Parkinson's threat 20% lower if you've had appendix out

Henrietta Strickland
November 3, 2018

Removing an appendix after the disease has begun won't help at all, the researchers say, and it seems that an appendectomy is only useful for preventing the disease from starting in the first place.

"Among people who did develop Parkinson's disease, we found that the age of onset was delayed by an appendectomy on average by 3.6 years", said study author Viviane Labrie, assistant professor at Van Andel Research Institute in MI, during a conference call with reporters.

In rural areas of Sweden, where people may be more exposed to pesticides, which may play a role in Parkinson's, the effect was even greater: a 25 per cent lower risk of developing the incurable disorder, which affects millions of people worldwide. And people who were younger than 20 had just as many clumps as did people between age 50 and 80, negating any hypothesis that abnormal protein aggregates multiply with age.

"Some scientists have called the intestine the second brain, because of the number of neurons that are present in there", said co-author Patrik Brundin, director of the Centre for Neurodegenerative Science at Van Andel Research Institute.

"Our results point to the appendix as a site of origin for Parkinson's and provide a path forward for devising new treatment strategies that leverage the gastrointestinal tract's role in the development of the disease,"said the study's lead author, Dr Viviane Labrie".

When they looked at 48 samples of appendixes, the team found that 46 had clumps of a protein called α-synuclein, which is also found in the brains of Parkinson's patients and is believed to be a main driver of the disease.

The vagus nerve is one of the key nerves that connects the brain to the body.

The discovery could lead to a cure for the disorder that attacks the central nervous system.

More research is needed to clarify that connection between the microbiome, the appendix and Parkinson's, but Labrie suggested that the immune system may play an important role. James Beck, chief scientist at the Parkinson's Foundation, tells Susan Scutti at CNN that even if the disease might start in the gut, surgery is not the answer. The first dataset was garnered from the Swedish National Patient Registry, a one-of-a-kind database that contains de-identified medical diagnoses and surgical histories for the Swedish population beginning in 1964, and Statistics Sweden, a Swedish governmental agency responsible for official national statistics. The registry is unique because since 1964 it has maintained a full record of diagnoses and surgeries for a huge swath of the Swedish patient pool.

Data for the study were gleaned from an in-depth characterization and visualization of alpha-synuclein forms in the appendix, which bore a remarkable resemblance to those found in the Parkinson's disease brain, as well as analyses of two large health-record databases.

The research found that the risk for the disease, which has famously affected high-profile figures like actor Michael J. Fox and boxer Muhammad Ali, was found to be greatly reduced in people who have had their appendix removed.

The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, found further corroborative evidence of a link in a United States database of 849 Parkinson's patients, where they found that those who had undergone an appendectomy developed the disease on average 3.6 years later. These proteins are found in the appendix. People who had their appendix removed were 19 percent less likely to develop Parkinson's, but in rural areas, the disease was lessened by 25 percent. That raises the prospect for developing new therapies created to prevent such protein clumps from escaping the appendix.

The study, conducted at the Van Andel Research Institute in MI, was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

Overall, finding a link between the appendix and Parkinson's is significant, he said. "In other words, having an appendectomy will not definitely decrease [the] risk of Parkinson's". "But much work remains to be done". In most cases, the causes of Parkinson's are a mystery.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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