A new study has revealed that removing the appendix early in life can lower a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 19 to 25 percent.
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Early symptoms of the condition include rigidity and tremors. As it progresses, people may start to have difficulty walking and talking. They may also suffer from sleep problems, depression, fatigue, memory difficulties, as well as show mental and behavioral changes.
The most common non-motor symptoms of the disease include gastrointestinal tract issues, which suggests that Parkinson’s may begin in the gut.
For one, the appendix that is attached to and opens in the lower end of the large intestine contains the protein called alpha-synuclein, which is known to accumulate or clump together in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers said that this protein does not like to stay put. Viviane Labrie, from the Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan, told CNN that the protein can move from neuron to neuron, and has the ability to travel.
This means that alpha-synuclein can travel up the vagus nerve that connects the gastrointestinal tract and the brain.
“If it were to enter the brain, it can seed and spread from there and have neurotoxic effects that could eventually lead to Parkinson’s disease,” Labrie said.
To find a link between appendix and Parkinson’s, Labrie and colleagues looked at the health records of 1.6 million adults and found that those who had an appendectomy had 19.3 reduced odds of developing Parkinson’s disease.
A second analysis that involved 849 patients with Parkinson’s also revealed that having an appendectomy was linked to a delay in the onset of the disease by an average of 3.6 years.
Appendectomy, however, appears to have no effects in the development of Parkinson’s in individuals who have a family history or genetic risk for the disease.
The findings of the study, which were published in Science Translational Medicine, solidify the role of the gut and immune system in the development of the disease, and show that the appendix serves as a major reservoir for abnormally folded alpha-synuclein proteins that are closely associated with the onset and progression of Parkinson’s disease.
“We determined the capacity of the appendix to modify PD risk and influence pathogenesis,” the researchers wrote in their study. “We propose that the normal human appendix contains pathogenic forms of α-synuclein that affect the risk of developing PD.”