Team spotlights new evidence that Parkinson's starts in the gut

Following up on what's billed as the largest epidemiological study ever done on Parkinson's disease, a group of scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark say they have determined that the neurological ailment begins in the gut and then spreads through the body by way of the vagus nerve.

If they're right, the new research could help point to new treatments that could prevent Parkinson's from occurring.

There have already been animal and cell studies that suggest a link between Parkinson's and the vagus nerve. But in this case the team pored over the records of 15,000 patients whose vagus nerve had been severed as part of a common treatment for ulcers.

"Our study shows that patients who have had the entire vagus nerve severed were protected against Parkinson's disease," says Elisabeth Svensson, a postdoc student at Aarhus. "Their risk was halved after 20 years. However, patients who only had a small part of the vagus nerve severed were not protected. This also fits the hypothesis that the disease process is strongly dependent on a fully or partially intact vagus nerve to be able to reach and affect the brain."

The team noted that many Parkinson's patients have complained about earlier gastrointestinal problems, another piece to the puzzle about this disease.

"Now that we have found an association between the vagus nerve and the development of Parkinson's disease, it is important to carry out research into the factors that may trigger this neurological degeneration, so that we can prevent the development of the disease. To be able to do this will naturally be a major breakthrough," adds Svensson.

- here's the release
- read the research abstract