Gut issues linked to Parkinson’s disease
Posted on the 1st September 2023
Gut problems could be an early warning sign of Parkinson's disease in some people, a new study suggests.
Symptoms like constipation, difficulty swallowing and an irritable bowel have been identified in research published in the journal Gut as potential precursors to the progressive brain disorder.
It is hoped that a better understanding of why the gut issues happen might allow earlier treatment of Parkinson's.
Researchers analyzed US medical records of 24,624 people with Parkinson's, and compared them with those of 19,046 people with Alzheimer's disease, 23,942 people with brain bleeds or clots, and 24,624 people with healthy brains.
The team used the evidence to determine whether the patients with Parkinson's had any gut problems in the six years before their brain disorder was diagnosed and whether people with gut problems had a higher chance of developing Parkinson’s.
Using five years of data, it became evident that the answer to both was a clear ‘yes’, with four specific gut conditions - constipation, difficulty swallowing, gastroparesis, and irritable bowel – associated with a higher risk of Parkinson's.
The study noted that appendix removal, however, seemed to be protective, which is something that other scientists have recognized before.
The researchers also stressed that not everyone with gastrointestinal problems will go on to get Parkinson's, but there appears to be a link between gut and brain health.
The gastrointestinal tract has millions of nerve cells that communicate with the brain. Experts say it is possible that therapies that help one system might also help the other, or that an illness in one region will affect the other.
People with Parkinson's do not have enough of the chemical dopamine in their brains because some of the nerve cells that make it are damaged.
This causes symptoms including involuntary tremors, stiff muscles, or shaking, slow, shuffling movements.
Although there is currently no cure, treatments are available to help reduce the main symptoms and maintain patients’ quality of life for as long as possible.
Spotting the disease even sooner - before neurological symptoms appear and there is substantial brain cell damage - might make a big difference.