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The Relationship of Gut Bacteria to Parkinson’s Disease

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In a recent study conducted by the researchers from the University of Helsinki Institute for Biotechnology in Finland, it was shown that patients with Parkinson's disease have distinctly different bacteria in the gut. The research findings were published in Movement Disorders journal citing the outcome of the research involving 72 patients with the disorder.


What is Parkinson's disease?

Parkinson's disease is a neurologic dysfunction consisting of the degeneration of the brain that is progressive in nature. Individuals with the disease usually experience gradual progression of their symptoms that typically begin with a mild tremor in the hand that continues to manifest slow movement and stiffness. As the disease progresses, significant motor functions are lost. The face shows no facial expression and the arm no longer swings when walking. The speech also becomes slurred and the gait of the person is eventually affected.

Study on distinct gut bacteria in Parkinson's disease

The disease severity in Parkinson's disease has been associated to the gut bacteria present in the body. More people are getting afflicted with Parkinson's disease and the manifestation of the severity depends on the gut bacteria activities. The bacteria appear to outnumber the normal cells in the body, which may cause a significant risk to getting the disorder. The link between Parkinson's disease and gastrointestinal function has been described in the earlier research studies, pointing out in particular the condition of constipation, which are non-motor signs and symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Constipation is often experienced by patients with Parkinson's disease prior to having their motor symptoms.

It has been indicated by the National Parkinson's Foundation that there is about 60,000 new cases of the disease every year in the United States. The majority of new cases of Parkinson's disease show some gut problems. The findings of the research made by Dr. Filip Scheperjans of the Neurology Clinic of Helsinki University Hospital highlighted the fact that the patients having the disease have lesser bacteria from the genus Prevotellaceae. The researchers believe that gut bacteria may interact with the central nervous system through the enteric nervous system called the vagal nerve. Through this pathway, the gut bacteria can influence the neurologic function that is commonly present in Parkinson's disease. It is not clear, however, how the Prevotellaceae family may influence the gut activities in Parkinson's disease. The researchers postulate that the presence of the bacteria may protect a person against the disease or it has the ability to prevent the occurrence of the symptoms in Parkinson's disease.

Another family of bacteria has been associated to Parkinson's disease. This is the Enterobacteriaceae that is being linked to the severity of the symptoms seen in the disorder. The presence of these bacteria appears to be high among individuals who manifest balance and walking problems as symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Significance of the research findings

The researchers are hopeful that the ability to identify how the gut bacteria influence the symptoms in Parkinson's disease can help define the prognosis and identify preventive measures against the disease progression. Further studies, however, are needed in order to determine whether the bacteria can actually influence the progress of the disease and whether the differences in their presence in the gut are permanent.

Dr. Scheperjans also added that they are hopeful to use the changes in the ecosystem of the gut bacteria as a means of identifying the onset of the motor symptoms in Parkinson's disease. More studies are underway in understanding the underlying biological mechanism occurring between the disease and the gut bacteria. Among the aim of the research is to use the findings about the influence of the gut bacteria to Parkinson's disease in discovering new treatments for the disorder and to create new diagnostic tests that can help prevent the disease.