A small central area in the mid-brain that forms part of the basal ganglia, called the Substantia Nigra, contains dopamine-releasing neurons that supplies dopamine to the neighbouring striatum to coordinate movement and motor control.
It is this area that is mainly affected in Parkinson’s disease.
When these dopamine-releasing neurons die, then the motor function and signalling goes all over the place and you get all the classic symptoms of Parkinson’s, namely:
- Slowed movements
THE GUT MICROBIOME AND PARKINSON’S DISEASE
But research has finally caught up with the gut microbiome and it is becoming more accepted that neurodegenerative diseases are finding their origins in the gut.
This study, Gut Microbiota and Parkinson’s Disease, found that Parkinson’s patients had symptoms of constipation and other gut issues for up to 10 years before they developed the symptoms of Parkinson’s such as tremors and difficulty with movement.
Previous studies have linked certain pesticides to the development of Parkinson’s as well, but whether this is a direct affect of the pesticides or the effect of the pesticides on the healthy gut microbiome is not clear. I believe it’s probably both.
But what happens in the brain?
ALPHA-SYNUCLEIN PROTEINS IN THE BRAIN INVOLVED WITH PARKINSON’S AND ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Alpha-synuclein is a small and soluble substance that is found in the brain and in healthy nerve cells where it interacts with phospholipids and proteins.
It also helps to regulate the release of dopamine. Human alpha-synuclein proteins are encoded by the SNCA gene. A fragment of alpha-synuclein proteins, called the non-Abeta component, is found in amyloid plaque associated with Alzheimer’s Disease.
So you can see how neurodegenerative diseases follow similar mechanisms and often have the same root cause triggers, but display differently possibly due to genetic differences and epigenetic expression.
What happens in Parkinson’s patients is that these alpha-synuclein proteins clump together and form toxic fibres that damage the nerves in the brain. One of these areas include the substantia nigra where a lot of dopaminergic neurons live. What’s interesting is that they are also finding these fibres in the gut of these same patients.
Does this mean everyone with gut dysbiosis is going to develop Parkinson’s?
Off course not. We need to look at the whole picture here and part of that is looking at genetic involvement.
COMT GENE EXPRESSION AND DOPAMINE
COMT or catechol-O-methyltransferase is responsible for metabolizing catechols in food and catechol neurotransmitters and hormones such as estrogen, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
COMT SNPs, particularly rs4680, has a significant association with Parkinson’s.
Phenolic compounds from different sources such as chemicals and bacteria also have a very similar chemicals structure to these catechols which mean they are in a good position to disrupt these hormones and neurotransmitters. A good example is the phenolic compound, 4-cresol, produced by clostridia which is a known dopamine disruptor by binding to the DBH (Dopamine Beta Hydroxylase) enzyme.
Just another way gut bacteria may disrupt the balance of dopamine in the brain which can be tested for via an Organic Acid Test.
HOW CAN I PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING TO ME?
It doesn’t have to be complicated.
The first thing to do in any chronic health condition is to make sure your gut microbiome is healthy, and you now know this is important in the case of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as well based on the research we discussed above.
Read more about how you can do this at:
The Microbiome: Our Forgotten Organ.
Gut Microbiota Regulate Motor Deficits and Neuroinflammation in a Model of Parkinson’s Disease
COMT gene and risk for Parkinson’s disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.