The gut plays a big role in our bodies, we know that. While some of its roles are obvious, others are still being discovered. In fact, the microbiome of the gut and the bacteria within it have recently been connected to mental health, heart disease, and other conditions. Now, the gut is being linked to Parkinson’s disease, specifically inflammation of the gut. Research published in Free Neuropathology has discovered a connection between inflammatory bowel diseases and Parkinson’s.
The Connection Between the Gut and Parkinson’s
More and more research has linked changes in the gut to neurological and psychiatric brain disorders, one of which is Parkinson’s disease. Research funded by Roche and Van Andel Institute further investigated this connection through the use of mouse models.
With these models, the researchers were able to observe that chronic inflammation of the gut leads to alpha-synuclein clumping within the colon walls and in a type of immune cell called macrophages. This process is more common in those with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In Parkinson’s, that same alpha-synuclein protein clumps in the brain and kills neurons. Essentially, the researchers discovered that this chronic gut inflammation may fuel the progression of Parkinson’s disease through the aggregation of alpha-synuclein.
The researchers noticed that inflammation in older mice worsened the clumping of alpha-synuclein in the brains, which led them to their conclusion. To explain this connection, they devised two theories. Firstly, they suspected that inflammatory chemicals use the bloodstream to travel from the gut to the brain. This could create a response that results in the aggregation of protein within the brain. Their second theory involves the vagus nerve, which is described as a “superhighway between the gut and brain.” If the proteins are able to travel along this nerve, they can reach the brain and wreak havoc.
Fortunately, the researchers have also discovered a way to negate the gut inflammation’s impact on the brain. If the mice were treated with therapeutic or genetic means, the levels of alpha-synuclein in the colon responded. While further research is necessary, treating this gut inflammation may lower the risk of Parkinson’s onset and progression in some individuals.
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 slowed movement. 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.
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