A new study, published in the journal Cell, suggests Parkinson’s disease may be caused by bacteria living in the gut.
Scientists say the findings could eventually lead to new ways of treating the brain disorder, such as drugs to kill gut bugs or probiotics.
In Parkinson’s disease the brain is progressively damaged, leading to patients experiencing a tremor and difficulty moving.
Californian researchers used mice genetically programmed to develop Parkinson’s disease as they produced very high levels of the protein alpha-synuclein, which is associated with damage in the brains of Parkinson’s patients.
Experts found that only those animals with bacteria in their stomachs developed symptoms. Sterile mice remained healthy.
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder and the most common movement disorder
Further tests showed transplanting bacteria from Parkinson’s patients to mice led to more symptoms than bacteria taken from healthy people.
Dr. Timothy Sampson, one of the researchers at the California Institute of Technology, said: “This was the <<eureka>> moment, the mice were genetically identical, the only difference was the presence or absence of gut microbiota.
“Now we were quite confident that gut bacteria regulate, and are even required for, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.”
Researchers believe the bacteria are releasing chemicals that over-activate parts of the brain, leading to damage.
The bacteria can break down fiber into short-chain fatty acids. It is thought an imbalance in these chemicals triggers the immune cells in the brain to cause damage.
Dr. Sarkis Mazmanian said: “We have discovered for the first time a biological link between the gut microbiome and Parkinson’s disease.
“More generally, this research reveals that a neurodegenerative disease may have its origins in the gut and not only in the brain as had been previously thought.
“The discovery that changes in the microbiome may be involved in Parkinson’s disease is a paradigm shift and opens entirely new possibilities for treating patients.”
Parkinson’s disease is currently incurable.
The findings need to be confirmed in humans, but the researchers hope that drugs that work in the digestive system or even probiotics may become new therapies for the disease.
The trillions of bacteria that live in the gut are hugely important to health, so wiping them out completely is not an option.
According to a study by the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID), parechovirus can cause developmental delays and brain damage in babies.
More than 100 babies were hospitalized with parechovirus in 2013 and 2014.
One year later, doctors found that many of these babies had developmental problems.
No specific treatment or vaccine is currently available.
According to ASID, babies infected with the virus suffered from symptoms such as seizures, irritability and muscle twitches.
“This is a new virus and we know very little about it. This study is helping improve our understanding of some of the long-term consequences of infection in children and the results are concerning,” said ASID president Prof. Cheryl Jones in a statement.
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Parechovirus was identified in Europe just over a decade ago.
However, Australia recently recorded one of the world’s largest outbreaks, starting in Sydney in late 2013.
ASID said over 100 babies were hospitalized in Sydney alone during this outbreak, with 70% of these children suffering from neurological infection.
The new study successfully followed up on 46 out of 79 of the infants, with half of them showing some developmental issues at 12 months.
Nearly 20% of the children had developed significant neurological problems.
“This clearly illustrates just how vitally important it is that we follow up young infants with brain infections from this virus and remain on alert for emerging infectious diseases,” Prof. Cheryl Jones said.
“It also highlights our need to develop an adequate response.
“There is currently no vaccination and no treatment for this virus. And whilst we are not anticipating a global epidemic we can certainly be confident that we will have further outbreaks in Australia.”
Parechovirus is spread by contact with bodily fluids such as airborne droplets of saliva, in the same way as the common cold.
A new research suggests that drinking cocoa every day may help older people keep their brains healthy.
A study of 60 elderly people with no dementia found two cups of cocoa a day improved blood flow to the brain in those who had problems to start with.
Those participants whose blood flow improved also did better on memory tests at the end of the study, the journal Neurology reported.
Experts said more research was needed before conclusions could be drawn.
It is not the first time cocoa has been linked with vascular health and researchers believe that this is in part due to it being rich in flavanols, which are thought to have an important role.
In the latest study, researchers asked 60 people with an average age of 73 to drink two cups of cocoa a day – one group given high-flavanol cocoa and another a low-flavanol cocoa – and consume no other chocolate.
Drinking cocoa every day may help older people keep their brains healthy
Ultrasound tests at the start of the study showed 17 of them had impaired blood flow to the brain.
There was no difference between those who drank flavanol-rich cocoa and those who had flavanol-poor cocoa.
But whichever drink they were given, 88% of those with impaired blood flow at the start of the study saw improvements in blood flow and some cognitive tests, compared with 37% of people whose blood flow was normal at the beginning of the study.
MRI scans in 24 participants found that people with impaired blood flow were also more likely to have tiny areas of brain damage.
“We’re learning more about blood flow in the brain and its effect on thinking skills,” said study author Dr. Farzaneh Sorond a neurologist at Harvard Medical School.
“As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
The researchers said the lack of difference between the flavanol-rich and flavanol-poor cocoa could be because another component of the drink was having an effect or because only small amounts were needed.
KFC has been ordered to pay $8.3 million to the family of Monika Samaan, an Australian girl left severely brain damaged after being poisoned by a chicken meal.
Monika Samaan fell ill with salmonella poisoning after eating a “Twister” wrap at a KFC restaurant near Sydney in 2005.
The poisoning left her wheelchair-bound and unable to speak.
The fast-food giant said it was “deeply disappointed” by the decision and would appeal.
A judge of the Supreme Court of the state of New South Wales awarded the A$8 million damages after ruling last week that KFC had breached its duty of care to the girl.
Monika Samaan has been left severely brain damaged after being poisoned by a KFC chicken meal
The family’s lawyer, George Vlahakis, said they were relieved by the decision.
“Monika’s severe brain damage and severe disability has already exhausted the very limited resources of the family,” George Vlahakis said.
“Monika is now a big girl and they are finding it increasingly difficult to lift her and to look after her basic needs as well as look after Monika’s younger siblings.
“The compensation ordered is very much needed. KFC have to date been determined that Monika does not receive a cent.”
KFC, which is owned by Yum! Brands, expressed surprise at the judge’s ruling, insisting the evidence did not show it caused Monika Samaan’s disability. It has indicated it will appeal.
“We feel deeply for Monika and the Samaan family. However, we also have a responsibility to defend KFC’s reputation as a provider of safe, high-quality food,” a company manager said.
The court was told that Monika Samaan was in a coma for six months after she, her parents and brother fell ill with vomiting and diarrhoea after sharing the wrap, the AAP news agency reports. The other family members all recovered.
The family’s lawyer told the court that at busy times, the restaurant would reuse chicken that had been dropped on the floor.