There’s a book floating around the more “eccentric” health care circles called The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine. Colon therapists quote it, and raw food fanatics cite it as proof that we should all be noshing on sprouts and probiotics; and lately, even functional medicine gurus draw on the same theory and research: Our brains are controlled by our stomachs, they say; things like depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders hinge on what we eat, and maintaining healthy gut bacteria is a far better treatment for mental health than Wellbutrin or Prozac. Of course, most people have yet to swap their chemical uppers for sprouts, but a recent study linking stomach bugs to Parkinson’s might make some people give The Second Brain a second chance.
Helicobacter pylori, a common gut bacteria — apparently at least 50% of humans have it — is known to contribute to ulcers and stomach cancer, but at an American Society for Microbiology on March 22, researchers said it might also trigger Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating neurological disease. In studies at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, mice who were infected with the bacteria demonstrated impaired movement — an effect of Parkinson’s caused by lowered dopamine production in the brain — while uninfected mice moved regularly.
Though the connection is still tentative, researchers suspect it’s the biochemical structure of the bacteria that’s contributing to neurological dysfunction; the bacteria were linked to Parkinson’s whether they were alive or dead. But the question still remains whether removing the bacteria would be beneficial for everyone; studies have also attributed the prevention of asthma, allergies, and acid-reflux-related cancers to the bacteria.
No one’s exactly sure how this research will aid in Parkinson’s prevention, but one thing is certain: It might be time to get yourself a copy of The Second Brain and a good quality probiotic.