Gut Bacteria: How Does it Connect to Parkinson’s Disease?

Gut bacteria has been connected to a number of conditions: depression, diabetes, and now Parkinson’s disease. A study published in Annals of Neurology has shown that gut bacteria is linked to early risk markers for Parkinson’s.

About Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is characterized by its effect on movement through five different stages. As the disease progresses, severity increases. Stage one is characterized by subtle tremors on one side of the body. In stage two symptoms are more noticeable, with tremors and rigidity on both sides of the body. Stage three brings loss of balance and slow movement, while stage four makes it impossible for one to live independently. Stage five is the most severe, as patients cannot stand or walk. Hallucinations and delusions are common symptoms of this stage.

Parkinson’s disease occurs due to the death of motor neurons, some of which produce dopamine. Dopamine is important in the transmittance of messages to the muscles from the brain, so the loss of dopamine results in the loss of motor functions. Abnormal brain activity occurs when these neurons are lost. Doctors do not know why these motor neurons die, but they do suspect a few factors that play a role, such as genetics, environmental factors like toxins, and Lewy bodies.

About the Study

Multiple aspects of gut bacteria have indicated that the gut is a part of Parkinson’s disease development. This includes changes in the composition of gut bacteria, persistent constipation in those with early Parkinson’s, and alpha-synuclein deposits in the GI tract.

Researchers wanted to explore this information further, so they conducted a study in which they analyzed the gut bacteria of patient stool samples. 666 patients were included in this trial, all of whom participated in the TREND study, which was a prior study meant to evaluate early markers of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The researchers’ findings were analyzed against 18 risk and prodromal markers that had already been established, such as diet and medication history. Of these 18 markers, seven of them were found to affect gut bacteria diversity. Findings consisted of:

  • Age and use of medication that reduced urate levels were associated with gut bacteria diversity
  • Less exercise and constipation led to a high number of Firmicutes phylum bacteria in the stool
  • Prevotella bacteria in the stool was associated with a lower chance of motor deficits and constipation
  • Physical activity, smoking, constipation, motor impairments, and REM-sleep behavior disorder all had an impact on the abundance of gut bacteria

Despite all of the information that was found, researchers stress that there is much more to learn. They did not find any clear connections between gut bacteria and prodromal markers of Parkinson’s that were not included in the initial 18. They emphasized the need for further investigation.

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