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Growing Evidence

Evidence of a link between various cognitive and developmental disorders and bacteria living in the gut is growing. Studies have shown a difference in the microbiomes of children living with autism and children not on the spectrum of autism disorders. Now, research is emerging that suggests a link between gut bacteria and Parkinson's disease.

According to Haydeh Payami, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Neurology, at the University of Alabama (UAB) School of Medicine, "Our study showed major disruption of the normal microbiome — the organisms in the gut — in individuals with Parkinson's." Researchers are unsure which comes first, the microbial disruption or the disease. They will have to continue studying to see if having Parkinson's causes changes in the bacteria or if abnormalities in the microbiome contribute to the development of the disease.

The study consisted of 197 Parkinson's sufferers and 130 control subjects. The research has been published in Movement Disorders, the journal of the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.

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New Frontier

The implications of these study results mean are immense. It could now be possible to find ways to better and faster diagnose Parkinson's disease and maybe one day even find more effective treatment options.

The study found that some species of bacteria were found in greater numbers in non-Parkinson's subjects, while other species were found in significantly fewer numbers. Current Parkinson's medications could partially be to blame for these disparities.

"It could be that, in some people, a drug alters the microbiome so that it causes additional health problems in the form of side effects," Payami said. "Another consideration is that the natural variability in the microbiome could be a reason some people benefit from a given drug and others are unresponsive. The growing field of pharmacogenomics — tailoring drugs based on an individual's genetic makeup — may need to take the microbiome into consideration."

The study is currently being repeated in Alabama to replicate and confirm the results. Payami says, "This opens up new horizons, a totally new frontier."

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