Healthy Living

Eradicating H. Pylori Infections Is Key for Parkinson's Disease, Study Suggests

A recent study has found that eradicating H. Pylori infections can allow patients to better absorb Levodopa. Learn more.

Eradicating H. Pylori Infections Is Key for Parkinson's Disease, Study Suggests

Genetic mutations are responsible for a small number of Parkinson’s disease cases, but most of the cases originate from unknown environmental issues. Now scientists are turning their attention to identify the environmental risk factors that may cause Parkinson’s disease, including Helicobacter pylori infections (H. plyori), which are common in the gut.

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Parkinson’s affects the portion of your brain that controls your movement. It comes on slowly, but over time you see a bit of shakiness in your hand. Eventually, Parkinson’s will have an impact on how you think, walk, talk, and even sleep. Most people with Parkinson’s are over 60, but in a few rare cases, Parkinson’s can affect those who are younger. There is no cure, but you can get treatment to help manage symptoms.

There are a few ideas of what causes Parkinson’s, including damage to brain cells in the substantia nigra. Cells in this area produce the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a messenger that tells other areas of your brain what part of your body you want to move. As these cells die, your dopamine level decreases, and it becomes difficult to management movements. What is unknown is why these cells die. Scientists believe it may be your environment and genes that work together in ways that we don’t understand.

Genes are the teachers in your body. Once a gene makes a change, it causes your body to work in slightly different ways. Changes in genes can also mean that you are at risk for certain diseases.

Changes to genes that increase your risk for Parkinson’s are a part of this disease in about 1 in 10 people. Changes don’t guarantee that you’ll get Parkinson’s, and this is the big question. Is the environment the key? What part of the environment plays in gene changes and Parkinson’s is hard to find. The environment is everything around you – where you live, what you eat, chemicals you work with, and so many more factors.

It could take years for the effects from an element in the environment to pop up in your genes. Doctors have many clues, but no one definitive answer. Maybe it is the chemicals you work around, but many of your co-workers may not get Parkinson’s. So what could it be?

Environmental Factors

There is enormous interest in finding the environmental risk factors involved in Parkinson’s disease. One link being studied is between Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) and gastric ulcers. Scientists have realized for years that this harmful bacterium causes ulcers, but new evidence suggests that this harmful bacterium may also contribute to Parkinson’s disease. In the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, a synopsis of the current literature that discusses the link between H. pylori and PD have found this link to be very high.

What researchers have found:

  • Those with PD are about 1.5-3 fold more than likely to have H. pylori.
  • Those PD patients who have extreme motor functions are infected with H. pylori.
  • Once H. pylori is eradiated from Parkinson’s disease patients, motor functions improved.
  • Without the environmental contamination of H. pylori, Parkinson’s patients had improved Levodopa absorption.

"This is an in-depth and comprehensive review that summarizes all the major papers in the medical literature on Parkinson's disease and H. pylori, the common stomach bacterium that causes gastritis, ulcers and stomach cancer," David J. McGee, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport, Shreveport, LA, explained. He is the lead author of this study. "Our conclusion is that there is a strong enough link between the H. pylori and Parkinson's disease that additional studies are warranted to determine the possible causal relationship."

Research sounds promising, and the exciting explanations could be:

  • The toxins produced by H. pylori are the cause of damage to neurons in the brain.
  • H. pylori trigger infections that contribute to massive inflammatory responses that cause damages to the brain.
  • H. pylori disrupts the gut microbial flora, which interrupts the rest of your system.
  • Bacteria might interfere with the absorption of Levodopa, which is the medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease often is preceded by gastrointestinal infections. The suggestion that the condition might start in the gut and spread to the brain along the brain-gut axis is currently being researched. Researchers suggest that this has been documented in lab rats.

Checking PD patients for H. pylori and providing treatment can contribute to improved Levodopa absorption and improvement PD symptoms. Could treatments for H. pylori improve both lifestyle and lifespan in those with Parkinson’s disease?

"Evidence for a strong association among H. pylori chronic infection, peptic ulceration and exacerbation of PD symptoms is accumulating," Dr. McGee concluded.

In a study done in Malaysia, the results confirmed that treating H. pylori with antibiotic therapy effectively caused an uplift in Levodopa absorption. Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim told Medscape Medical News,  "It was our hypothesis that H. pylori impair the absorption of levodopa and its eradication would, in fact, improve clinical symptoms. And indeed, we were very impressed by the robust improvement in all the parameters, as early as six weeks of eradication and was sustained at least for three months.”

Researchers caution that the hypothesis that H. pylori infection is a factor in Parkinson’s disease has not been fully explored. H. pylori might be one answer. Gut inflammation, microflora, cholesterol and potential neurotoxins from dietary sources or bacteria might be other causes. The eradication of H. pylori might return gut microflora balance in PD patients, and this may help with L-dopa absorption, motor dysfunction, and intestinal symptoms.

Risks for Parkinson’s Disease

Studies have produced links between environmental factors and Parkinson’s disease. These are:

  • Agent Orange is a chemical used to destroy vegetation in the Vietnam War.
  • Chemicals used in farming such as insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides,
  • Metals and chemicals used in manufacturing and factories like manganese, lead, and trichloroethylene (TC),
  • Workers who are exposed to plutonium or other radioactive substances used in the nuclear industry.

There are situations where these chemicals can also seep into well water. High concentrations in culinary water might cause Parkinson’s disease symptoms.