New evidence shows that people with Parkinson’s disease may have a distinctly different type of stomach bacteria to the majority of the population, suggesting a close link between Parkinson’s and gut health.
The study, led by scientists in California, could transform our understanding of Parkinson’s and prompt major advances in treatment.
Over a period of years, scientists studied mice which had been genetically programmed to develop Parkinson’s disease. They found that these mice produced excessively high amounts of the protein, alpha-synuclein.
When found in humans, alpha-synuclein causes the external symptoms that we all recognise as being associated with Parkinson’s. These symptoms include shaking, slow movement and loss of balance. Interestingly, only the mice with certain types and amounts of bacteria in their guts developed symptoms. The mice that were kept sterile remained healthy.
The team behind this investigation found that they could affect and influence the way the mice’s brains worked when they altered the type of bacteria in the animal’s guts. In addition to these findings, the mice which were injected with the stomach bacteria of Parkinson’s patients displayed more symptoms than any others.
Dr Timothy Sampson, one of the head researchers involved with the California Institute of Technology study, described the findings as a ‘eureka moment’. According to Dr Sampson, the fact that the mice were genetically identical – the only difference between them was the microbiota in their guts – is confirmation of a connection between Parkinson’s and gut health and shows real promise for the future of Parkinson’s treatment.
What is the Link?
The scientists leading this study believe that the bacteria in the gut release chemicals that over-stimulate specific areas of the brain. This is what leads to the deterioration in health that we associate with Parkinson’s.
The way this happens is that the bacteria break down fibres in the body, turning them into short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids then cause an imbalance of chemicals and cause damage to cells in the brain. The gut bacteria can also interfere with the pathways that lead to the nervous system.
How to Take Better Care of Your Gut Health
Parkinson’s and gut health isn’t the only link that has been found between stomach bacteria and medical conditions. Other issues which scientists have found to be triggered or affected by gut bacteria include rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
There are plenty of small changes you can make to keep the amount of bacteria in your stomach under control and help prevent Parkinson’s and other diseases. For example, avoiding smoking and binge-drinking which can both trigger acid reflux digestive disorders.
One of the most effective ways to combat stomach bacteria is to make alterations to your diet. Avoid over-eating, big meals before bedtime and be careful not to skip meals, particularly breakfast- to keep your stomach healthy and digestive system in good health.
It is also extremely important to speak to your doctor if you are worried about your digestive health or experience any of the following symptoms:
- A sudden, severe change in bowel movements
- Rectal bleeding
- Excessive heartburn, indigestion or stomach pains
- Sudden, unexpected weight loss
- Pain or difficulty swallowing