Researchers in Finland found 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 the Finish 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.