Parkinson's Linked to Gut Bacteria

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez RN

The cause of Parkinson’s disease continues to evade scientists. Everything from pesticides to environmental toxins have been cited as potential causes. Could we we looking in the wrong places?

Perhaps so, if you consider the results of this latest study. Scientists have found that the gut could be involved in the development of Parkinson’s disease.

The results were published in the journal Annals of Neurology.

Vagus Nerve Surgery Halved the Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease develops when the brain loses cells that produce dopamine. Consequently, balance, walking, and coordination are affected. One symptom that is often overlooked is constipation.

For the study, scientists analyzed a population of almost 15,000 people who had vagus nerve surgery. The vagus nerve conducts impulses between the gut and the brain. The nervous system associated with the gut is also called the “second brain”2.

They compared the rates of Parkinson’s disease in people who had their vagus nerve severed partially to those who had it severed totally. Vagus nerve surgery was a common treatment for ulcers in the 1970’s.

They found that participants who had their vagus nerve severed completely were half as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease compared to those who had it severed partially.1

Partial severance did not offer any protection. These scientists suspect that Parkinson’s’ disease begins in the gut and then spreads to the brain via the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the main conduit between the gut and the brain.

People With Parkinson’s Disease Have Different Gut Bacteria

What could this mean for the future of Parkinson’s research? Perhaps scientists will look for answers within the digestive tract. For example, we wouldn’t be surprised to see research examining the effect of probiotics on Parkinson’s disease.

Previous research shows that individuals with Parkinson’s disease have different gut bacteria than people without the condition, and the severity of symptoms correlates with certain species.3

In addition, the presence of certain bacteria in the stomach, such as H. pylori, has been shown to be associated with more severe symptoms,4 further strengthening the link between Parkinson’s disease and gastrointestinal health.

The Bottom Line

Hippocrates once said that all diseases began in the gut. Perhaps he was onto something.

The complex relationship between the gut and brain should be further investigated. And who knows, we may find the answers that we’re looking for there.

References:

  1. Ann Neurol. 2015 May 29. doi: 10.1002/ana.24448. 
  2. Front Cell Neurosci. 2015; 9: 242. 
  3. Mov Disord. 2015 Mar;30(3):350-8. doi: 10.1002/mds.26069. 
  4. Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2015 Mar;21(3):221-5. doi: 10.1016/j.parkreldis.2014.12.009.

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