New research published in the journal Gut suggests that certain gastrointestinal symptoms could be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms including constipation, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are suspected to drive the development of Parkinson’s disease, along with cerebrovascular disease (CD), such as a stroke or brain aneurysm, and Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Parkinson’s is one of the fastest-growing neurodegenerative diseases in the world and affects around 145,000 people in the UK. There is currently no cure for the condition.
Researchers analysed the US medical records of 24,624 people with Parkinson’s and compared them to 19,046 people with AD, 23,942 with CD, and 24,624 with healthy brains to determine whether patients with Parkinson’s experienced gut issues six years prior to diagnosis and whether they had a higher chance of developing the condition.
The gastrointestinal tract possesses millions of nerve cells that communicate with the brain.
Researchers discovered that four gut conditions – constipation, dysphagia, gastroparesis, and IBS – were all associated with a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.
Professor Kim Barrett, University of California, Davis, said that both gastrointestinal conditions and Parkinson’s disease are linked to an “unknown third risk factor”.
She added: “The conclusions may have clinical relevance and certainly should prompt additional studies.”
Dr Tim Bartels, from the UK Dementia Research Institute, University College London, said that the evidence establishes that the gut could be a “prime target” when searching for biomarkers of Parkinson’s.
Predicting Parkinson’s would be “highly valuable for earlier and therefore more effective treatment and drug targeting,” added Bartels.
Despite researchers assuring that patients with gastrointestinal symptoms will not necessarily go on to develop Parkinson’s, previous studies have implied a connection between the digestive system and the condition.
In 2018, researchers at the Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan found that Parkinson’s disease could derive from a toxic protein known as alpha synuclein – the same protein found in the brains of Parkinson’s patients – in the appendix.