, such as wild caught salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines)
- Nuts, seeds and legumes (flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, chickpeas and lentils)
- Plant oils (avocado oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil, and coconut oil)
- Green Leafy Vegetables (spinach, kale, and collards)
- Sweets: Dark chocolate and raw honey
Eliminate refined sugar, corn syrup, processed foods and alcohol.
Eliminate any fruit, vegetable or grain that can be made into alcohol, such as:
- grapes, apples, pears, peaches, and plums
- rice, corn, white potatoes, wheat, barley, oats, and rye
See Some of our Brain Health Recipes.
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet customized to your specific symptoms and needs can change your life!
Nutritional Experts and Inflammation
Diet is such an important factor in brain health that we have a certified nutritional educator, Martha Lindsay, MS, CNE, as part of Dr. Diane’s Integrative Team of Brain Health Experts.
Martha is also certified in Nutrition Response Testing℠ and is a GAPS Certified Practitioner. GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. GAPS Diet helps support the body’s immune system to heal and repair damage done by inflammation and toxins. This approach can be very effective in improving symptoms of brain disorders, including Autism, Parkinson’s Disease and ADHD.
As a team, we work to develop nutrition plans that optimize the immune system which helps the brain and body to function more efficiently.
Part of my licensure as a psychologist requires continuing education in many areas, including nutrition. I recently took an online course with Sally Fisher, M.D., MS. The topic was “An Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle”. In this course, she emphasizes the most recent research on inflammation.
She presented many studies and research showing how inflammatory foods affect most Autism and Parkinson’s Disease symptoms, including depression and anxiety.
The World Health Organization, American Heart Association, American Cancer Association, Global Council on Brain Health all agree with the following:
Eat a nutritious diet based on a variety of foods that originate mainly from plants rather than animal.” – Global Council on Brain Health.
They also agree that adding the following, also helps ease symptoms of inflammation that can worsen symptoms of Autism and Parkinson’s Disease:
In addition to diet, Dr. Diane also recommends Neurofeedback to aid in inflammation.
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