Part one: Does a so-called ‘balanced diet’ really exist?
(First in a multi-part look at PD, food and food supplements)
Being human puts unique stress on our requirements for nutrients that are essential to our health, but why do we need so many different nutrients? The simplest way to answer that question is to look back into the murky waters of billions of years ago when life slowly evolved from less than 1-celled bacterium into ever-more complex combinations of cells and as it got more complex so life needed greater numbers of amino acids, vitamins, minerals etc. in order to thrive and develop further. Basic life-forms took in nutrients from the water they lived in and synthesized vitamins and amino acids etc. to build themselves, but the drawback here is this ties up cell functions and so limited creatures adaptability.
Along the way creatures successfully grew more complex and part of the reason for this was giving up synthesizing nutrients that already existed in their environment, in effect freeing-up cell functions to do other things. Fast-forward in time to today and we as humans require a lot of different nutrients to function optimally: More than cats and dogs for example. They synthesize vitamin c in their bodies like most animals so they don’t need to eat fruits or vegetables to get it. On the other hand, because fruit bats live on fruit they have evolved like us to having to get it from their diet; after all, why waste resources to make it when you are already eating plenty of it? This proves that we evolved in places where vegetables and/or fruit were available for us to eat (or does it? Maybe not!), and depending on genetics and/or poor health individual variations in the amounts we need can be vast.
For example, in the world of human nutrition there seems to be a fascination with the R.D.I (reference daily intake) also called the R.D.A (recommended daily allowance). Whatever we call it we can easily raise doubts over the figures these lists produce. We are told ‘Take so many milligrams of this vitamin and that mineral per day and it will satisfy our bodies needs and keep us healthy as possible’. Really? So a 100 kg (15 and a half stone) manual labourer humping bricks up to the bricklayers on a building site needs A, B and C per day and these amounts are the same as suggested to a 45kg (7 stone) retired granny who sits all day and lives a totally sedentary lifestyle. It is obvious that 2 such contrasting physiques and lifestyles would require radically different amounts of protein, fats, vitamins etc. in order to function properly. Yes I know some RDI lists vary the intakes based on differences in age, gender, lifestyle etc. but generally the variances are not significant enough to adequately cover the differences.
Consider this: If we can only stay healthy if we eat our ‘5-a-day’ fruits and vegetables, how did humans survive a series of ice-ages that our planet went through? When there are no fruits or vegetables to be found and everywhere is deep in snow and ice you have to do as the Inuit did, namely live on whales, polar bears, seals, fish etc. or in the Arctic circle deer provided food and clothing. Despite eating huge amounts of fat and protein and almost zero carbohydrates (sugar, rice, cereals, pasta, bread, starchy tubers such as potato etc.)these olde-worlde Eskimos thrived and their bodies adapted over countless generations to be short and thick-set i.e. less surface area relative to body mass reduces heat loss from the body. Several decades ago an explorer called Stefansson lived with Eskimos for 18 years eating the above diet: No carbs, no fruits or vegetables and his health was good with no cholesterol problems when he came back to ‘civilization’ and was thoroughly checked out by doctors.
On the opposite side of the coin look at the African plains-dwellers called the Maasai. They are exposed to hot sun all day all-year round so their bodies are very tall and thin – no good in the Antarctic but great for losing more body
heat and preventing heat stroke. Basketball fans see the descendants of tribes like the Maasai that were taken to the USA many years ago – a long time in human years but a very short time in evolutionary time, hence these basketball players grow up to possess that tall thin body. Maasai still live as nomads in Africa and eat things like milk with blood mixed in (bleeding their cattle but not to the point of death).
While we are on this theme of diversity in diets, if we could visit every country in the world we would see that each has its own ‘cuisine’ and a ‘balanced diet’ is different in every one of them. Scandinavian and extreme northern countries live on high fat and protein diets, temperate zone countries eat more carbohydrates and even (in the case of religions such as Hinduism) vegetarian
diets. Some countries like France eat a lot of dairy products and drink wine while others like Japan have a population that generally find these items almost indigestible. In fact, the vast majority of black and far eastern races cannot digest dairy products once they become adults as they lose the enzymes needed to do the job. So, across the globe we see the truth of the old adages ‘different strokes for different folks’ and ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’.
I think it’s fair to say that those doctors who tell us ‘supplements etc. are a waste of money, just eat a balanced diet and you will get all you need’ are
assuming we are all the same. Well, it ain’t that simple! By now you must be saying ‘ where does Parkinson’s come into it?’ The point of all the above examples is to get you thinking about your own diet and to recognise that medical science is based on the premise that we are all human and therefore are biologically the same. This is true enough and makes it possible to understand and treat many illnesses successfully, but if we look at Parkinson’s, it is also true to say that we are all different and no 2 parky people exhibit exactly the same symptoms or rate of progression. Also there is a significant difference between young-onset (anywhere up to 60 years of age) and elderly-onset. Dr. Nelson Ho (now retired himself) was a Parkinson’s geriatrician and his years of experience showed that young-onset have a wider variety of symptoms, progression is faster and reaction to specific treatments is more variable. Because progression is faster in PD ‘young’ people it is more of a ‘moving-target’ requiring changes to medications, dosages etc. on a more frequent basis.
Okay friends, if you have stuck with me this far you probably are now saying ‘what do you recommend to eat to parky people then?’ Come back for part 2 of this article and I will tell you about various things that I (and others) have tried and the logic behind these choices. Am I a food fanatic that only eats the ‘right’ foods? NO! I like all kinds of foods and living on a puritanical diet is to miss out one of the great pleasures in life. Also, whatever I talk about food-wise please remember these are from my experiences and a few other parky people – I would strongly suggest that if you experiment with your diet that you get blood tests done by your doctor to make sure that you are benefiting for real and not just the infamous ‘Placebo’ effect!
See you in part 2!
[…] In this first follow-on from Parkinson’s and nutrition: Essentials and basics to maximise health, I had a little think (whoa boy!) and decided to address some of the lesser-discussed problems in nutrition and try to explain why it can be tricky designing studies that give us contradictory outcomes (you know, from month to month scientists tell us which foods are bad for us then decide they are the best thing since sliced bread as the foodie saying goes). For those of you who have not seen the article mentioned above here is a link to it: https://eastmidlands-rsn.org/2017/06/13/parkinsons-and-nutrition-essentials-and-basics-to-maximise-h…/ […]