chronic illness, diet, memory loss, parkinson's disease, Parkinson's Health

The Need for Vitamin D in PD: By Dr. De Leon

“Them bones…them bones..”

Now that we just spent the last week or so traveling, spending time with family, and of course indulging in that delicious Thanksgiving meal is time to get back to basics especially as winter months approach where days are shorter with fewer hours of sunshine.  Are you getting enough Vitamin D in your diet?

Many recent studies show this essential vitamin to be low or deficient in many of us with chronic illnesses like diabetes, lupus, and of course Parkinson’s disease among others. In fact, as per Archives of Neurology Vitamin D is so compromised in PD patients that roughly 1/2 of the people with PD have  Vitamin D insufficient, while a 1/4 have show a clear deficiency.
[The Endocrine Society
 uses the following guidelines for vitamin D blood levels in adults and children:
Vitamin D deficiency-20ng/ml or less
Vitamin D insufficiency- 21-29ng/ml
Vitamin D sufficiency – 30ng/ml or greater (NL) ]

Thus, if your Vitamin D levels have not been checked recently by your health provider they should be; plus you should have vitamin supplement in your medicine cabinet. The reason for this is not only that most of us with chronic illnesses have a deficiency but even for those of us who are otherwise healthy can’t seem to get enough of it as per recent studies despite being present in many ordinary foods we eat. Some of the reasons for insufficiency despite adequate nutrition is small quantities in food and although we should be able to absorb what we need from the sun rays. It seems many of us at least in this country are not getting enough sunlight perhaps because we have become more indoor and sedentary and when we are outdoors we wear more UV light protective clothing and make up.

So why is Vitamin D such a big deal?

Well I think we all know about its relationship to calcium and strong bones. When its deficient we are more prone to fractures a common problem with PD especially since we are more likely to have falls as disease advances.

Vitamin D is also a key to boosting our immune system and reducing inflammation – this may be one of the crucial treatments in helping those with LLRK2 gene carriers to help with PD symptoms ( still not fully understood role of inflammation in this subtype). another reason to take Vitamin D supplement is the studies which suggest a decrease in blood sugars ( in type 2 diabetics) in those with higher Vitamin D levels. As I have mentioned before, people with PD are more likely to develop insulin resistance due to dopamine replacement which can potentially lead to diabetes; especially in those of us who are already at risk. Thus having a higher level of Vitamin D in your system can lower your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, Vitamin D is also important in memory and fatigue but it does not stop there. Early reports have suggested problems in kidney, nerves, and eyes with low levels.

If you have had gastric bypass, inflammatory bowel disease, have dark skin, are obese, older, or have limited exposure to sun are at an even higher risk of having severe deficiency when compounded with PD.

According to the USDA fatty fish ( e.g. salmon) is a top source as well as eggs (yolks), and liver (beef). many of us believe that milk is an excellent source of calcium although vitamin D fortified in order to get dietary needs met you would have to consume 13 cups daily.

  • The Endocrine Society- recommends 1,500 IU while NIH suggests 600 IU –
  • Look for supplements labeled D3- same as body makes
  • Eat a fat source such as peanut butter, avocado, or egg with supplement to better absorb the vitamin
  • Try to gauge how much vitamin D you need

However, in the end the best way to determine how much supplement you need is by talking to your physician first.



“The Need for Vitamin D”: Diabetic Living. (winter 2016), 56-57.

Devere Ronald, MD FAAN, “Cognitive Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency”, Practical Neurology,Vol. 13, No.1,January/February2014.

“Low Vitamin D levels Associated with Parkinson’s Disease’, Parkinson’s Disease Foundation News & Review, winter 2009

dementia, memory loss, parkinson's awareness month, parkinson's disease, parkinsons dementia, parkinsons health and beauty tips, parkinsons y tratamientos, sleep disorders in parkinson's

The Conundrum of PD: Are Memory Problems due to Disease, Medications or Both?: By Dr. De Leon

The Conundrum of PD: Are Memory Problems due to Disease, Medications or Both?: By Dr. De Leon.

memory loss, parkinson's awareness month, parkinson's disease, parkinsons dementia, parkinsons health and beauty tips, sleep disorders in parkinson's

The Conundrum of PD: Are Memory Problems due to Disease, Medications or Both?: By Dr. De Leon

“Understanding (PD) is like trying to put together a puzzle with pieces that don’t fit” -Dave Guerrero.

puzzle brain

Cognitive problems and memory loss issues is one of those symptoms of PD which seem to plague all of us from day one whether we are patients or caregivers.

