If you search gene therapy and Parkinson’s Disease you will find several articles that talk of new advanced techniques that could bring hope to millions of people with this devastating condition. I find it curious that the enzyme that is targeted is called GAD or glutamic acid decarboxylase. Before I explain the significance, we need a little context.
A key part of the motor division of our brain is called the basal ganglia. You may have heard of some of these structures including the substantia nigra, putamen, globus pallidus and finally the subthalamic nucleus (STN). These all work together along with other parts of the brain to control movement. A breakdown in this function leads to conditions like Parkinson’s Disease where the motor centers keep firing oblivious to pleas by the higher cortical centers telling them to stop.
After much experimentation, researchers have determined that the subthalamic nucleus is where we can best restore some lost function in the Parkinson’s patient. Efforts to work on the substantia nigra to increase dopamine have shown some promise but scientists decided to work on a different tack and focus more effort on the STN.
The STN appears to be a switching center helping to control other parts of the basal ganglia. Electrical stimulation of the STN has shown some promise in many people.
A key enzyme of the STN is GAD that was mentioned earlier. GAD helps convert glutamic acid or glutamate into GABA. Glutamate is a most powerful neural stimulator and GABA is a most powerful neural inhibitor. In Parkinson’s Disease as well some other disorders, GAD levels drop causing an imbalance in the regulation of the conversion of glutamate to GABA disrupting the entire cascade.
I bring this up in the context of gluten sensitivity because according to the research of Dr. Marios Hadjivassiliou in the UK one common antibody created in the gluten sensitivity complex of antibodies is to the enzyme GAD. People who are gluten sensitive tend to increase production of the antibody to GAD. This is important not just in the basal ganglia but also other parts of the brain that are important for focus, learning and general movement control. Problems with gluten sensitivity leading to decreased GAD have been linked to ADD and ADHD, dimentia, headaches, insomnia, cerebellar ataxia, Parkinsonian syndromes and others.
I would advise Parkinson’s patients to get properly tested for gluten sensitivity and that includes a genetic test through Enterolab and Array 3 and Array 4 from Cyrex Labs. Whether the intestinal biopsy is positive or negative is immaterial here.
Will a gluten free diet reverse Parkinson’s Disease? Will it prevent PD from developing in the first place? The answer will depend on the genetics of each person. It won’t cost much to try and if it works for you, how valuable would that be?
Researchers emphasize that one of the primary targets for gluten sensitivity damage is the brain and nerve system. Most clinicians get trapped in the intestinal damage model only and haven’t been properly taught to look for these important brain signs.
But now you know that the brain is also subject to damage from the negative impact of gluten in the diet of a gluten sensitive person. Maybe a gluten free diet won’t reverse or prevent every case of Parkinson’s Disease but it is most probably one of the factors that helps determine the type of outcome.