It was a theory first mooted in 2003—and now researchers have proved it. In experiments with laboratory rats, a research team from Aarhus University in Denmark have seen the disease migrate from the gut to the brain and heart.
Alpha-synuclein proteins that are associated with Parkinson's, and which slowly destroy the brain, were injected into the guts of the rats. After two months, the proteins had started to move to the brain.
A Parkinson's sufferer has a damaged nervous system to begin with, but a build-up of the proteins in the gut can be detected up to 20 years before the disease manifests, says researcher Per Borghammer. It's the first step towards preventing the disease, he says, and effective treatment couldn't be developed without this understanding.
Another important discovery is that the heart of the Parkinson's sufferer can also be affected. In fact, the proteins can damage the heart before moving on to the brain, and it's in the heart where the damage to the nervous system begins. "The heart is damaged very fast, even though the pathology is started in the intestine," he said.