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New “Poop Pill” Improves Parkinson’s Symptoms

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There’s a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease that’s not for the faint-hearted. However, results of a recent clinical trial show its remarkable effectiveness in relieving many of the symptoms that damage patients’ quality of life just might win over those reluctant to try it.

We’re talking about a treatment that restores the gut health of Parkinson’s patients using fecal microbiota, or to put it plainly, human poop.

Yuck! Furthermore, how can a treatment for the gut be beneficial for the brain?

Parkinson’s Disease May Start in The Gut

Before we get into the particulars of the fecal treatment, it’s important to point out that researchers are, at long last, exploring the gut-brain connection for neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease.

The latest thinking is that Parkinson’s can be kicked off by either the brain or the gut. The gut hypothesis is based on the fact that gastrointestinal dysfunction is highly prevalent before the onset of the disease. Four out of five have a prolonged colon transit time—the time it takes for food to pass through the colon—a marker for constipation.

Newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients often have intestinal inflammation and a leaky gut; their gut microorganisms are unbalanced with more harmful bacteria and less healthy ones compared to healthy subjects.

It’s also been shown that the appendix can kick-start the disease.

In addition to this evidence, clumps of alpha-synuclein protein, a hallmark of Parkinson’s, have been spotted in the intestines before disease onset. In animal models, they’ve been shown to reach the brain through the vagal nerve.

There’s human evidence for this also. Patients who had a vagotomy, where part of the vagal nerve is cut (a rare treatment for peptic ulcers), had a significantly reduced risk of Parkinson’s in the years that followed the surgery. We’ve reported several times on numerous types of vagus nerve stimulation as a way to relieve pain and improve brain function, digestion, and even memory and mood.

So, where does human poop come in?

It’s Gross, But This “Poop” Treatment Works

Feces contain thousands of microbial organisms that can recolonize and heal the gut. A treatment called fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) takes advantage of their healing power. Here’s how FMT works: Feces are taken from a healthy human donor and transplanted into a patient. A tube is inserted into the patient’s nose, fed down the throat, and guided into the small intestine.

While hard to contemplate, the results speak for themselves.

In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial named GUT-PARFECT, 46 patients aged 50 to 65 with mild to moderate early-stage Parkinson’s disease put FMT to the test. Half received a healthy donor stool, while the other half received their own stool to act as a placebo group. The fecal microbiota transplant was a one-time procedure and was evaluated over the course of twelve months.

At the six-month mark, researchers reported that Parkinson’s patients receiving FMT enjoyed improvements in motor symptoms. By the end of the trial, the MDS-UPDRS - considered the gold standard scale to assess Parkinson’s symptoms – rose by 5.8 points in the healthy donor group compared to just 2.7 points in the placebo group. This is well above 3.25, the level that indicates a clinically relevant improvement.

Constipation, a common symptom of Parkinson’s, improved. Tests showed a slower progression of constipation in the treated group compared to the placebo group at three to six months.

Professor Roosmarijn Vandenbroucke, a member of the research team from Ghent University in Belgium, explained, saying, "Our study provides promising hints that FMT can be a valuable new treatment for Parkinson's disease. More research is needed, but it offers a potentially safe, effective, and cost-effective way to improve symptoms and quality of life for millions of people with Parkinson's disease worldwide."

Professor Vandebroucke is hopeful that the FDA will take notice and approve this treatment for Parkinson’s patients. Currently, FMT is FDA-approved to treat recurrent Clostridium difficile infection, a gastrointestinal infection that causes diarrhea and abdominal pain-- where it has a 90 percent success rate. That’s right, nine out of ten patients get better!

What’s more, researchers are hopeful FMT can one day be replaced with a ‘poop pill’ to make the treatment easier on patients. Professor Debby Laukens, another member of the Ghent research team said: "Our next step is to obtain funding to determine which bacteria have a positive influence. This could lead to the development of a 'bacterial pill' or other targeted therapy that could replace FMT in the future."

Our Takeaway

This is just the latest clinical trial to add to the scientific evidence of the gut's importance in the prevention and treatment of neurological illnesses like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. In other words, don’t neglect your gut! Especially if you have risk factors for neurological problems.

The most important step in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is to eat foods like fruits and vegetables and fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and kimchi while avoiding processed foods and refined sugars. You should also supplement with a high-quality probiotic supplement.

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