According to the National Institute of Health, around 50,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year. This movement disorder — which affects the nervous system — causes patients to have symptoms which worsen over time, such as hand tremors and a reduced sense of coordination. However, recent research surrounding the gut microbiome may lead to new developments in Parkinson’s treatments. 

The gut microbiome, which encompasses all of the microorganisms of the intestine, influences human health. Around two thirds of the gut microbiome is specific to each individual and evolves based on diet and other lifestyle and environmental exposures. The gut microbiome has been associated with effects on a wide variety of conditions, such as obesity, cancer, autism and even depression. 

For the first time, researchers have found a biological link between the gut microbiome and Parkinson’s disease. When they manipulated the gut microbiome of a Parkinson’s mouse model, they noticed changes in the brain and motor function characteristic of the disease. This research suggests that neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, may not originate solely from the brain, as previously thought — they may also have origins or influences from the gut.

Alterations in the gut microbiome of Parkinson’s patients have been noted in previous studies, causing researchers to hypothesize that bacteria in the gut may contribute to the disease, according to Sarkis Mazmanian, the lead researcher of the study. After their results showed a difference in Parkinson’s symptoms between mice with gut microbiota and mice without, they concluded that the gut bacteria played an instrumental role in regulating and causing the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. This is a shift from the widespread belief that the disease can be solely attributed to changes in the brain.

The results from this study can be applied in the development of new Parkinson’s treatments, perhaps in the form of probiotics — products that contain good bacteria that can improve gut function. These treatments may even prove to be more beneficial, as it avoids the complications that can occur from delivering treatments to the brain. However, more research must be conducted to understand which specific gut microbes are involved in the development of the disease — and which ones potential treatments should target.

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