Parkinson’s disease is described as a brain disorder—but its origins lie in the gut, researchers believe.
And the process that eventually ends with Parkinson’s begins many years before any of the distressing symptoms—such as uncontrollable tremors and slowing motion—start to appear.
Essentially, it’s all down to a misfiring immune system, says researcher David Sulzer from Columbia University Irving Medical Centre. The theory that Parkinson’s starts in the gut was first mooted over 20 years ago, but Sulzer has taken the research further to discover the biological processes that are going on.
Blood samples taken from Parkinson’s patients typically contain immune cells that have become primed to attack neurons—and the same neurons are seen in the gut. With Parkinson’s, a protein called alpha-synuclein attaches itself to neurons, and slowly poisons them.
Interestingly, Parkinson’s patients often experience major changes in their gut—such as sudden constipation—years before symptoms appear, and Sulzer believes this change is an early warning of neuron damage in the gut.
If he’s right, it suggests Parkinson’s is an auto-immune condition, and one that could be treated even before symptoms appear—and gut disorders could be an early warning.