Parkinson’s: The gut-brain link grows stronger

Parkinson’s disease can be cruel. In my experience, it’s a “long goodbye” — a name often given to Alzheimer’s disease.

Over ten years, we watched as my active, funny, loving dad shrank more and more into himself, both physically and emotionally, until he could no longer communicate with us, and recognized none of us, except for my mother.

Research into the origins of Parkinson’s is ongoing, in the hope that we can stop it before it starts.

Now, there’s been a unique discovery that holds out hope for doing just that…

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A brain attack that starts in the gut

Parkinson’s is a neurological disorder. However many researchers believe that it may get started far away from the brain, years before any tremors or other neurological signs appear.

They believe it may get its start in the gut.

Graduate students at Columbia University have been adding to the evidence that supports this theory.

They’re showing that the gastrointestinal changes that precede Parkinson’s could actually be a misdirected attack by the immune system, a malfunction that’s relatively easy to correct.

In Parkinson’s, a protein known as alpha-synuclein becomes misfolded, accumulates inside neurons and slowly poisons the cells.

Columbia researcher Dr. David Sulzer and his graduate students have collaborated with immunologists at the La Jolla Institute of Immunology in California to show that these misfolded proteins can also appear outside of neurons.

When this happens, the neurons are a sitting duck for attack from the immune system.

And this misguided immune attack ends up doing more damage to the neurons than the deposits of alpha-synuclein resting inside them.

“The blood of Parkinson’s patients often contains immune cells that are primed to attack the neurons,” Sulzer says, “but it’s not clear where or when they are primed.”

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An autoimmune reaction?

Dr. Sulzer wondered if the immune system’s attack on neurons was beginning in the gut.

This seemed a likely possibility since the gut contains the same neurons, and because constipation is an early symptom for most Parkinson’s patients, years before brain symptoms emerge or the disease is diagnosed.

Dr. Sulzer and his team created a mouse that could display pieces of misfolded alpha-synuclein on cell surfaces (normal mice do not have this ability).

They then injected the mice with alpha-synuclein and monitored what happened in the brain and the gut.

They did not see any signs resembling Parkinson’s disease in the brain. But they did see that an immune attack on neurons in the gut resulted in constipation and other gastrointestinal effects resembling the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease.

“This shows that an autoimmune reaction can lead to what appears to be the early stages of Parkinson’s and is strong support that Parkinson’s is in part an autoimmune disease,” Dr. Sulzer says.

Stopping Parkinson’s in its tracks

More research is needed to determine how big a role the immune system plays in the brain of people with Parkinson’s.

One possibility is that the immune cells in Dr. Sulzer’s mouse model aren’t reaching the brain because the animals are young and still have a strong blood-brain barrier.

She doesn’t say, but with what we know about intestinal permeability, the integrity of the mice’s gut barrier may also prevent what’s happening there from overtly affecting the rest of the body.

But it’s exciting to think about the possibility that early detection — and interruption— of an immune response in the gut could prevent a later attack on the brain’s neurons and stop Parkinson’s in its tracks.

What can you do now if you have a family history of Parkinson’s? Well, research has shown a hormone secreted during exercise appears to stop a key trigger of the disease.

And if Parkinson’s does prove to be an autoimmune disease, at least in part, research has pointed to key nutrients that reduced the occurrence of autoimmune disease by 25 to 30 percent.

Of course, maintaining the health and integrity of your gut should also be at the top of your list. You can begin improving your own gut health right away by taking these steps.

Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!


Study adds to evidence that Parkinson’s starts in the gut — Eureka Alert

Interaction of an α-synuclein epitope with HLA-DRB1∗15:01 triggers enteric features in mice reminiscent of prodromal Parkinson’s disease — Neuron

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.