Gut Bacteria and Parkinson’s disease: How might diet influence this relationship?

Nathan Nuzum is a PhD candidate at the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Deakin University.  A full version of findings from this study can be found here.

The impact our gut bacteria has on our overall health is an emerging area of science and one that has generated a lot of interest. Personally, I am interested in the relationship between gut bacteria and Parkinson’s disease. While it may seem unlikely that something in our gut can influence physiological processes occurring within the brain, it is indeed possible and additionally this connection between our gut bacteria and brain may be modifiable through lifestyle factors like diet.

What we know about our gut bacteria and Parkinson’s disease so far

A diet higher in fibre helps the beneficial bacteria in our gut grow

From conducting a systematic review on gut bacteria and Parkinson’s disease we revealed 9/13 of the included studies showed that gut bacteria capable of producing a particular short chain fatty acid, butyrate, were less abundant in the Parkinson’s groups compared to the groups without Parkinson’s. This difference in butyrate producing bacteria is relevant as butyrate has important health promoting functions, which include maintaining the health of our intestinal walls and providing anti-inflammatory actions within the immune system. Importantly, both a reduction in butyrate, meaning a lack of anti-inflammatory compounds, and a compromised intestinal wall may further perpetuate the pathological processes involved in Parkinson’s disease.

What role might diet play in this pathway?

While it is important to show how gut bacteria might differ between these groups, it is also important to consider what the reasons are for these differences. Despite diet having been shown to alter the composition of our gut bacteria this factor was not well investigated in the included studies. Our diet contributes greatly to our gut bacteria composition, with perhaps the greatest change resulting from children moving from milk towards solid foods, where children’s microbiomes begin to resemble that of an adult. Additionally, throughout an adult’s life variations in diet have the capacity to alter our gut microbiome, however most people’s gut microbiomes remain fairly stable through adulthood, potentially because they do not undergo drastic shifts in dietary patterns.

But, what sort of impact might our dietary choices have on the different types of bacteria in our gut and the compounds that they produce? It has been shown that a diet higher in fibre helps the beneficial bacteria in our gut grow. These bacteria feed on the indigestible fibre and are then able to produce beneficial compounds, like the short chain fatty acid butyrate, mentioned above. Due to the positive impact indigestible fibre has on our gut bacteria it is classed as a ‘pre-biotic’, as it promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

Given the ability for diet to alter our gut bacteria, and the potentially important ways in which our gut bacteria may be related to Parkinson’s disease, knowing how gut bacteria is influenced by diet, and what implications this has for Parkinson’s disease is crucial to further understand the role of our gut and its bacteria in this condition. Ultimately, there is the potential for earlier diagnoses and additional therapeutic treatment options.

Take part in research!

Nathan is conducting a study looking to answer these very questions about how diet may impact our gut bacteria especially in relation to Parkinson’s disease. He is recruiting healthy younger and older adults, and people with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in Melbourne and Geelong throughout this year. We’d love to hear from you: [email protected].

Reposted with permission from Mind Body Microbiome

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