Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease (after Alzheimer’s), and affects 1-2% of the population over the age of 65. It is a neurological disease with symptoms that include tremors, rigidity, slow movement, and facial stiffness.
Although Parkinson’s symptoms first present as a neurodegenerative disease, it probably starts twenty to thirty years earlier in the gut. The two most common early clues of Parkinson’s are constipation in the gut and loss of sense of smell, both of which hint at microbe involvement.
With the realization that the gut and perhaps the oral-nasal route are involved early in Parkinson’s, attention has recently shifted to exploring how our body’s microbiota may contribute to this disease. There is no causal data yet, but there are several smoking guns hinting at this connection.
One piece of evidence comes from a seemingly unrelated medical procedure: Cutting the vagus nerve (a key communication line between the brain and gut) to help with stomach ulcer pain. A fascinating Danish study found that patients who had the nerve severed completely had less risk of Parkinson’s than those who had not.
The general idea emerging from various studies is that gut microbes in Parkinson’s patients have shifted to include more microbes that produce the inflammation, and less microbes that dampen inflammation.
While there is no correlation in data on fixing Parkinson’s by changing microbes at this time, things like eating a healthy diet, drinking coffee (which has anti-inflammatory properties) and consuming less red meat can help your gut microbiome combat Parkinson’s progression more effectively.