Approximately 1 in 500 people within the UK are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease that causes the loss of brain cells which are responsible for producing dopamine. However, the disease’s symptoms only begin to present themselves after 80% of these cells, located within the substantia nigra region of the brain, have been lost. As dopamine is usually responsible for regulating our body movements, a lack of it can bring on symptoms such as slow movement, tremors and speech issues – key characteristics of Parkinson’s.
Now shocking new evidence by US scientists may change our outlook of this disease altogether: the origins of Parkinson’s could actually be located outside the brain, within our digestive system. For many years we have thought of the appendix as an insignificant organ; yet only recently have scientists discovered a link between it and the brain of a sufferer: both contain alpha synuclein, a toxic protein involved in killing brain cells. Interestingly, the study highlighted how those who had had their appendix removed were at a 20% lower risk from developing Parkinson’s. From these compelling findings, the theory being proposed is that the gut is a ‘breeding ground’ for this protein, which then travels up to the brain via the vagus nerve, causing the onset of dangerous consequences.
However, one of the researchers, Dr Viviane Labrie, said:
“We’re not advocating appendectomy* as a form of protecting against Parkinson’s Disease. It would be much more wise to control or dampen excessive formation of alpha synuclein to tune down the overabundance or potentially to prevent its escape.”
Nevertheless, this new finding is a step forward according to Claire Bale of Parkinson’s UK, who believes understanding its origins will ultimately allow us to develop treatments, and potentially ‘prevent it altogether’.
*removal of the appendix