Could fixing our guts fix our PD brains? By Dr. De Leon

Support Bacteria. It’s the only culture some people have.

~  Anonymous

As of lately, there has been a lot of talk and publicity about gut bacteria and their role in diseases like Parkinson’s. We have all heard the old adage, “you are what you eat!” Perhaps our parents and grandparents knew something that we are beginning to rediscover. The brain sends signals to the gut via the vagus nerve; this is the reason why many of us when stressed and anxious feel pain and other symptoms involving the Gi tract (gut). But, as all of us who suffer from PD know, when we suffer with constipation and other Gi symptoms we are just not ourselves. Chronic constipation can lead to PD patients experiencing headaches, fatigue, and mood swings. So, it comes as no surprise when researchers say that the gut also sends signals to the brain. The term having a “gut feeling” takes on a new meaning in light of this.

In previous posts, I discussed how the presence of H. Pylori bacteria in the gut can affect the absorption of PD meds. I also stated that this should be one of the first things to look at when suddenly you are confronted with motor fluctuations.

More important is the ever growing idea that there may be “good” and “bad” bacteria in our guts which can alter our risk or susceptibility to various neurological disease such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

In the field of Parkinson’s disease, scientists are beginning to move away from a notion that disease starts in the basal ganglia to sites away from the brain like the gut. Although, there is mounting evidence that Parkinson’s may indeed start in the gut, this theory still remains to be proven.  Nevertheless, as I stated earlier there is a clear relationship between PD and the gastrointestinal tract.

So, what role does gut bacteria play in relationship to PD?

Recent studies led by a Finnish group led by Dr. Scheperjans, who conducted a small study of 72 PD patients and equal controls, found that the presence of certain bacteria called Enterobacteriase can lead to balance and gait issues in those who have PD. While another bacteria Prevotellaceae was dramatically decreased in those with PD. Experts are not sure what having various types of bacteria in the gut mean for treatment and prognosis of PD, yet. However, the knowledge that changing the gut bacteria or microbat can lead to dramatic changes in the brain holds a promising future for those of us with the illness.

The possibilities could be endless if indeed dietary changes can significantly alter the state of our brain including mood, cognitive function and behavior. This glimpse into futuristic brain treatments consisting of holistic dietary approaches was made a reality by a small study of healthy women who consumed yogurt on a regular basis. Scientists discover that probiotics, beneficial bacteria that helps with digestion, found in yogurt can actually change the way our minds and brain respond to our environment. The women who did not consume the yogurt had a wide spread decrease in areas that involve sensation, cognition and emotion while those that did have yogurt showed an increase in activity over the same areas; thus, proving that there are signals sent from the gut to the brain which can change or vary depending on diet. This is extremely important for future research and over all well being of people that suffer chronic illnesses in which the gut is involved.

This leads to the question, can fixing our guts and our diet fix our brain?

Perhaps it can!

We know that there are gut bacteria that produce a neurochemicals called GABA (Gamma-amino- butyric acid)- which is also found in our brains, this chemical is known to modulates pain. This is the main compound in drugs like Neurontin used for pain and tremor control. Therefore, when GABA is present in abundance we have less pain and thus more relaxed- less likely to shake. You can imagine that if our gut has none or little of these bacteririum producing this chemical we are more prone to signal pain, and distress to our brains. This in turn can make the brain go overdrive releasing chemicals to deal with this.

Other bacteria which are also crucial in the colon are our two friend’s dopamine and serotonin. In the brain they regulate mood and behavior as well as learning. How the gut made version of these chemicals stimulate or affect the brain is anyone’s guess. Scientists believe that these chemicals also send information via the vagus nerve up to the brain. Further, these so-called ‘good’ bacteria are involved in the production of stress hormones. So if there are not enough good bacteria present in the gut then we are more likely to have increase changes in our hormone levels and unexpected reactions to stress.

Finally, the bugs in our gut are also involved in helping and controlling our immune system. But, if we have a poor diet there may not be enough of the ‘right’ kind of bugs. This disequilibrium can lead to food allergies and food sensitivities. When this happens our immune system to go haywire over producing cytokines- inflammatory cells- which then wreak havoc in our bodies leading to fatigue, depression, anxiety and foggy brain. I believe that this maybe the connection between those of us who have ulcerative colitis or Chron’s disease and then later develop PD- pure speculation on my part which remains to be studied.

The thing is that we still don’t know who should take a probiotic? What dose has maximum therapeutic benefit? Which strains of bacteria to enhance?

Only time will tell if more studies showing benefits of particular bacteria come to light -which could lead the way to a whole new way of treating our brains or even preventing illnesses! In the mean time I have always been an advocate of having a well balanced diet – everything is okay as long as in moderation. Too much of a good thing sometimes is just too much. Don’t be afraid to eat that steak and bread with butter as long as you have a side of vegetables and fruit to balance. Perhaps, in the future when we diagnose PD or depression instead of handing a bag full of medicines, we will also recommend to take a yogurt a day!


Dr. M. De Leon is a movement disorder specialist on sabbatical, PPAC member and research advocate for PDF (Parkinson’s Disease Foundation); Texas State Assistant Director for PAN (Parkinson’s Action Network). You can learn more about her work at you can also learn more about Parkinson’s disease at or at;, All materials here forth are property of Defeatparkinsons. without express written consent, these materials only may be used for viewers personal & non-commercial uses which do not harm the reputation of Defeatparkinsons organization or Dr. M. De Leon provided you do not remove any copyrights. To request permission to reproduce release of any part or whole of content, please contact me at contributor Contributor

Categories: biomarkers in parkinson's, chronic illness, diet, parkinson's disease, parkinsons health and beauty tipsTags: , , , , , , , , ,

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