Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating neurodegenerative condition that affects over 6 million people and results in over 100,000 deaths globally every year. The disease typically occurs in those over 60, and often manifests itself first as a tremor in the hands, normally only in one hand. By the time that occurs, irreversible brain damage has already been done. As the disease progresses, it causes stiffness in the body and slowness of movement. There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, nor is the cause of the disease known. But as more and more people suffer from the disease, more and more research is put into finding the disease’s causes.
Researchers in Luxembourg have recently published their findings into the causes of Parkinson’s. Theorizing that some sort of pathogen enters the body from without and eventually finds its way into the brain, they studied the bacteria in the noses and guts of Parkinson’s disease patients, healthy individuals without Parkinson’s, and sufferers of idiopathic rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, a disorder whose sufferers are at great risk of developing Parkinson’s in the future. Their thinking was that an external pathogen might affect bacteria within the body.
In studying gut bacteria, researchers were able to differentiate Parkinson’s sufferers from non-Parkinson’s individuals just by looking at their gut bacteria. Sufferers of idiopathic rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder showed gut bacteria levels trending towards those of Parkinson’s patients. Nasal bacteria showed no difference among the groups.
Whether the change in gut bacteria is caused by a pathogen that infects an individual that eventually leads to Parkinson’s, or whether for some other reason the disease causes changes in the guts of affected individuals, it does seem that gut bacteria counts could be used as an early indicator of Parkinson’s disease. If those changes in gut bacteria could be identified early enough, then there is the possibility that treatments for Parkinson’s could be applied earlier, and any eventual remedies to the disease could also be applied at early enough stages to prevent the development of full-blown Parkinson’s disease.