Updated: Nov 22, 2021
Anyone who has taken high school chemistry will no that N=Nitrogen and O=Oxygen. Then there is something called Nitric Oxide which is called a "radical", meaning it is highly reactive. In humans nitric oxide is a signaling molecule in many physiological and pathological processes. It is a danger signal.
The human body is roughly 65% oxygen, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen and 3% nitrogen.
In 2015 when I founded The BioCollective one of my primary goals was collecting stool samples from people with Parkinson's (PWP), as well as, the wider population. Over these years we have collected samples from over 80 PWP's, 40 spouses or household controls and more than 900 others. We not only collected samples. We collected microbiome sequencing data and collaborators along the way. In 2020, we provided some of our data for a collaboration with Ardigen a precision medicine focused analytics and machine learning company. This project has pointed us to a number of areas of interest not previously identified as potential contributors to Parkinson's.
One of these potential contributors is something called nitrosative stress. This means that the body, the microbiome, is processing and/or dealing with too much nitrogen. And this nitrogen can react or oxidize in the gut. This can result in what are call reactive nitrogen species (RNS). You may have heard of ROS or reactive oxygen species which indicates oxidative stress. There is much focus on antioxidant foods and supplements. RNS act together with ROS to damage cells. RNS are also produced by plants in reaction to stress. Our current approach to growing food generates more of this nitrosative stress in both people and plants.
Nitrates are primarily produced for use as fertilizers in commercial scale agricultural operations. You are probably familiar with the problems of fertilizer runoff in bodies of water. You may not be as familiar with the problems this can cause to your own health or how this might be connected with Parkinson's.
ROS/RNS are also antimicrobial and are produced in macrophages in response to bacterial products like lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS is also one of the key markers we find in PWP samples. In addition, the gene we found more of in our PD group was the gene NsrR. This may be a sign of defense against elevated levels of iron and nitric oxide. Iron has long been implicated as a contributor to Parkinson's disease. Oxidative stress can also be a marker of malnutrition. We live is a world of empty calorie eating. See my blog post on B vitamin deficiencies and high calorie malnutrition. So all of these things tie together and contribute to the underlying causes behind Parkinson's.
Putting these pieces together we see how much ties back to food and nutrition. The old adage "You are what you eat" has never been truer. Animal protein is high in nitrogen. This study from Dr. Laurie Mischley provides more data behind these connections. Her research found that the more animal protein a person consumed, the faster their PD was progressing. A high protein diet can contribute to nitrosative stress. She also found that people who take iron supplements showed faster progression of their PD. The gene marker we found is indicative of excess iron. Foods associated with more rapid PD progression include canned fruits and vegetables, diet and nondiet soda, fried foods, beef, ice cream, yogurt, and cheese. Avoid packaged foods. In the grocery store today there are so many convenience foods that are just easy for us to grab. Even fresh vegetables are now cut up for us and packaged in bags that contain gases to preserve them longer. But these conveniences have long term implications. Many packaged foods are packed using nitrogen gas.
Remember, back to basics when it comes to food. Avoid processed foods. Cook with fresh, organic ingredients as much as possible and pay attention to packaging.