Tummy Trouble and Parkinson's Disease?

Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year. Although not fatal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Parkinson's disease as the 14th cause of death in the US due to its severe complications. As we observe Parkinson's Awareness Month this April, let's know more about this disease and the link between gut bacteria and the brain.

What Is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease is a neurological disorder that occurs when nerve cells in a specific area of the brain, the substantia nigra, don't produce enough brain chemicals called dopamine.

Symptoms such as bradykinesia (slowness of movement), tremor and rigidity usually begin gradually and worsen over time. Gut-related conditions are also common nonmotor symptoms among people with Parkinson's disease, including excess saliva and swallowing dysfunction.

Could Gut Bacteria Cause Parkinson's Disease?

Trillions of microorganisms found in the human gut, collectively called the microbiome, influence many systems in the body. The following functions influence the nervous system of the stomach:

  • Digestion of food
  • Warding off harmful microorganisms
  • Absorption of nutrients
  • Production of essential vitamins

According to studies cited by the American Parkinson Disease Association, there may be a connection between gut bacteria and the disease. There is evidence of an increase in certain families of bacteria, such as the Lactobacillaceae and Verrucomicrobiaceae and a decrease in the family Prevotellaceae in people with Parkinson's disease. The studies show that changes in the composition of the gut microbiome may contribute to the pathology of Parkinson's disease.

In Parkinson's disease, the gut bacteria's ability to break down fat is altered, making it harder to regulate bile acid production. Disruptions in bile acid production could be a potential indicator of the condition.

What Are the Five Signs of Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease affects people in different ways. Even if some people experience all the condition symptoms, others won't necessarily experience them in quite the same way. The following stages show the progression of this condition:

  • Stage 1 - tremor and other movement symptoms occur on one side of the body only that generally do not interfere with daily activities
  • Stage 2 - symptoms start getting worse. Walking problems and poor posture may be apparent and daily tasks are more challenging and lengthy.
  • Stage 3 - loss of balance and slowness of movements occur. Although the person is still fully independent, dressing and eating can be difficult.
  • Stage 4 - symptoms are severe and limiting at this stage. The person may need assistance with daily living and may be unable to live alone.
  • Stage 5 - the most advanced and debilitating stage. The person requires a wheelchair or is bedridden. Hallucinations and delusions may begin to set in as well.

Parkinson's Disease Treatment

While there is no known cure for Parkinson's disease, treatments are based on a person's symptoms and stage, including medication and surgical therapy. If you think you are experiencing early signs of Parkinson's disease, consult with a neurologist right away. Please do not delay care.

Parkinson's Foundation
American Parkinson Disease Association
Medical News Today

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