Now that modern science has finally embraced the gut-brain axis, it was only a matter of time before researchers began to find other pathways that connect the two.
Recent studies have linked both to Parkinson’s disease, one of the most common neurological brain disorders Americans face. Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disorder related to the brain’s shrinking production of dopamine, which leads to problems with tremors, stiffness and balance.
Interestingly, your gut health connection to Parkinson’s disease may be tied to some common problems, like constipation and imbalances in gut bacteria.
Does Parkinson’s start in the gut?
One study, appearing in Neurology, examined the health of patients receiving resection surgery or a vagotomy, a procedure that removes the main portion or branches of the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the human body extending from the neck to the abdomen, to treat ulcers.
Researchers discovered the gut health connection to Parkinson’s when comparing two types of vagotomy surgeries that fully or selectively (partially) resected the vagus nerve.
Over the scope of the 40-year study, three times as many patients who had a selective vagotomy eventually developed Parkinson’s versus a full resection. Plus, patients who had a full resection were 40 percent less likely to experience Parkinson’s.
The “bread crumbs” left behind by a partial resection led researchers to conclude that Parkinson’s origins may start in the gut, says study author Dr. Bojing Liu, MSc, of the Karolinska Instituet in Stockholm, Sweden, according to a press release.
In fact, gut health problems like constipation that manifest decades sooner may be a sign that Parkinson’s could emerge later on in a patient’s life, says Dr. Liu.
Can a gut bacteria imbalance lead to Parkinson’s?
A lot closer to home, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) may have found another telltale sign of Parkinson’s disease via the composition of bacteria that inhabit the human gut.
Scientists discovered the connection while comparing the health of some 200 patients from three distinct regions of America (Northwest, Northeast and Southeast) with Parkinson’s to 130 healthy controls, according to the study appearing in Movement Disorders.
Unfortunately, health experts couldn’t figure out what came first:
- Are changes in a patient’s gut bacteria balance a red flag that Parkinson’s is a possibility?
- Does this disease play an active part in the disruption of gut health?
- Could a Parkinson’s drug be causing problems?
One clue that may determine which way this gut bacteria imbalance goes is the method in which the microbiome helps the body get rid of environmental pollutants not typically found in the human body.
The balance of bacteria tasked with eliminating these chemicals was different in Parkinson’s patients, a critical finding since exposure to herbicides and pesticides in farm settings increases one’s risk of this debilitating disease.
These discoveries may lead to new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, says Dr. Haydeh Payami, a professor in the Department of Neurology at the UAB School of Medicine, according to UAB News.
“Therapies that regulate the imbalance in the microbiome may prove to be helpful in treating or preventing the disease before it affects neurologic function.”
Could taking a multi-species probiotic like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic be a possible solution?
While scientists were quick to discourage any quick fixes, taking a probiotic does boost the body’s natural immunities and is a healthy and effective way to treat constipation without a drug.