In recent years our understanding of gut bacteria has grown immensely. We now know that gut bacteria plays a vital role not just in digestion but is also influential in weight regulation, can communicate with the immune system and disrupt mental wellbeing. Key to this is the discovery of a gut brain axis – a route of communication between gut bacteria and the brain. Particular to people with Parkinson’s is that studies have identified that there is a change in gut bacteria from early stages.
The type of bacteria growing in the gut is dependent on the environment. There may be colonies of good bacteria that are beneficial or bad bacteria that can be detrimental to health. The gut environment is altered by diet, antibiotics, infection, smoking and stress. To cultivate good bacteria pre and probiotics foods (or supplements) are needed. Prebiotics enable the good bacteria to thrive; they are typically non-digestible fibres that pass through the upper digestive tract whole. Foods high in non digestible fibres include whole grains, artichoke, asparagus, garlic, onion and leeks. Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria and therefore bolster the numbers. These are foods such as live yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, miso and Yakult. So adding garlic and onion to food does so much more than just adding flavour as does a bit of sauerkraut in a sandwich.
Next week we will discuss in detail the relationship between Parkinson’s and gut bacteria and its use as an early indicator.