Updated: Dec 25, 2022
The December holiday season should mean downtime. However for people with Parkinson's we dread down or rather 'off' time.
The dopamine switch
'On' and 'Off' refer to the switching off or slowing down of motor and non - motor functions in the body due to the tablet form of dopamine known as Levodopa running out between medication doses. These 'on' and 'off' episodes are a key cause of symptom fluctuations in Parkinson's.
Depending on how early your Parkinson's has been diagnosed you may or may not notice this phenomenon. It is very subtle at first and over time can become more pronounced. People can notice that they become more rigid and slow in their movements. Maybe they cannot type as fast, or put on their mascara, or button their childs coat. Or maybe they need to run to the toilet more often, or their voice gets lower or maybe they feel more foggy in the brain, or feel low or forgetful.
Medication timing is key
Timing of medication can affect the amount of symptom fluctuations you experience. Your neurologist will have advised a certain timing in between your levodopa medication doses.
With the busyness of the festive period, one needs to keep track of your medication timing. Keep a reminder on your watch or phone. You can keep your medication close by keeping your medication in a container in your handbag or by using a medication keyring. Be sure to bring a bottle of water wherever you go to enable you to take your medication on time.
Watch the turkey overdose
Often people are told to take their levodopa medication 30 minutes before a meal or 1-2 hours after a meal. If your meal contains protein foods such as meat, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, pulses and dairy foods - these are broken down into amino acids by your gut. These amino acids travel from your gut to your brain where they cross into your brain from your blood stream. Unfortunately, your levodopa medication also travels from your gut and crosses your brain at the same point as your amino acids from your protein foods.
This means that less or none of your levodopa gets across into your brain. This may mean your symptoms may be worse than usual or you don't turn 'on' as much as you usually do. So one has to be mindful of days like Christmas Day for example where people are eating large breakfasts with a lot of meats, followed by a large turkey dinner and then a helping of ham sandwiches for supper!
So if you suffer with a lot of 'offs' or fluctutaions, then you may want to be aware of your protein portion sizes over the festive season and the timing of your levodopa medication.
Keep the gut moving
Many people with Parkinson's suffer with constipation. It is important to get enough fibre and fluid in to keep the gut moving daily as it helps your gut absorb your levodopa medication. Ensure you are getting your 7+ servings of fruit and vegetables in on a daily basis. This could be a grilled tomatoes and asparagus with your breakfast, plenty of mixed vegetables with your turkey dinner and then a lovely vegetable soup for supper. Try having some fruit servings instead of all the chocolate that might be on offer and making a fruit based dessert. In addition try to eat more wholegrains such as wholegrain breads, wholegrain pasta or wholegrain rice rather than just potatoes or white bread over the holidays.
Keep on Moving
Unfortunately Parkinson's does not know its the festive season and so although the temptation is to hibernate it is important to keep moving. Exercise in December can become difficult as the days get shorter (for some), the busyness of the season and the fatigue of the year end. It can also be tough on mood due to the lower level of sunlight for some and also for some it is a time of loss. Exercise can help lift your mood by firing your neurotransmitters including dopamine. So try to keep to an exercise routine, even if you have to pare it back slightly.
Manage your cravings
Sugar cravings can be hard to manage over the festive season when you are surrounded by cakes, biscuits and large sweet tins. Parkinson's loves sugary foods as it triggers dopamine. Unfortunately, though it might give a temporary boost, it can bring you crashing down. In addition, too much sugar is not good for the body in general and in particular for heart health or those suffering pre-diabetes or diabetes. You can check out our cravings e-book for help managing your cravings over the festive period.
Whilst Vitamin C can help the immune system, there is another Vitamin C which is good for your immune system this festive seasion. That is Vitamin Connection. Parkinson's does not do well in isolation. So keep connected with friends and family over the festive period. And if you are invited out or someone offers to visit, take them up on the offer. Connection boosts your dopamine and will help your symptoms.
So on that note, we sign off for a festive break full neighbours, friends and family, walks out in the daylight and lots of healthy food ...but don't forget it is the silly season so you are allowed to indulge a little...just don't let it go on too long!