Parkinson's Disease and Sugar Intake: What the Research Says
10 min read

Parkinson's Disease and Sugar Intake: What the Research Says

When we’re young most of us want to believe we are invincible and that nothing will take us down as we age. Unfortunately, things happen and our health can be compromised by the many diseases that are more common now than they used to be just 50 years ago. Parkinson's Disease is one of those diseases that is becoming more and more prominent in our modern society, however there are diet and lifestyle factors that everyone can start incorporating into their lives to help prevent and minimize their risks.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

As we age our bodies naturally age with us which can lead to changes in our health, memory loss, and an increased risk for certain diseases that can slowly creep their way into our lives long term. 

Parkinson’s Disease is a disease that at this moment has no cure and is a long-term diagnosis. It is a disease that impacts the central nervous system which causes those impacted by the disease to lose control over the movements (either uncontrollable and unintended movements) such as shaking, tremors, poor balance, loss of coordination, stiffness, or inability to move at all.

The disease specifically impacts the basal ganglia nerve cells located in the brain that control movements of the body. These basal ganglia cells start to break down and die which leads to changes in hormonal and neurotransmitter activity leading to the slow progression of movement problems over time.1

The link between sugar intake and Parkinson’s Disease 

By now it's no secret that eating processed foods high in refined sugars contribute little benefit to our health as increased sugar consumption can negatively impact our health both short term and long term. Sugar can be found in almost every packaged good in the grocery store including breads, ketchup and other condiments, nut butter, salad dressing, cereal and all the sweets you typically find sugar in so it's easy to overdo it if you aren't paying attention.

Sugar intake and Parkinson’s Disease has been getting a lot of attention lately and for a good reason. A recent study found that people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease often consume much more processed sugars than those without the disease.2 It has been suggested that carbohydrates and sweets, through insulin, may increase brain dopamine levels as a way to cope with the disease-related dopamine loss.3 Over time, a diet high in carbohydrates with a high glycemic index are associated with increased incidence of inflammation, insulin resistance and diabetes which are potential factors contributing to progressive neurodegeneration in Parkinson's Disease.

How sugar increases inflammation 

As previously mentioned briefly in the last section inflammation is a major factor in the development of Parkinson’s Disease and the amount of sugar consumed plays an important role here when it comes to controlling the body's inflammatory response.

It has been shown that excessive intake of dietary sugars can cause metabolic disorders and contribute to the increase of inflammatory markers and pro-inflammatory cytokines in various tissues, which leads to insulin resistance and low-grade chronic inflammation.4 This low grade chronic inflammation may be from the factors secreted by adipose tissue, inflammatory factors secreted by liver tissue, or increased intestinal permeability associated with higher intakes of sugar, which may eventually lead to the development of certain diseases, like Parkinson's Disease.5  

Sugar has the ability to stimulate the production of free fatty acids within the liver. When the body digests these free fatty acids, the resulting compounds can trigger inflammatory processes as well.  Therefore, the association between high sugar intake and increased risk of chronic disease may be caused by low-grade chronic inflammation.

How inflammation plays a role in Parkinson’s Disease

While the onset of Parkinson’s Disease is ​​slow and can start to occur before any symptoms appear, the underlying cause(s) of the nerve cells within the brain remain unknown. There are however risk factors that have shown to play a role in the development of the disease including genetic predisposition, exposure to environmental toxins, pesticides, heavy metals, and bacterial or viral infections are all factors.6 These risk factors are all closely associated with increased inflammation throughout the body including inflammation in the brain, known as neuroinflammation. 

Neuroinflammation plays a crucial role in the development and progression of Parkinson’s Disease as over-activated microglia and astrocytes (types of cells found in the central nervous system) have been shown to release a number of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are molecules that actively increase inflammation.6

Sugar and the brain (dopamine levels) 

Our brains love sugar! Did you know that sugar is the main fuel source for our brain? Glucose, a form of sugar, is the primary source of energy for every cell in the body and because the brain is so rich in cells, also known as neurons, it is the most energy-demanding organ, using one-half of all the sugar energy in the body.

Although the brain needs glucose, too much of this energy source can be a bad thing.

When we eat sweet foods the brain’s reward system known as the mesolimbic dopamine system is activated. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released by neurons in the brain making you feel good, which reinforces that what you just did (eat something sweet) is good. Dopamine “hits” from eating sugar promote rapid learning to prefer more of these sweet foods.

When we are constantly consuming sugar, and are causing a constant stimulation of dopamine receptors, these receptors start to produce less and less dopamine at a time (because there is not time to make much more), causing an increase in sugar cravings and harder swings from happy to depression.7 

The importance of managing blood sugar levels 

For those who do not have diabetes the common person isn't typically tracking their blood sugar levels throughout the day as they can trust their body to do a pretty good job at keeping their blood sugar in a maintained range. However managing and tracking blood sugar levels can benefit everyone! Whether you have diabetes or not. 

