Health

New Research Indicates That Parkinson’s Starts In The Gut—Not The Brain

It sounds bizarre, but it makes sense.

A recent scientific study reveals new information about possible causes for Parkinson’s disease. These new findings reveal an unexpected possible source for the neurological disease: the stomach.

Could Parkinson’s Disease Start In The Gut?

The scientific journal Neurology published the study’s findings in April. In this study, scientists looked a connection between people who had ulcer procedures and the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

The study concluded that a certain protein found in the stomach may travel to the brain via a major nerve. This nerve—known as the vagus—connects the brain and abdomen. It controls bodily functions such as digestion and heart rate.

scientist photo parkinson's
Getty Images | Dan Kitwood

Scientists studied people who had surgery on the main parts of the vagus nerve—essentially removing the pathway from the digestive tract to the brain. They found those people had a 40 percent lower chance of developing Parkinson’s.

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“These results provide preliminary evidence that Parkinson’s disease may start in the gut,” study author Bojing Liu of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden said in a press release. “Other evidence for this hypothesis is that people with Parkinson’s disease often have gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, that can start decades before they develop the disease.”

The scientific hypothesis is that protein in the gut begins folding in incorrectly, essentially creating a “genetic mistake” that travels up to the brain and spreads to those cells.

 

Sir Ray Avery Portrait Session
Getty Images | Phil Walter

Parkinson’s Disease Needs More Study

Each year, about 60,000 Americans receive a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. More than 10 million people across the world live with the disease. Parkinson’s kills nerve cells and leaves people unable to control body movement.

This is why studies like this one are important. Liu warns, though, that these findings just scratch the surface of what researchers need to know about the disease. Liu added that the disease could have many causes, so isolating one specific pathway may not be the solution.

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“Much more research is needed to test this theory and to help us understand the role this may play in the development of Parkinson’s,” Liu said.