For quite some time, scientists have understood that the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease develop when dopamine-producing brain cells start to die. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps regulate movement, and as its levels decrease, Parkinson’s disease emerges.
One thing researchers have however not understood is why those cells begin to break down in the first place, but a huge new study seems to have discovered the reason.
Researchers went through the records of more than 1.6 million patients, some of which went as far back as 52 years. While a lot of people think that Parkinson’s as affecting the muscles, but researchers suspect that the gut shows the earliest signs of the disease.
In this massive study, scientists put their focus on the appendix, which is attached to the large intestine. The results in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggest that the organ plays a big role in development of the disease.
People who had their appendix removed early on in life had a 19 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s, according to the findings. In rural areas, where Parkinson’s is more common, the effect was even stronger: People with appendectomies were 25 percent less likely to get a diagnosis.
While Appendix removal can’t fully prevent or stop the disease, but those who did develop Parkinson’s after losing their appendix pushed back diagnosis by more than three years.
Removing the appendix after symptoms appeared didn’t seem to offer any protection, though. What’s more, the researchers found marks of Lewy bodies, which are abnormal clumps of a protein called alpha-synuclein, in appendixes. Lewy bodies in the brain are a hallmark of Parkinson’s, but interestingly, even healthy people had the proteins in their appendixes.
Parkinson’s is relatively rare— as less than 1 percent of the population has it. So, there has to be some other mechanism or confluence of events that allows the appendix to affect Parkinson’s risk. Researchers plan to look at the factor or factors that tip the scale in favour of Parkinson’s.