- A study analyzed the medical records of about 25,000 Parkinson’s patients
- Those who had their appendix removed were 52% less likely to be affected
Parkinson’s disease may originate in the appendix, scientists suggested after a study found that those who had the organ removed were less likely to develop the condition.
Researchers from Belgium and the United States examined the medical records of about 25,000 Parkinson’s patients to determine whether intestinal problems could be a warning sign of the neurodegenerative disease.
They found that patients suffering from constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s than those without these symptoms.
However, the results also suggested that those who had their appendix removed (usually only in response to infection) were 52 percent less likely to be diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease.
Experts said the study suggests that the organ, which has no known function, is at the origin of Parkinson’s, although more studies are needed to confirm this finding.
Experts said the study suggests that the appendix (red), which has no known function, is the origin of Parkinson’s, although more studies are needed to confirm this finding.
Knowing the symptoms of Parkinson’s can allow earlier diagnoses and access to treatments that improve the quality of life of patients
Scientists don’t know exactly what the appendix does, but removing it isn’t harmful.
Experts believe that our ancestors used it to digest hard foods like tree bark. Some research suggests that it produces and stores microbes that improve gut health.
The latest study, published in the journal Intestinesuggest that the appendix could be a source of a misfolded alpha-synuclein.
The protein is found in the brain, heart and muscle tissues, but when it binds, it forms toxic clumps that are thought to help spread Parkinson’s.
Dr Tim Bartels, group leader from the UK Dementia Research Institute at UCL, said: “An interesting takeaway from the study is the apparently protective association of appendectomy with Parkinson’s disease, further implying that the appendix could be the origin of the pathological aggression”. which then spreads through the intestine and finally to the brain.
“Since this latter association was within the range of possible surveillance bias, this needs to be further validated.”
For the study, the team of scientists from the University Hospitals of Leuven and the Mayo Clinic in Arizona studied people with Parkinson’s.
They were matched with patients of the same age, gender and ethnic origin who did not have Parkinson’s disease to compare diagnoses of intestinal conditions in their medical records in the five years before their Parkinson’s was detected.
They found that constipation, difficulty swallowing, and gastroparesis (a condition that slows the movement of food into the small intestine) were associated with a doubling of the risk of developing Parkinson’s in the five years before diagnosis.
IBS patients without diarrhea had a 17 percent increased risk.
Clare Bale, associate director of Parkinson’s research in the UK, said the “findings add further weight” to the hypothesis that intestinal problems could be an early sign of the disease.
He added: “Understanding how and why gut problems appear in the early stages of Parkinson’s could open up opportunities for early detection and gut-directed treatment approaches to improve symptoms and even slow or stop disease progression.”