Every day scientists find new reasons for us to be good to our gut bacteria. There are more than 100 trillion bacterial cells living and working in the human body (vastly outnumbering our human cells) and if those microbes are unhealthy or out of balance it can impact our well-being. Just recently, researchers in Finland discovered that people with Parkinson’s disease have distinctly different gut bacteria*—and finding out more may one day help with treatment.
Parkinson’s disease affects nearly 1 million people in the United States and close to 4 million people across the globe. The progressive disorder affects the central nervous system and typically comes on later in life, but as of now there is no cure. Parkinson’s causes problems with motor function, and symptoms included trembling, loss of balance, changes in speech, and muscle stiffness.
For this study, scientists looked at nearly 150 men and women, half of whom have Parkinson’s while the others were considered “healthy controls”. When they analyzed the gut bacteria of both groups, they found fewer bacteria from the Prevotellaceae family in the Parkinson’s group as well as large numbers of Enterobacteriaceae bacteria, which appeared to be associated with more severe symptoms. For example, walking and maintaining balance were notably more difficult in patients with higher levels of these bacteria.
These clear differences in gut bacteria intrigued researchers, especially since gastrointestinal problems—mainly constipation—are often seen in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, before the more pronounced motor symptoms begin to manifest. And, because gut bacteria interact so closely with the nervous system, scientists wonder if altering the bacterial environment in the gut may one day help protect against the disease.
Lead author Dr. Filip Scheperjans and his team plan to continue studying the same group of patients to further examine the link between gut health and Parkinson’s disease. They hope to determine whether or not the differences in gut bacteria are there even before the onset of the disease—like a marker—and if they change as the disease advances. The answers may one day help doctors improve the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
A healthy mind and body are two things we should never take for granted. Regular checkups and health screenings can go a long way toward safeguarding health and reducing the risk of disease and early death for both men and women, but the truth is that men are far less likely to visit the doctor on a regular basis. In fact, only 54% of men remember the last time they saw their physician, according to a new survey by Orlando Health.
This month as we focus on men’s health, consider scheduling a physical exam (or reminding your dad, husband, or son to do the same) to assess your overall health and discuss any issues or concerns you may have—and don’t be surprised if your doc orders one or more of the following tests, which are typically recommended for guys every year or few years starting in early adulthood:
- Blood Pressure: High blood pressure (or hypertension) affects nearly one-third of American adults and is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Because it is “largely a symptomless condition” according to the American Heart Association, regular screenings are important for early detection.
- Blood Tests & Urinalysis: Blood and urine tests are used to screen for various illnesses and diseases—including diabetes, impaired kidney function, or thyroid issues—before symptoms can occur.
- EKG: An electrocardiogram records the heart’s electrical activity and looks for any abnormalities. This test is important because heart disease is the leading cause of death among men in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Rectal Exam: Your doctor may order a rectal exam to screen for hemorrhoids or lower rectal problems as well as colon and/or prostate cancer.
- PSA Blood Test: Prostate Specific Antigen (or PSA) is produced by the prostate, and levels are higher when there is an abnormality such as an infection or cancer.
- Testosterone Screening: Symptoms of low testosterone include a decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, and changes in mood. This screening typically involves a brief analysis to determine symptoms, followed by a simple blood test.
Visit www.menshealthnetwork.org for a more comprehensive list of which tests are important, how often you should get them, and at what age they are recommended.