Christine Ferguson’s interest in nutrition started early in her UA academic career and blossomed into a niche research area based on a personal connection. And while Ferguson had big aspirations for her future, she never imagined her expertise would lead to a pivotal role in providing dietary guidelines endorsed by a national nonprofit founded by one of Hollywood’s most recognized actors.
Ferguson, a two-time UA graduate who is working on her doctorate in human nutrition, recently reviewed the latest dietary guidelines supported by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
“A Parkinson’s patient’s diet is incredibly important because there are numerous nutrition interactions not only in the neurological progression of the disease’s symptoms, but also in the effectiveness of a patient’s medication,” said Ferguson.
When the Northport native was a UA freshman, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. As time went on, she became fascinated by the role nutrition plays in a person’s ailment.
“I’ve had family members who had chronic diseases and they were able to improve their quality of life or reduce their medication by simply making adjustments to their diet,” said Ferguson. “That really sparked my interest when I was an undergraduate.”
One of those family members was her husband’s grandmother who has Parkinson’s disease. Because of the connection, Ferguson decided to write her master’s degree thesis on the role of nutrition in Parkinson’s patients.
“My thesis was on Parkinson’s disease and dietary supplement use, and it gave me a glimpse into that particular health behavior and opened the door to this area of research,” said Ferguson. “I discovered that while there is great research being done related to Parkinson’s, there isn’t a lot when it comes to the disease and nutrition. The subject has definitely developed into a passion of mine.”
Thanks to her research into this niche area, Ferguson was invited to speak at the Parkinson Association of Alabama’s symposium last September. Through word-of-mouth from someone in attendance, she was contacted by the creator of the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s diet guide and asked to help review the organization’s latest guide.
“Working with the foundation on its new diet guide was a really cool opportunity and something I was glad to be part of,” said Ferguson.
According to the guide, there isn’t one particular diet for those with Parkinson’s disease. However, doctors recommend foods that are rich in antioxidants and contain whole grains and healthy fats. These foods can affect how well an individual’s medication works and ease some of the disease’s movement-related symptoms.
Ferguson, who is also a registered dietitian, expects to graduate with her doctoral degree in May 2021. Although her plans after graduation aren’t set in stone, Ferguson would like to continue her research related to Parkinson’s, as well as other neurological diseases, through a postdoctoral opportunity and then as a faculty member at a university.