Do you experience chronic gut health issues? Research studies have found that Parkinson’s disease (PD) may be associated with the gut-brain connection. Evidence in a group of mice demonstrated that PD can actually start in the gut, which may explain why patients with PD have constipation and other gut health issues. Scientists have also found that patients with Parkinson’s disease report having gut health issues up to 10 years before experiencing tremors and other symptoms. According to other research studies, patients with PD may even have different biodiversity of gut bacteria than other healthy adults.
Outcome measures in the group of mice showed that the “harmful” alpha-synuclein fibers that build-up in the nerve cell endings of patients with Parkinson’s disease can immediately affect neurons in the brain. Scientists found this by identifying the spread of alpha-synuclein fibers in the nerve cell endings of the affected neurons in the brain of patients with PD. Alpha-synuclein is a fat-soluble substance, generally found in healthy neurons, however, alpha-synuclein molecules can clump together and damage brain cells. Scientists also found that patients can have a build-up of alpha-synuclein fibers in their gut.
A collection of fibers, known as the vagus nerve, which starts in the brain stem and extends to the major organs, including the gut, is believed to be the main source of PD associated with the gut-brain connection. Recent research studies of vagotomy patients demonstrated a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Scientists have also found that alpha-synuclein fibers injected into the digestive system of a group of mice can reach the brain through the vagus nerve. If alpha-synuclein molecules can reach the brain from the gut, why does the fat-soluble substance build-up in the gut in the first place?
Scientists believe that alpha-synuclein develops in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to help combat pathogens and other “harmful” components. Michael Zasloff, a professor at Georgetown University, and his colleagues reported that alpha-synuclein molecules developed in healthy children after having an infection and alpha-synuclein seemed to trigger immune cells. Scientists also believe that alpha-synuclein can build-up in the GI tract due to the gut microbiome itself. Evidence in a group of mice demonstrated that bacteria can ultimately activate the development of alpha-synuclein in the gut and brain.
Research studies have started to understand how the gut microbiome may be associated with Parkinson’s disease. Scientists have found that patients with Parkinson’s disease have a unique biodiversity of gut bacteria and scientists have also found that fecal microbe transplants from patients into a group of mice may increase alpha-synuclein in the brain and worsen symptoms in patients with PD. Other research studies have also shown that alpha-synuclein molecules seem to trigger microglial cells. This substance may send a signal through the vagus nerve or penetrate it completely through the bloodstream.
According to several research studies, inflammation caused by an abnormal gut microbiome may also cause the development of Parkinson’s disease. In one research study, Inga Peter, a genetic epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and her colleagues analyzed the relationship between inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) and Parkinson’s disease. The analysis compared 144,018 participants with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease and 720,090 healthy controls where PD was 28 percent higher in people with IBS than in those in the control group, supporting previous research study findings.
Inflammation is believed to increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease because it may increase alpha-synuclein as well as increase intestinal and blood-brain barrier (BBB) permeability. Inflammation may also increase cytokines, molecules which can increase inflammation in the body. Moreover, an abnormal gut microbiome can also cause inflammation. However, because not all patients with Parkinson’s disease will have inflammatory bowel syndrome or any other gut health issues, further evidence is still required to determine how the gut-brain connection can ultimately be associated with PD.
If this is indeed true, however, it will allow scientists to develop new interventions for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease that targets the gut instead of the brain. Several research studies have already started to analyze the effects of these new interventions. In 2015, Michael Zasloff and his colleagues started a company, known as Enterin, which is currently testing a substance that decreases the development of alpha-synuclein molecules in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Although the treatment is intended to reduce constipation, the scientists hope that they will be able to prevent or even restore the effects of PD.
Although many research studies and evidence support the hypothesis that Parkinson’s disease may be much closely associated with the gut-brain axis than we thought, the question of how early the digestive system changes may occur is still unknown. Furthermore, other scientists still suggest that PD may start elsewhere in the body. “I believe that there’s possibly various sites of origin for Parkinson’s disease,” stated Viviane Labrie, a neuroscientist at the Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan. “For several people, it might be the gut while for several people, it might simply be something that occurs in the brain.”
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a movement disorder that affects the central nervous system. PD can cause various, well-known symptoms, including tremors, slowed movements, stiffness, and loss of balance, among others. Research studies have demonstrated that nerve cell damage in the brain can decrease dopamine, a neurotransmitter and/or hormone, that can cause Parkinson’s disease. However, scientists have found that the gut-brain connection may ultimately be associated with PD. Inflammation caused by an abnormal gut microbiome as well as gut health issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is also believed to be one of the main factors for PD associated with the gut-brain connection. – Dr. Alex Jimenez D.C., C.C.S.T. Insight
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