The study’s findings, which were published in the academic journal “Cell,” say that the brain disorder may be caused by gut bacteria. Finding the link between gut bacteria and Parkinson’s disease is a significant discovery. It could lead to new ways of treating the disease, which affects approximately 1 million people in the United States.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
As stated above Parkinson’s disease affects about 1 million people in the U.S. More than 10 million people are living with the disorder worldwide. Each year doctors diagnose 60,000 new cases of the brain disorder and it affects men more often than women.
Typically the age of onset of Parkinson’s disease is 60. It causes a tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face. The brain disorder can also cause impaired balance, stiffness of the limbs and slowness of movement.
Scientists have been exploring the causes of Parkinson’s disease for years. They have been looking into the loss of cells in areas of the brain and body as possible causes of the disorder. However, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, up until now there has been no information on what causes Parkinson’s disease.
What does the apparent link between gut bacteria and Parkinson’s disease mean for people living with the disease now?
The Link Between Parkinson’s Disease and Gut Bacteria
The findings of the newest study regarding Parkinson’s disease may offer new ways of treating the disease. Currently there are no known causes of the disease and no real treatment available. These findings may lead to medication or probiotics to kill bad gut bacteria that may cause the brain disorder.
BBC reported that the scientists used mice which were genetically programmed to develop Parkinson’s disease. The mice produced high levels of a protein that has been associated with the brain damage that occurs in Parkinson’s patients. However, the mice with bacteria in their guts were the only ones that developed Parkinson’s symptoms. Sterile mice remained healthy.
When scientists realized that the gut bacteria and the development of Parkinson’s may be linked to one another they decided to perform some further testing. This is when scientists discovered that transplanting bacteria from Parkinson’s patients to the mice led to more symptoms than bacteria from people without the brain disorder.
Dr. Timothy Sampson, one of the researchers involved in the study, described this moment as the “‘eureka’ moment.” Each of the mice were genetically identical, the presence or absence of gut bacteria was the only difference. “Now we were quite confident that gut bacteria regulate, and are even required for, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease,” said Sampson.
Sampson and the team of scientists believe that the gut bacteria is releasing chemicals that over-activate parts of the brain. This is because the bacteria can break down necessary fibers in the brain.
The understanding of how the gut bacteria can affect the brain can lead to many more treatment options for the currently incurable disease.
How the Findings May Change Treatment
Experts have described the findings of the newest study as “exciting.” Although the findings have yet to be confirmed in humans it is a huge step in the right direction for Parkinson’s patients and it is likely to affect therapies and treatments currently being used for people with Parkinson’s.
There are trillions of bacteria that live in the gut that are important to maintaining your health so wiping out gut bacteria altogether is not an option. However, probiotics may become a new therapy for the debilitating disease.
Dr. Sarkis Mazmanian, another research involved with the study, said that, “The discovery that changes in the microbiome may be involved in Parkinson’s disease is a paradigm shift and opens entirely new possibilities for treating patients.”
While many questions remain to be answered, experts are looking at this study as a promising development. Experts also hope it leads to more research regarding the brain disorder and revolutionize treatment options for Parkinson’s disease.