Author: Kathrynne HoldenPublished: 26 January 2017
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In her latest nutrition article, former National Parkinson Foundation dietician Kathrynne Holden, explains the benefits of vitamin B3 – also known as niacin – for people with young-onset Parkinson’s
Vitamin B3, or niacin, is one of the vitamins needed for human life. While it is necessary for everyone, it may have added value for people with inherited Parkinson’s disease.
In a recent research study from the University of Leicester, scientists examined the effect of niacin-rich foods on fruit flies. The flies had a genetic mutation similar to the one in people with hereditary Parkinson’s disease. They learned that the high-niacin food prevented the degeneration of neurons in the brains of the flies.
What does this mean for people with Parkinson’s disease?
We can’t assume that an animal study will apply to humans. About 75% of the DNA in fruit flies is the same as human DNA, so although flies are good research subjects, the study results are not conclusive.
However, it is still possible that niacin-rich foods could benefit people with Parkinson’s disease. As niacin is already being used in cancer studies, and in treating strokes, we can trust that increasing high-niacin foods in our diet will be safe, and may be therapeutic. It is important to note that the research indicates that natural, food-based sources of niacin/vitamin B3 are preferable, rather than supplement tablets.
How much niacin/vitamin B3 do we need daily?
The recommended daily amount (RDA) of vitamin B3 for adults is 16mg for men and 14mg for women. There is no risk of excess or toxicity from foods. However, with use of supplement tablets there is an upper limit of 35mg per day for adults. Very high doses of supplements can cause a burning sensation in the skin of the face and chest, and can increase histamine in people with allergies. Another factor to be aware of is that some people with Parkinson’s disease have orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure) and vitamin B3 supplements can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
Which foods are high in vitamin B3?
High-protein foods are the richest in vitamin B3. We must consider that people using levodopa may be sensitive to protein, and, if so, will need to carefully time medications and meals, so that the levodopa is absorbed into the bloodstream ahead of protein in the meal.
By combining servings of high-protein foods with grains, vegetables, pulses and fruits you can be certain to get plenty of vitamin B3 in your daily menu. Below is a one-day meal plan that’s high in vitamin B3.
Morning meal 1 cup cooked barley cereal with milk or milk alternative 3.2mg
1 slice whole wheat bread, toasted with butter 1.3mg
1 banana 0.67mg
Juice, milk, coffee or tea as desired
Midday meal Tuna sandwich
(with canned tuna and two slices whole wheat bread 9.6mg
Coleslaw or lettuce salad
Beverage of choice
The day’s menu exceeds the RDA for both men and women, yet is well below the upper limit of 35mg. Whether you are living with Parkinson’s or not, this is a healthy day’s menu, with a variety of foods, and ample vitamin B3.
‘Shakshuka’ is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions
Regular exercise may slow progression of early Parkinson’s disease symptoms
A research team in Japan has suggested that around four hours of weekly moderate exercise is associated with a better clinical course of early-stage Parkinson’s. Their study, published in ‘Neurology’, drew on data from 237 people with the condition, whose symptoms were monitored over a period of up to six years. The research showed that people who were regularly active for at least one to two hours, one or two days a week, were better able to maintain daily activities than those who exercised less – and even experienced a “slower deterioration of processing speed”. The researchers highlighted that these benefits stemmed from maintaining regular exercise over time, rather than levels of activity at the onset of the condition. They added that their findings “suggest it may never be too late for someone with Parkinson’s to start an exercise programme”.
Could traumatic brain injury accelerate the onset of Parkinson’s disease?
Undergoing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) – a sudden injury that damages the brain – may be linked to Parkinson’s onset at an earlier age, new research suggests. The study, led by researchers in the US, examined data from the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Centre (NACC) database and assessed whether TBI was associated with age of disease onset, survival and the degeneration of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain. They found that while there was no significant association with age of death or greater impact on dopamine-producing nerve cells, results showed that TBI was linked to a 4.9-year earlier age of Parkinson’s onset. Reflecting on the results, the researchers wrote that traumatic brain injury “appears to accelerate Parkinson’s onset without altering age of death”. However, the researchers also cautioned that “the nature of this relationship remains unclear”.
NASA astronaut who lived with Parkinson’s disease has died
“When I got diagnosed with Parkinson’s I thought it was over,” US astronaut Michael “Rich” Clifford once said, in a webcast conversation with Parkinson’s expert Dr Ray Dorsey. But when US space agency NASA offered him another opportunity to board a space shuttle, despite the onset of Parkinson’s symptoms, he didn’t hesitate. “And it was as easy as that.” Now, nearly 30 years since his final venture into space, Clifford has died due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He leaves a legacy of three journeys into space, several awards for his services to the space programme – including the NASA Space Flight Medal – and a history of advocacy for people with Parkinson’s. In a 2013 conversation with the Michael J Fox Foundation, Clifford said: “Everyone with Parkinson’s handles it differently. Don’t let it get in the way of living. “Life is too good. Keep going. The sky’s the limit.” Image credit:…