The Link Between Parkinson’s and the Gut

Whole Systems Healthcare

Synopsis

  • Parkinson’s disease may be related to dysfunction in the gut, including issues with the vagus nerve and the microbiome.
  • Blockage of Stomach and Pericardium qi is almost always part of the Parkinson’s picture.
  • Internal Wind is generated when the Liver becomes weakened from pushing against the blocked Stomach qi.
  • The Stomach is involved in chronic disease even in cases that don’t stem from systemic inflammation.

The article, We Just Got More New Evidence That Parkinson’s Starts in The Gut – Not The Brain, cites a recent study that showed people with truncal vagotomies developed Parkinson’s at a significantly lower rate than the general population. This procedure severs certain portions of the vagus nerve, an important nerve that connects the brain with the gut and helps to regulate digestion. The article also notes that people who go on to develop Parkinson’s often have digestive problems such as constipation well before they get signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s itself.

The article also talked about how gut microbes have been linked to this disease. Surprise, not. You can take a look at some other things that the microbiome is responsible for in  previous posts, Understanding Digestion– Part 3, and Understanding Digestion – Part 4.

Chinese Medicine and Parkinson’s
Suppression of the Stomach and Pericardium

One prominent Chinese Medicine doctor has already identified the Stomach as a part of the cause for Parkinson’s. Dr. Janice Walton-Hadlock, in her book Yin Tui Na: Techniques for Treating Injuries of Parkinson’s Disease and Any Dissociated Injury, reveals that almost every Parkinson’s patient she treats has a block in their Stomach channel from an unhealed injury, typically somewhere on their leg or foot. She writes about how all Parkinson’s patients are dissociated in some way; in a previous post I introduced the idea that the Stomach is the primary organ system responsible for suppression.

The element of dissociation and therefore suppression of emotion and experience brings an interesting relationship into light: the Pericardium and the Stomach. These two organ systems are opposites on the organ clock, and we can see how suppression in the Stomach can be mirrored by dissociation in the Pericardium. The Pericardium is the gate-keeper of the Heart, letting emotion and creative expression in and out. According to Dr. Walton-Hadlock most Parkinson’s patients have both an unhealed injury on the Stomach channel and have disassociated emotionally via a closed Pericardium. There appears to be commonality in the suppressive abilities of both the Stomach and the Pericardium.

Liver Wind and the Stomach

In TCM Parkinson’s is typically diagnosed as internal wind, due to the characteristic shaking and tremors. How is this related to the Stomach?

Interestingly, Parkinson’s is understood as a dopamine-related disease, where a person’s dopamine producing cells begin to go offline. Dopamine is related to movement, and increasing Parkinson’s patient’s dopamine levels helps with their symptoms. As I explored in Understanding Digestion – Part 3, dopamine is intimately connected to Stomach function, particularly through its role as the “wanting” neurotransmitter. Dr. Walton-Hadlock describes how people who are disassociated stop using dopamine for movement and use adrenaline instead. Movement with dopamine is natural and effortless; perhaps it could be described as desire translated into movement. Moving with adrenaline takes effort and requires people to actively think in order to move. Eventually the body’s ability to produce adrenaline is reduced, and the characteristic tremors emerge.

This can be interpreted from a Chinese Medicine standpoint as blocked Stomach qi inciting the Liver to push harder. Liver overacting on the Stomach is a well-known TCM diagnosis, since a weakened or blocked Stomach will invite the Liver’s Wood energy to push against it in an attempt to make it move. Over time this will exhaust the Liver until there is so much deficiency that internal Wind is generated. This interpretation also suggests that adrenaline, particularly in the brain, is part of how the Liver “moves” the qi in the body.

This goes to show that even in cases that don’t involve systemic inflammation the digestive system and Stomach play a critical role in chronic disease.

Author

  • Dr. Kye Peven, ND, DSOM, EAMP, earned a B.S. from UC Berkeley in Materials Science and Engineering, with minors in Nuclear Engineering and Energy Management, believing that applying his interest in technology would help make the world a better place. He then completed a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) and a second Doctorate of Science in Oriental Medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM). Dr. Peven serves as Director of the WSHC Clinical Care Initiative and is the founder and Clinic Director of the WSHC Seattle Clinic.