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Low-protein diet boosts treatment

In patients with Parkinson's disease, the brain's dopamine-secreting neurons inexorably die off. The most common treatment to combat the tremors, slowness, and rigidity in these patients is a dopamine precursor called levodopa. But the drug's effects can decrease over time, causing a person to cycle between "on" periods of low symptoms and "off" periods of high, often-debilitating, symptoms.

A research team in Italy reports that lowering the protein content in a patient's diet can improve levodopa therapy and reduce off periods.

Researchers know that protein affects the movement of levodopa into the brain: Too little protein results in too much medication too fast, causing involuntary, jerking muscle movements. Too much protein results in too little levodopa acting against tremors and other Parkinson's symptoms.

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