Could Appendectomy Protect You From Parkinson's?

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People who’ve had their appendix removed appear to have a 20 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than those who haven’t had an appendectomy, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.

What’s the possible connection between the appendix (which is attached to the large intestine, is part of the immune system, and serves a basically unknown function in human anatomy) and Parkinson’s (a neurodegenerative disorder)? Researchers at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who conducted the study say neurotoxic proteins may accumulate in the appendix and then travel to the brain through the vagus nerve.

The researchers analyzed a large database of 1.6 million people in Sweden, which showed that people who’d undergone appendectomy and lived in rural, rather than urban, areas were less likely to develop Parkinson’s. Then, they examined data on 849 people with Parkinson’s and found that evidence of the disease first appeared more than three years earlier in rural patients who still had their appendix. They then evaluated dozens of appendixes and discovered that, in people with Parkinson’s, the organ contained the same clumps of alpha-synuclein proteins that are found in the brains of Parkinson’s patients.

According to the researchers, this protective effect against Parkinson’s occurs only in people who don’t have an inherited genetic risk for the condition (about 10 percent of cases) and only in those who undergo appendectomy before early signs of Parkinson’s develop. Environmental factors may explain differences in Parkinson’s risk among people who live in rural areas and those who live in urban areas.

Sourced from: Science Translational Medicine