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Connection between gut microorganisms and Parkinson’s disease

The term microbiome refers to the microorganisms found in a particular niche. In the human body this pattern, if it becomes atypical, is associated with differences in terms of human health and disease. In recent years, following the work carried out as part of the Human Microbiome Project, medical knowledge of the diverse span of microbial species within and across the human body has been significantly enhanced. This has provided valuable insight into prevalence of indigenous opportunistic pathogens and how these shape health and disease.

The microbiome of the human body has been extensively covered by Digital Journal’s science reporters. This includes an ‘Essential Science’ report on how unhealthy gut microorganisms can trigger a rise in blood pressure, which, in turn, leads to the unhealthy effects of hypertension. The research profiled further reinforces the role the balance of human microorganisms play in disease.

The new study, from University of Alabama at Birmingham, looks at Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a type of neurodegenerative disease that affects the muscles. The disease is progressive, and it can take several years for the disease to become apparent.

While researchers now know that the gut bacteria of someone with Parkinson’s disease differ, in terms of the predominance of different species, to someone who does not have the disease, what is less clear is whether having Parkinson’s cause changes in an individual’s gut microbiome, or whether changes in the microbiome are a predictor or early warning sign of Parkinson’s?

The importance of the gut bacteria probably explain why one the first signs of Parkinson’s often manifests as gastrointestinal symptoms, such as inflammation or constipation.

The finding is based on research conducted by Dr. Haydeh Payami. The researchers found, after screening 197 patients with Parkinson’s and 130 controls that Parkinson’s disease is accompanied by imbalance in the gut microbiome The researchers also discovered that different medications used to treat Parkinson’s affect the composition of the microbiome in different ways.

The important difference was that bacteria that help the body to rid itself of xenobiotics (chemicals not naturally found in the body arising from environmental pollutants) were lower in those with Parkinson’s disease. This could suggest that exposure to pesticides and herbicides in agricultural settings increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s. Further data would be needed to support this assumption.

The research has been published in the journal Movement Disorders and it falls under the research heading “Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s disease medications have distinct signatures of the gut microbiome.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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