What will surprise people once they start tracking their blood sugar is how much it can go up and down throughout the day which is less than ideal for long term health. What people should strive for is a fairly stable blood sugar level throughout the day as this can help regulate energy, mood and hunger. The body regulates blood glucose levels so that they remain relatively stable: enough glucose to fuel the cells, but not too high where it would overload the blood. After eating, levels rise and then settle after about an hour. They are at their lowest point before the first meal of the day.

To help regulate your blood sugar levels throughout the day

  • Eat at consistent times and avoid skipping meals
  • Drink water throughout the day (it helps your kidneys flush out any excess sugar through urine)
  • Focus on balancing meals to include a protein, fat, and carb (fiber rich) source 

It is important to eat meals with the goal to support your blood sugar levels as long-term, unmonitored (or poorly monitored) blood glucose can cause health problems like: Kidney disease, vision loss, heart disease, stroke, diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), and worsen already present health problems.

How to reduce sugar intake

Our brains (and tummies) love sugar and companies know this all too well as 90% of all packaged goods on the market these days contain some form of sugar. So how does one go about actually reducing their sugar intake? This may sound like a bigger challenge than it actually is, so don't worry! Here are a few ways you can easily reduce your sugar intake without sacrificing your favorite foods!

  • Check the food/ingredient labels first and foremost: The first step in reducing sugar intake is to learn the names of various types of sugar that you may come across on food labels such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, molasses, cane sugar, tapioca syrup, dextrose and many others.
  • Choose whole foods: think cooking from scratch here! Your best bet is to eat foods that don't even contain ingredient labels, that is, whole, natural foods like whole fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, eggs, beans, lean meats, fish and dairy products.
  • Reduce your sugar sweetened beverage intake: try water, unsweetened tea or coffee, 100% juices, sparkling water, or seltzer. Many sodas and energy/sports drinks have no-sugar versions as well.
  • Swap your sugar for other sources of sweeteners when baking: Instead of the full-sugar versions, try your favorite recipes with alternative ingredients.

Low sugar alternatives

It may be difficult to sort through all the sugar alternatives on the market these days but finding a sugar alternative that satisfies your sweet tooth without compromising your health is becoming easier and easier with several options to choose from!

When looking for lower sugar alternatives look for natural low sugar alternatives to get the most nutritional value from your choices! Popular low sugar substitutes include stevia, erythritol, monk fruit extract, and xylitol. These options are all low calorie, natural, sugar free alternatives to your favorite sweeteners. Some other options that can replace white sugar in most recipes would be to replace them with mashed banana, applesauce or less processed sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup. While these options are a bit higher in sugar they provide other beneficial nutrients that contribute to a healthy diet such as fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidant properties to help fight inflammation.

Looking for products like Keto Foods products in the grocery store that include these natural low sugar alternatives are a great way to satisfy any sweet tooth without hindering any attempt to monitor or regulate sugar intake. 


  1. Parkinson's disease: Causes, symptoms, and treatments. National Institute on Aging.'s%20disease%20is%20a%20brain,have%20difficulty%20walking%20and%20talking. Accessed January 29, 2023. 
  2. Palavra NC, Lubomski M, Flood VM, Davis RL, Sue CM. Increased added sugar consumption is common in parkinson's disease. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2021;8. doi:10.3389/fnut.2021.628845 
  3. Cassani E, Barichella M, Ferri V, et al. Dietary habits in parkinson's disease: Adherence to mediterranean diet. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders. 2017;42:40-46. doi:10.1016/j.parkreldis.2017.06.007 
  4. Haas J, Berg D, Bosy-Westphal A, Schaeffer E. Parkinson’s disease and sugar intake—reasons for and consequences of a still unclear craving. Nutrients. 2022;14(15):3240. doi:10.3390/nu14153240 
  5. Troncoso-Escudero, P., Parra, A., Nassif, M. & Vidal, R. L. Outside in: Unraveling the role of neuroinflammation in the progression of Parkinson's disease. Frontiers in Neurology 9, 860 (2018).
  6. Palavra NC, Lubomski M, Flood VM, Davis RL, Sue CM. Increased added sugar consumption is common in parkinson's disease. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2021;8. doi:10.3389/fnut.2021.628845 
  7. Knüppel A, Shipley MJ, Llewellyn CH, Brunner EJ. Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: Prospective findings from the Whitehall II Study. Scientific Reports. 2017;7(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7 
  8. Bjarnadottir A. The 56 most common names for sugar. Healthline. Published June 26, 2020. Accessed January 29, 2023. 


  • A recent study found that people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease often consume much more processed sugars than those without the disease.
  • Excessive intake of dietary sugars can cause metabolic disorders and contribute to the increase of inflammatory markers and pro-inflammatory cytokines in various tissues, which leads to insulin resistance and low-grade chronic inflammation.

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