The thing we must first remember is that dementia is defined as loss of previously acquired skills e.g. washing dishes, cooking, driving etc. Parkinson’s dementia does not occur in typically until late stages. This means that patients would have had a diagnosis and symptoms of Parkinson’s for over 10-15 years before dementia sets in. If anyone has symptoms of dementia present earlier than this than chances are the disease they have is not typical, common garden variety Parkinson’s but a variant which could include things like PD plus syndromes (MSA, CBGD, LBD) or another dementia disorder such as FTD or Alzheimer’s and PD as well as other neurological diseases that can have parkinsonism, like strokes. Having said this, all patients notice a change in their cognition from the very beginning of the disease even before motor symptoms are noticeable.

Does this mean there is dementia? No!

The usual symptoms I am referring to that patients commonly experience are related to personality such as getting more irritable, short tempered, anxious and depressed. Sometimes, we as patients may not realize these subtle changes like increase impatience; but those close to us notice and may call it to our attention or become aware of these changes before we do. At the onset of my PD,  I began to notice increased irritability and frustration especially when working at the office which I could not understand since I was the queen of multitasking. I was NOT alone in my perception my staff of many years also noticed a change in my personality that was out of character for me and something was wrong! Fortunately, this symptom improves with treatment. But, is one of the first signs of PD in most people and if not careful can go untreated for years.

Second, all Parkinson’s medications can cause cognitive changes usually in the form of brain fogginess, sedation, trouble with word finding, and depression which can cause forgetfulness. This is why is imperative to make only one medication change at a time and follow up with your doctor shortly after every new medication change to evaluate outcome and most importantly tolerability. Be on the lookout for cognitive problems due to medications, these symptoms will come on within a week of staring new medicine typically and will aggravate or worsen after each dose intake within a few hours and last as long as medication Effect lasts. This is why it is important to pay attention to medicines and a keep chart of times and effects of all medicines and talk to your doctor if you notice cognitive changes. But be sure, not make changes or discontinue regimen without first discussing with your physician.

Third, because PD usually affects mood as in depression as well as sleep, as in restless leg (RLS), sleep apnea, REM behavior, these if not properly treated can by themselves cause memory loss usually in the form of poor concentration which leads to short term memory loss because one cannot encode information into long term when not paying attention due to being tired, sleepy or fatigued, plus it is through deep sleep that our brain processes all information and makes long term memories.

Fourth, just as our bodies become slow so do our brains in retrieving information, pulling and opening the file cabinets where information is stored can be difficult. It does not mean is lost simply means that takes a little longer. Solution increasing dopa and mental exercises-

Fifth, however after a number of years as PD advances, up to 50 % of patients have a chance of developing PD dementia which is characterized by  psychiatric tones like delusions, psychosis, hallucinations (visual) along with apathy and pronounced forgetfulness. Treat with Acadia; anticholinesterase (e.g. Aricept, Exelon); Provigil (among other stimulants); Namenda as well as antipsychotics (Clozaril).

In my experience as a Parkinson’s doctor, patient, and caregiver the overwhelming problems with memory in the majority of PD patients, unless they are end -stage  disease beginning to hallucinate becoming apathetic which are signs of early dementia setting in, are a combination of  Parkinson’s disease itself  as well as medication (usually not enough). The result of insufficient dopa in the brain as well as not properly treating and addressing non- motor symptoms which interfere with concentration is poor memory. Thus, long term memory appears impaired because the majority of PD patients are sleepy, depressed, under-  and- over -medicated, as well as fatigued. Early recognition of all non- motor symptoms of PD which includes side effects of medications as well as early detection of PD dementia is key, after all even the hardest puzzles have a solution.

Finally, I recommend every patient have a baseline MMSE (mini mental status exam) or Mocha test followed by every year unless symptoms of forgetfulness and apathy or other sings of forgetfulness arise. If depression is significant and can’t tell if memory problems are due to depression or early onset of dementia recommend Neuropsychiatric evaluation. If a person has profound depression unresponsive to meds consider ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) which works great.

The basic understanding of the various puzzle pieces which make up memory and cognitive changes in PD along with the correct treatment will lead to improved quality of life along with decrease chances for nursing home placement or prolonged hospitalizations.