A colonoscopy might serve a dual purpose according to a new study: It could identify tumors in the gastrointestinal tract and predict the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
In the study, scientists identified a substance called alpha-synuclein, “a hallmark protein of Parkinson’s,” in tissue samples of those suffering from the brain disease but not in those of healthy people.
Why is this important? Doctors usually diagnose Parkinson’s after it’s too late, i.e., after the symptoms become apparent. This latest research discovery is significant in that, as reported by Yahoo!, “finding early markers of the disease could lead to a way to slow or stop the progression, the researchers said.”
According to recent research data, Parkinson’s may start in the nerve cells of the colon and then spread to the brain’s nerve cells.
The study published in the Movement Disorders journal found that three patients who later developed Parkinson’s had “characteristic aggregates of alpha-synuculein in their gut.” A 2011 study of nine Parkinson’s suffers also uncovered similar data. As the study authors suggest, “Alpha-synuclein aggregation underlies Parkinson’s disease pathology, and its presence in peripheral tissues may be a reliable disease biomarker.”
A neurologist quoted by Yahoo! suggested in the alternative that the protein could develop in the intestines and brain simultaneously but also acknowledged that tissue samples obtained during a routine colonoscopy “could be helpful in understanding whether you are at high risk to develop Parkinson’s.”
Further research, with a larger number of subjects and involving other brain diseases, is needed to determine the validity of these findings, however.
It is generally recommend for persons over 50 to undergo a colonoscopy every 10 years (every five years if there is any history of colon cancer in the family).