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A New Understanding Of The Link Between Parkinson's And Gut Health

Inflammation Circuit Neuroaffect Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

the relationship between the gut and the brainParkinson’s disease is a serious and frightening neurodegenerative disorder that affects the way neurons function. People with this disorder experience gradually worsening symptoms that affect their physical, mental and emotional health. There is no cure for this disease, though there are strategies that can help to slow its progression. Recent research now suggests that there is a connection between Parkinson’s and gut health that could one day be pivotal for people who suffer from this condition.

What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the functioning of the nervous system. It occurs when neurons in the brain start to break down or die. Many of these neurons are responsible for creating dopamine, a vital chemical messenger. The resulting low levels of dopamine causes many of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. In the early stages, sufferers experience tremors that affect their mobility and everyday activities. However, this disease gets worse as it progresses, often causing failures in muscle control and balance. It also affects cognitive ability and mood.

The exact causes of Parkinson’s aren’t fully understood. It can run in families in some rare cases, but most often it seems to appear at random. Exposure to herbicides and pesticides can also increase your risk of this disease. However, research into its exact causes is ongoing and has resulted in the unveiling of a surprising connection between Parkinson’s and gut health.

Parkinson’s and Gut Health Research

result of doctor from a person with Parkinson's diseaseMedical researchers have suspected for some time that there’s a link between Parkinson’s and gut health. One reason for this is the fact that many patients with Parkinson’s experience ongoing symptoms related to the gut such as constipation. And the evidence also suggests that a certain percentage of patients start experiencing these gut problems years before Parkinson’s set in. This means that gut problems could be an early warning sign of Parkinson’s and a key player in its development. It may also give indications about the potential origin of the disease and suggest new avenues for the prevention and alleviation of the symptoms. This could probiotics, dietary changes, prebiotics, and fecal microbiota transplantation.

The evidence supporting the idea that Parkinson’s is connected to gut health is growing. Numerous studies in diverse populations have shown changes in gut microbiota composition in people with Parkinson’s. However, further research is needed to determine how these problems are connected.

Recent studies have identified two key issues when it comes to the link between Parkinson’s and gut health. These are:

Alpha-Synuclein Deposits

Alpha-synuclein is a protein found in the brain as well as in muscles, the heart and other tissues. In the brain, it is found at the top of the nerve cells in presynaptic terminals and is linked to Parkinson’s disease. When this protein gathers on a neuron, it may interrupt its normal functioning and neurodegeneration and even cell death. It may also have a detrimental effect on neighboring neurons.

In certain people with Parkinson’s disease, deposits of this protein have been found in the enteric nervous system. This is a system of neurons that controls the gut. However, it isn't clear if these deposits are the same as those found in the brains of people with Parkinson’s. At this stage, the results of tests to determine this are contradictory. If these deposits are found to be the same, it will be an important indication of the nature of the link between Parkinson’s and gut health.

Alpha-Synuclein Aggregation

Alpha-synuclein becomes a problem when it aggregates around cells and neurons. One possible explanation for this is that it occurs as a result of intestinal hyperpermeability. This means that the gut becomes damaged and allows substances to flow out into the surrounding tissue. However, for this link between Parkinson’s and gut health to hold true, researchers still need to demonstrate that Parkinson’s increases intestinal permeability.

Information about Parkinson's and gut health is important for your long-term health. But it’s even more important if you experience gut problems because of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Gut Health and AFS

Gut problems such as constipation, diarrhea, and microbiota imbalances are very common problems in people who have AFS. In fact, they can both contribute to the development of this disorder and make it worse. AFS is caused by chronically high-stress levels. This is a common complaint in the modern world because of work pressures, the increasing commonality of sedentary jobs, and the resulting poor health.

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response is responsible for resolving the stress and helping your body avoid the damage of stress. The adrenal glands are a key part of this stress response as they release cortisol. However, when the NEM stress response is active for too long, the adrenals can become fatigued and start to breakdown because of the overwork. This can cause malfunctions and imbalances in every system and circuit in your body, including in the gut.

Gut Responses to Stress

senior medical doctor is performing analytical research for a diseaseYour gut is a part of the Inflammation Circuit along with the immune system and the microbiome, the balance of bacteria in your body. This is why new research on Parkinson’s and gut health is important to anyone who suffers from AFS. The Inflammation Circuit is one of the first responders when you’re under stress. It causes inflammation, which is designed to rid your body of the cause of the stress. Unfortunately, stress can’t be removed from your body this way, so the effort is wasted. And because the three systems in this circuit must keep up their regular duties while they create this inflammation, they can quickly become overworked when you have AFS. This will contribute to any malfunctions in the system caused by adrenal fatigue and worsen the imbalances.

