Does Parkinson’s Disease Begin in Your Stomach?

While the cause of Parkinson’s disease, the progressive impairment of neurons in the area of the brain called the substantia nigra, is known it is still unclear why some people and not others develop the degenerative disease. New evidence discovered by Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital may have made some significant strides towards answering why some people develop Parkinson’s disease.

Aarhus University and hospital are now reporting that their new research may indicate that Parkinson’s disease starts in the gastrointestinal tract and spreads the vagus nerve to the brain. Their study is primarily based on new information where they discovered that patients that had the entire vagus nerve severed did not develop Parkinson’s disease.

“Our study shows that patients who have had the entire vagus nerve severed were protected against Parkinson’s disease. Their risk was halved after 20 years. However, patients who had only had a small part of the vagus nerve severed were not protected. This also fits the hypothesis that the disease process is strongly dependent on a fully or partially intact vagus nerve to be able to reach and affect the brain,” explains postdoc at Aarhus University Elisabeth Svennson. She explains that during 1970-1995 severing the vagus nerve was a very common method to treat ulcers and that their study surveyed 15,000 patients who had had undergone this treatment.

Svennson also goes on to say that many Parkinson’s disease patients suffer from stomach problems well before symptoms of the disease start to show, “Patients with Parkinson’s disease are often constipated many years before they receive the diagnosis, which may be an early marker of the link between neurologic and gastroenterologic pathology related to the vagus nerve.”

Previously it has been very difficult to offer preventative measures to people for Parkinson’s disease. The new research presented in Annals of Neurology could be a helpful tool to recognize risk factors and ultimately prevent the disease altogether.

“Now that we have found an association between the vagus nerve and the development of Parkinson’s disease, it is important to carry out research into the factors that may trigger this neurological degeneration, so that we can prevent the development of the disease. To be able to do this will naturally be a major breakthrough,” said Elisabeth Svensson.

This is the first time that the connection between the gut and the brain in Parkinson’s disease has been tested in an epidemiological study in humans. This is great and exciting news for those affected by Parkinson’s disease and will hopefully prove very fruitful in the future.

Links:

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-06-parkinson-disease-gut.html

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150623103609.htm

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