By Doc Don Davis ………………
I’m rarely surprised by the outcome of the scientific studies I read, but I was startled when I recently read an article in the annals of Neurology addressing the link between the gut and Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease of the nervous system resulting in a gradual irreversible loss of movement control. It’s been in the news for several years because of its’ unfortunate affects on Mohamad Ali and Michael J Fox.
We’ve known for decades that Parkinson’s develops because of degeneration in a particular place in the brain called the substantia nigra and causing decrease production of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. We thought the degeneration occurred because of our unlucky genes or exposure to toxic substances like pesticides or oxidative stress. We now know that a clumped form of a protein called alpha-synuclein, has been found to be the cause the degeneration of the substantia nigra. Where does this Alpha-Synuclein come from? Well this is where it gets interesting.
Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s it was still thought that ulcers were caused by mental stress and increased stomach acid and so a common approach was to cut the vagus nerve that controls those functions in the stomach in the hope of shutting off the mental messages to the stomach. Later is was found that stomach ulcers were actually caused by the bacterial infection H. Pylori so this procedure was abandoned. This recent study looked at those unfortunate people that had their vagus nerves cut. The Vagus nerve is the super highway of information between the GI tract and the brain that flows both directions. So what did they find? Well, people that had the vagal nerve surgery ended up with a decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease because these clumping synuclein proteins are traveling up from the intestines and stomach to invade and kill cells in the brain.
In another study, just this year, it was found that the levels of synuclein were directly controlled by gut bacteria. The authors idea was that gut inflammation from unbalanced good to bad bacteria ratio called dysbiosis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or leaky gut can activate cells in the gut nervous system to begin the clumping of synuclein causing damage to nerves in the the gut, and the traveling up the vagus nerve to the spinal cord causing neuropathy and then to the brain stem and brain.
Protein clumping is the foundation of several brain diseases like, Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body Disease along with Parkinson’s and it can take over 20 years for these proteins to reach the brain.
Unfortunately, during this process there is continuous, ever increasing damage to the nerves below the level of the brain causing constipation, loss of smell, sleep disorders, mood disorders, bladder problems and fatigue. In this case, the symptoms of IBS could be the first sign of brain degeneration. I don’t think it would be presumptive to look at the gut as one of the most powerful ways to limit brain disease. The good news is that even with years of degeneration, the gut environment can come back to life and contribute to the health of your brain.
Ok. So the take away here is that several studies show that:
#1 Gut problems could be the first sign of Parkinson’s and Alzeimer’s disease
#2 Solving your gut issues should be the primary focus of brain health
#3 Get some help. Find a doctor that knows about the gut-brain connection and understands the
significance of the intestinal bacteria and inflammation on the brain degeneration.