IBS May Be An Early Warning Sign Of Parkinson's, Research Suggests
There is constantly new research linking suboptimal gut health to many conditions, from eczema to anxiety and more. Most recently, a study suggests irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be an early warning sign of Parkinson's disease—a neurological condition with no known cure. To come, what researchers found and what this means for early Parkinson's detection.
Investigating a possible link between IBS and Parkinson's
Before we dive into these findings, let's cover the current state of Parkinson's research, preceding this study.
The most common suspected cause of Parkinson's disease is a pathological pattern of Lewy body (LB) protein deposition. These depositions, researchers say, mainly consist of misfolded α-synuclein—a presynaptic neuronal protein that is linked genetically and neuropathologically to Parkinson's disease1.
The new study, published in BMJ Journals set out to explore the possibility of Parkinson's disease originating in the gut, based on the fact that misfolded proteins have been found in the GI tract and esophagus.
In order to study this, researchers looked for Parkinson's patients who had digestive symptoms before being diagnosed with the brain disorder.
The researchers analyzed a combination of case-control studies of 24,624 Parkinson's patients and a cohort study utilizing a U.S.-based nationwide medical record network. They looked for a broad range of both GI symptoms and GI diagnoses that appeared before Parkinson's diagnoses.
Researchers found that some (though not all) gut issues were linked with Parkinson's onset. Specifically, they found that dysphagia (swallowing difficulties), gastroparesis (a condition that slows or stops the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine), constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome without diarrhea were associated with an increased risk of Parkinson's disease.
The study also found that appendectomies seemed to somewhat protect from Parkinson's risk, leading to further speculation about its role in Parkinson's pathophysiology.
What's more, these GI symptoms and diagnoses had an even stronger correlation with Parkinson's disease than other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and cerebrovascular diseases (conditions that affect blood flow and the blood vessels in the brain).
The significance of this study lies in the potential of using GI symptoms to investigate Parkinson's sooner, which may lead to a more successful management plan.
There are hopes for "disease-modifying therapies," researchers state, that could prevent the progression of α-synuclein pathology. While there are no current treatments known to slow or halt the progression of Parkinson's disease, there are active trials for tests that may be able to detect Parkinson's disease before symptoms begin.
What does this mean for me?
More studies are needed to refine these findings and investigate possible treatments, but for now, the actionable takeaway starts with listening to your body and speaking with your health care provider when something feels off.
If you struggle with gut health complications, it's important to get help as soon as possible—not only for your own comfort and well-being but because GI symptoms may be a sign of something else going on in the body.
Also, prioritize tending to your gut at home—starting with your diet. Here's a full guide to consuming gut-healthy foods along with meal and snack recipes. You may consider looking into gut-supporting supplements such as probiotics, too. Here are some of our favorite picks if you're in the market.
Remember that while research is ongoing, taking good care of your gut is certainly never a bad idea.
A new study found that many GI symptoms such as trouble swallowing and constipation increased the risk of Parkinson's disease. This doesn't mean everyone with IBS will get Parkinson's, but it does serve as a potential early warning sign and thus something to pay attention to when it arises. In the meantime, take care of your gut on a daily basis. Here are more signs your gut may need some attention.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.