Does Parkinson\’s Cause Weight Gain?

It’s a common misconception that people with Parkinson’s disease (aka “the palsy”) are always at risk of weight gain. In fact, there are many cases where patients have lost weight — sometimes a lot — despite the disease.

Here’s the real deal. While there are certainly some commonalities between Parkinson’s and obesity, the two are definitely not synonymous. To wit:

  • People with Parkinson’s tend to have slower metabolisms than average. This can contribute to weight loss.
  • Many Parkinson’s medications deplete dopamine, the chemical that gives the brain its ‘go-go-go’ feeling. Dopamine is also responsible for converting food into energy, which is why people with Parkinson’s sometimes lose weight even when they eat more than usual.
  • Certain types of essential oils can increase satiety while decreasing hunger, thus aiding weight loss. Unfortunately, these oils are generally highly concentrated and highly flammable, so using them in excess can cause significant burns and even explosions.
  • Certain herbs and spices such as ginger can speed up the metabolism and promote weight loss. However, they are also effective in increasing pain thresholds, so you need to use extreme caution when taking them.
  • Thrifty individuals with Parkinson’s often find themselves in a position where they have to choose between food and medicine. It’s no secret that the former is typically cheaper than the latter, which is why so many low-income families with Parkinson’s in the United States are at risk of malnutrition.

Hopefully, this article will help to disprove the myth that people with Parkinson’s are forced to suffer from weight gain. On the bright side, many professionals are now realizing the significance that psychology plays in weight management, and are accordingly devoting more time to helping their patients understand and cope with various types of eating disorders.

Paleo Versus Low Carbohydrate

In the context of Parkinson’s disease, ‘paleo’ and ‘low carb’ are not exactly the same as they are in the context of weight loss. However, there is a lot of crossover in terms of what works for which patients. To wit:

  • Paleo is the traditional form of eating for people with Parkinson’s. It focuses on unprocessed food and avoids foods that are too refined. While it’s a common misconception that people with Parkinson’s are unable to digest gluten (a wheat protein), many can benefit from a paleo diet. This is because gluten is only toxic in large amounts, and humans don’t generally eat in such large amounts anyway. Thus, eliminating it from your diet can prevent many health problems including osteoporosis, joint pain, and insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes).
  • You should also know that some people with Parkinson’s have reported that a low-carb diet helped them to lose weight. The main reason behind this is that low carbs decrease the production of dopamine, the chemical responsible for pleasure. Dopamine is commonly depleted as a result of the disease, and people with depleted dopamine are less likely to want to eat. In contrast, increasing dopamine is known to increase one’s appetite. This is why doctors generally recommend a diet high in fat and protein for patients with Parkinson’s, not exactly the “thin slice of paradise” as the phrase goes.
  • Paleo diets have also been shown to increase the lifespan of mice, even when it comes to treating obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Many scientists believe that this is because a paleo diet improves health by decreasing inflammation, decreasing insulin resistance, and increasing the body’s natural defenses against various diseases.
  • A 2018 study from Australia’s Hunter Medical Research Institute found that participants who followed a low carb diet for 12 weeks lost more weight and showed greater reductions in biochemical parameters associated with diabetes than those on a conventional diet.
  • In a similar study from the United Kingdom, following a low carb diet for 12 weeks resulted in significant reductions in both weight and hemoglobin A1c (a marker for blood glucose levels) compared to a control group that continued to eat the same amount of carbohydrates. This suggests that low carb diets could be used proactively to prevent type 2 diabetes and various other conditions associated with the disease.

What About Microwaves?

This will undoubtedly be a hot topic amongst people with Parkinson’s, as many have tried, and often failed, to lose weight with microwave ovens. While the mechanism behind the obesity epidemic is complex, there is good reason to believe that microwave ovens might play a role in it. To wit:

  • Research suggests that microwaves might decrease satiety and increase hunger, thus making it easier for people to overeat. This is particularly troublesome in the context of someone with Parkinson’s, as they are already at greater risk of malnutrition due to their disease. If you ask me, microwave ovens are one of the worst inventions ever created. I don’t know any dieting pros who would give them serious consideration, as they can be extremely dangerous to use indiscriminately
  • There are, however, times where a microwave is the only way to go. Consider making a sandwich with zero carbs once you’ve exhausted all of your other options. Otherwise, you are going to be resorting to eating cardboard all day long. Believe it or not, there is still a place in this world where microwave ovens are considered a luxury.
  • Speaking of cardboard, eating a mostly raw food diet can also cause you to lose weight. This is due to the fiber that you are eating. When your body doesn’t have enough carbs to burn for energy, it will start conserving calories, and you will start dropping pounds. Avoid highly processed foods, and you will most certainly start dropping pounds without even trying.
  • Inevitably, as one ages, one becomes less capable of burning calories as effectively as one once was. This is why as one gets older, weight tends to pile on. To combat this, it is beneficial to keep moving as much as possible. This will help increase your metabolism, and make it easier for you to stay at your desired weight. Even simple things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can help. Sitting down for too long can also cause you to put on weight, as can resting during the day. It’s all about staying active and keeping moving. This will help decrease the amount of time it takes for your body to process food, thus facilitating weight loss.
  • Certain essential oils including lavender and peppermint are known to help decrease anxiety and depression, two of the most common causes of obesity. While it is unlikely that these oils will be able to prevent obesity on their own, they may be able to help some people lose weight by decreasing their anxiety and depression. This often leads to an increase in appetite, and thus promotes weight loss.

In conclusion, people with Parkinson’s are not necessarily at greater risk of obesity. In fact, there are many cases where they have lost weight despite the disease. The misconception that they’re always at risk of weight gain is mostly due to the disease’s common association with decreased appetite and metabolism. This is why doctors generally recommend a diet high in fat and protein for patients with Parkinson’s — as long as you are not overeating, it should not be a problem.