It is only relatively recently that scientist have discovered the importance of gut bacteria for wellbeing. The discovering of a gut- brain axis was instrumental in advancing knowledge as well as guiding future research including the impact of gut bacteria on neurological conditions. This week’s blog aims to increase awareness of research in this area. By taking a look at some of the most influential studies over the past few years it is possible to see how significant manipulation of gut bacteria could be for the treatment of Parkinson’s in the future. There are three ‘families’ of bacteria that have received particular interest – Helicobacter pylori, Enterobacteriaceae and Prevotellaceae. Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria known for causing stomach ulcers, but in a study conducted by Dr Traci Testerman and colleagues published in 2011 it was found that mice infected with Helicobacter pylori later went on to develop Parkinson’s. There is also some evidence that Helicobacter pylori may prevent the absorption of Parkinson’s medications in the gut. So potentially eradicating Helicobacter pylori may help make drugs more efficient at lower doses.
More recently studies have found that the balance of Enterobacteriaceae and Prevotellaceae is different in people with Parkinson compared to healthy controls. A correlation between higher levels of Enterobacteriaceae and greater severity measured by difficulties in walking and balancing has been observed. In contrast very low levels of Prevotellaceae have been found in the guts of people with Parkinson. Interestingly, Prevotellaceae aids in the maintenance of the intestinal barrier protecting against environmental toxins.
Changes in gut bacteria start years before the clinical onset of symptoms; constipation commonly preceded diagnosis. This supports thinking that Parkinson’s spreads from the gut to the brain. Via the gut-brain axis a toxin, bacteria, or virus from the environment may in genetically susceptible people start a cascade of αlpha-synuclein (the protein that clumps in the brains of all people with Parkinson’s) aggregation. Research is now being conducted on the usefulness of early detection of gut bacteria changes and whether gut bacteria manipulation at this stage could slow or possibly prevent neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s.
There is still much to learn but it is important to be aware of the research that is happening. Look out for further news as it may well be that in coming years treatments targeting gut bacteria could improve efficiency of medication, slow progression and maybe genetically prone family members will be offered tests to identify gut bacteria changes which may possibly halt onset.