A Big Time Parkinson’s Brood

As I sit here this morning, the rain is heaving down outside.  It is dark and dismal and reminds me of my trip to the UK last week.  (Except that it’s 30 degrees warmer here!)

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This of course brought to mind some of the events of that trip…which included finding out that yet another friend, also around 50 years old, has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  That’s already the 3rd for me, diagnosed with what used to be called an old man’s disease.  (Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s than women.)

Ironically, over dinner and before he told me the news, I’d commented that I have been very upset lately, watching all my friends – all 50ish, give or take a few years either way – become sick.  For the women, it’s mainly reproductive cancers and Hashimoto’s (autoimmune thyroid disease).  For the men, it’s Parkinson’s and IBD.  The list also includes severe allergies, cardiovascular illnesses, migraines, other digestive illnesses, depression, and anxiety issues.

I told my friend that if he were going to get the diagnosis of Parkinson’s, this was the week to do it.  So said his neurologist, funnily enough.  As you all know if you’ve been reading my blog regularly, an astounding number of seminal papers have been published recently.

I looked up the rates of Parkinson’s, curious to see if it too is increasing in frequency, like so many other inflammatory illnesses.  According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation[i], “As many as one million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease…” and “Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year…”  Holy cow.  Almost exactly a year ago, an article[ii] was published in JAMA  Neurology that states that yes, the incidence between 1976 and 2005 more than doubled in older men. (It does not, however, state whether or not the incidence is increasing in younger men too, only that it’s more common in older than younger.)  And their suggested cause of this enormous increase?  The decrease in smoking rates.  Apparently, smoking is associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s.  I’m sure I don’t need to state the obvious here…but I will anyway, ‘cause I can never resist a good bit of sarcasm to amuse myself.  Is the medical solution then to the increased rate of Parkinson’s disease to start encouraging smoking?! Because that’s going to work out well for everyone.

What with the fact that in the last 3 months, research has pretty clearly suggested that Parkinson’s starts with a negative alteration of the gut biome; that this chronic “infection” leads to increased production and eventual aggregation and distortion (folding) of the immune protein, alpha-synuclein…which then travels from the gut to the brain via nerves, causing an autoimmune response in the brain leading to the destruction of dopamine producing cells…well, once again, doesn’t common sense dictate that working on the health of the gut biome would at least help…and certainly not hurt?

I mean, call me crazy but….

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[i] http://www.pdf.org/parkinson_statistics

[ii] Savica, Rodolfo, et. al.  Time Trends in the Incidence of Parkinson’s Disease.  JAMA Neurology. 2016;73(8):981-989.


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