Weight loss in Parkinson’s may cause an early death

Weight loss in Parkinson’s disease sufferers increases their risk of suffering a premature death, dementia and loss of independence, new research reveals.

Although the UK study did not specify why weight loss worsens Parkinson’s patients’ outcomes, previous research has linked it to weakness, low blood pressure and osteoporosis.  

Parkinson’s patients often struggle to maintain their weight due to the condition impacting their sense of smell, which can reduce their appetite, as well their ability to swallow also being affected.

They may also suffer from depression as a result of their illness, which can further lower their desire to eat.

Further research is required to determine if a high-calorie diet can reverse weight loss in Parkinson’s sufferers.  

Weight loss in Parkinson’s disease sufferers increases their risk of suffering a premature death


Obese people are nearly 20 per cent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease (PD), research revealed in June.

Having an obese BMI throughout your life lowers your risk of developing the condition by 18 per cent, a study review found.

This may be be due to the weight disorder sharing genetic variants with factors that protect against the neurological condition, according to researchers from University College London.

Yet, the researchers warn the health risks of carrying excessive weight will likely outweigh any reduced susceptibility to PD.

They said: ‘Although our results suggest that higher BMI is potentially protective against PD, the negative health impacts of raising BMI are likely to be significant, and should be taken into account.’ 

How the research was carried out 

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen analysed 275 Parkinson disease patients, or those suffering from similar tremor-like symptoms, for up to 10 years.

The study’s participants’ weight and disease progression was monitored.

‘Those who lose weight have poorer outcomes’ 

Results reveal weight loss in Parkinson’s disease sufferers increases their risk of a premature death, dementia and loss of independence. 

Weight loss is common in Parkinson’s, particularly in the early stages of the disease.

Lead author Dr Angus MacLeod said: ‘Weight loss is a common problem in Parkinson’s but it wasn’t clear before we did this how common it was, mainly because of biases in previous studies, or what the consequences were of weight loss. 

‘Our hypothesis was that people who are losing weight were going to have adverse outcomes.

‘Our finding that those who lose weight have poorer outcomes is important because reversing weight loss may therefore improve outcomes. 

‘Therefore, it is vital that further research investigate whether e.g. high-calorie diets will improve outcomes in people with Parkinson’s who lose weight.’

Parkinson's patients often have depression, which reduces people's appetite (stock)

Parkinson’s patients often have depression, which reduces people’s appetite (stock)

High-calorie diets may reverse weight-loss effects 

Professor David Dexter, deputy director of research at Parkinson’s UK, which partially funded the study, added: ‘While other studies have demonstrated that weight loss is common in Parkinson’s, this is the first to consider the impact this symptom may have.

‘It has yet to be determined whether this quicker progression can be corrected by supplementation with a high-calorie diet, however this could be a key potential development.’

The findings were published in the journal Neurology. 

Why do Parkinson’s sufferers lose weight?

As well as potential loss of appetite and depression, patients may also have difficulty swallowing solid food.

It may also be difficult for patients to eat due to tremors and rigidity affecting their hands.

In addition, certain Parkinson’s medications cause side effects such as nausea and constipation, which can discourage patients from eating. 

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