The research shows that there’s a strong link between Parkinson’s and gut health. Unfortunately, gut problems are very common in people who have AFS. These issues are often caused by a poor diet, too little exercise, imbalances in the Detoxification Circuit, low energy levels, and lack of water. Some of the most common gut problems in AFS include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Food sensitivities
  • Bacteria overgrowth in the gut.
  • Leaky gut, which means that gut permeability is increased, and unwanted substances can pass from the gut into the bloodstream.

These issues can not only contribute to AFS, but they can also actually worsen it. They may also increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

The Importance of Improving Your Gut Health

woman holding an image of digestive systemEach of the problems associated with poor gut health in AFS can feed on each other, worsening your overall condition and your AFS. If the issues aren’t addressed, you may experience worsening gut symptoms, which will increase stress and inflammation levels throughout your body. It will also affect your gut, which will become increasingly permeable as its health and functioning degrade, allowing more substances to pass out of it. This will not only increase your stress levels and encourage the creation of more inflammation; it will also further unbalance the Inflammation Circuit and speed up its dysregulation, worsening your AFS.

If the research about the link between Parkinson’s and gut health is true, the gut problems associated with AFS may also increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease as you age. Increased gut permeability may contribute to the collection of Alpha-Synuclein proteins around the neurons in both the brain and the enteric nervous system. This means that your AFS could have long term and very serious consequences even once you find a way to alleviate the original adrenal fatigue.

That’s why it’s so important that you find ways to rebalance your Inflammation Circuit and improve your gut health when you have AFS. It will improve your health over the short term and perhaps help you avoid Parkinson’s and the associated problems in the long term. However, this can be extremely difficult to do when you have AFS. Your system will be very sensitive and prone to reacting badly when you make changes, even healthy ones. That’s why you should only make alternations to your lifestyle with the help of someone who’s aware of AFS and can design an individual program that will help rather than harm your body.

How AFS Affects Brain Health

When you have AFS, it’s likely that your Neuroaffect Circuit is already in poor health. This circuit includes the brain as well as the microbiome and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The various circuits and systems in the body are strongly connected, so as the adrenals become fatigued and the circuits they’re linked to go out of balance, the Neuroaffect Circuit will become dysregulated.

When the Neuroaffect Circuit is unhealthy, the results can be frightening and difficult to manage. The ANS triggers the flight or fight response and encourages the release of powerful Neurotransmitters (NT), which increases the demand for cortisol in response. This can be a key cause of adrenal fatigue. It often results in NT imbalances as the body struggles to cope with the high-stress levels and circuit imbalances. NTs are the brain’s messengers, so imbalances will decrease brain functioning and disrupt hormone levels and your biological clock.

These problems are bad enough. But they will also have a direct effect on your gut health. And the opposite is true as well.

The Circle of Poor Brain Health and Poor Gut Health

image of the human brain in blue and white pattern experiencing distressAs the Neuroaffect Circuit becomes unbalanced and brain health declines, gut health will do the same. This is because the gut and brain are in direct communication via the vagus nerve, so dysfunctions in either system will directly affect the other. If you have AFS, this could have direct consequences for your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in the long term. Imbalances in the Neuroaffect Circuit will cause declining brain health, which can worsen gut issues, including permeability. This could allow Alpha-Synuclein proteins to pass from the gut into other parts of the body and encourage their aggregation in the brain. If this occurs, it will further affect brain health and functioning.

The link between the gut and brain health also means that the gut health problems that occur with AFS will also directly affect the health of the brain. This is not just related to the development of Parkinson’s disease, it’s more general as well. The tight link between these systems is why gut microbiota imbalances are strongly implicated in mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. And these types of problems will increase your general stress levels, worsen Neuroaffect Circuit Imbalances, and exacerbate your AFS.

The research about the link between Parkinson’s and gut health suggests that gut problems may also have long term consequences for brain health. It may do this by allowing unwanted substances to pass through the intestinal lining. This will foster the accumulation and growth of Alpha-Synuclein proteins around the neurons. If true, this will cause declining neuronal health and even neuron death. Both of these will seriously impact the health and functioning of the brain. This will not only increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s,  it will also decrease brain health, worsen imbalances in the Neuroaffect Circuit, and increase your stress levels.

The Takeaway

Modern science is only just starting to understand how important gut health is to general health and disease avoidance. No doubt, this importance will only increase over time as poor gut health is linked to additional disorders and diseases. The link between Parkinson’s and gut health is one of the more unexpected results of this research. And it's also one of the most troubling if you have AFS and the associated gut problems and poor brain health. That's why understanding this information is pivotal if you want to protect your present and future health.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

The cause of Parkinson’s disease isn’t known, which severely affects the strategies to alleviate symptoms and halt the associated neurodegeneration. However, there is a growing body of work that suggests a strong link between Parkinson’s and gut health that could determine affect the future of this disorder.

© Copyright 2001-2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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