Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT) for Parkinson's Disease: Summary of Research 2023

June 7, 2023

Parkinson's disease (PD) affects millions worldwide; a neurodegenerative disorder that severely impairs motor function and quality of life. Recent studies suggest that an imbalance of our gut microbiome – the diverse ecosystem of microorganisms, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that inhabit our gut – can trigger Parkinson’s.

Yet, if the imbalance of the gut can lead to PD, would the inverse lead to a possible treatment? This opens up new horizons for disease intervention and treatment, one such method is the Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT).

Also known as bacteriotherapy, growing evidence suggests that FMT is promising in treating such conditions, among many others. The following article summarizes the growing body of research surrounding the use of FMT for treating Parkinson’s. 

Read on to learn more. 

What is a Fecal Microbiota Transplant?

FMT refers to a medical procedure that involves transferring the stool of a healthy donor to a recipient’s gastrointestinal tract. As mentioned above, this is done to restore the balance of healthy microbiota inside the recipient's gut. And with over 100 trillion micro-organisms living inside it, the digestive system happily employs the newly inserted healthy bacteria to work by having them absorb nutrients and efficiently support food digestion.

This novel treatment has shown promise in treating various conditions.

One such condition is a Clostridium difficile infection, often occurring after antibiotic use has thrown off the delicate balance of gut bacteria. 

Other areas where FMT might be beneficial are:

As we learn more about the human microbiome, the importance of a healthy balance in our gut flora becomes increasingly clear. With FMT, we have a chance to address a variety of conditions, from gastrointestinal diseases to neurological disorders.

How The FMT Procedure Works

The FMT procedure involves obtaining a fecal sample from a healthy donor, mixing it with a saline or other liquid solution, and introducing the resultant mixture into a recipient's digestive tract, either via a nasogastric tube, a colonoscopy, or capsules (often humorously referred to as "poop pills")

Limitations and Risks of FMT

No procedure is 100%, and FMT has yet to get full FDA-approval. Here are some of the risks associated with the treatment.

Short-term effects: These might include abdominal discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, or fever. There's also the risk of potential infection or the transfer of harmful pathogens from donor to recipient.

Long-term effects: The long-term effects of FMT are still under investigation. Potential concerns include transferring diseases or conditions like HIV.

Ethical and regulatory issues: There are concerns about the sourcing of fecal donors, informed consent, and the commercialization of FMT. The process of donor selection is rigorous, but the potential for misuse exists.

While FMT offers promising results in various conditions, it's essential to approach it with caution. The complexity of the human microbiome means that the procedure's effects can be unpredictable. However, when compared to the potential benefits, especially for conditions with limited treatment options, FMT might be a risk worth taking for some.

Read how FMT changed Charlie’s life.

What Does FMT do For Parkinson's Disease Patients?

Ongoing research is testing whether FMT can help treat Parkinson’s disease – a neurodegenerative disorder that leads to a decline in motor abilities, caused mainly by a reduction in dopamine levels. Unfortunately, experts are still unsure what exactly causes PD, noting many factors that can contribute to the development of the condition.

However, growing evidence suggests that the gut and brain are linked, a phenomenon termed the “gut-brain axis.” This connection may hold the key to unlocking the use of FMT for managing Parkinson’s and other conditions. 

A recent study in Frontiers examined the impact and safety of FMT on PD patients. Some key findings from the study include: 

  • Administering FMT was well-tolerated by patients with PD. Reported adverse effects were mild to moderate gastrointestinal complaints, which were temporary and did not lead to withdrawal from the trial.

  • The diversity of microbiota in the subjects receiving FMT increased significantly.

  • PD patients reported improvements in constipation, sleep disturbances, motor deficits, and overall symptoms after FMT.

Unrelated but interestingly, a patient reported significant improvement in his chronic condition of psoriasis vulgaris after undergoing FMT.

In another novel pilot study, a team of researchers, spearheaded by Herbert L DuPont, conducted a comprehensive analysis of FMT’s safety and effectiveness in its influence on not only Parkinson’s symptoms but general gut health. Their conclusions were similar to the first study – recipients of FMT saw an increased diversity of the intestinal microbiome associated with a reduction in constipation and improved gut health.

While there is still much to learn about the underlying causes of Parkinson's disease, the connection between the gut-brain axis has shown promise in using FMT as a treatment option. Both studies mentioned above suggest that FMT is well-tolerated and may lead to improvements in various symptoms associated with PD and overall gut health. As research continues, FMT may become a valuable tool in managing Parkinson's disease and other related conditions.

Emerging Insights about FMT and Parkinson’s Disease

Let's explore some of the most exciting insights that are emerging from these studies:

  1. Gut Microbiome and Disease Progression: It's becoming increasingly clear that there might be a correlation between the health of our gut microbiome and the progression of PD. Disruptions in this complex ecosystem could be both an early indicator and an accelerator for the disease. FMT's potential to restore this balance may, therefore, have implications for slowing or even reversing some aspects of PD.

  2. Gut-Brain Axis and Neuroinflammation: When inflammation occurs in the gut, it might trigger inflammation in the brain, contributing to neurodegenerative conditions. By potentially reducing gut inflammation, FMT could be a tool in reducing associated brain inflammation.

  3. Personalized Medicine and FMT: The era of 'one size fits all' medicine is gradually shifting towards personalized treatments tailored to individual needs. Given the vast diversity of the human gut microbiome, FMT offers opportunities for customized treatments that address specific imbalances related to PD in individual patients.

  4. Safety and Long-term Effects: Initial studies are encouraging, suggesting that FMT is generally well-tolerated by patients. However, the long-term effects, especially in the context of a disorder like PD, are still a gray area. More research is needed to demonstrate if there are any long-term conditions or complications that could arise from FMT.

  5. Potential for Preventative Treatment: If we can pinpoint the early microbial markers of PD, there's a possibility that FMT could be employed preventatively, especially for those with a high genetic or environmental risk of developing the disease.

Wrapping Up

Promising results have demonstrated the potential of FMT as a treatment for Parkinson's and other associated symptoms. Recent studies have shown improvements in patients' gut health and overall quality of life post-FMT treatment, yet more research is necessary in order to prove its efficacy and safety in a broader population. 

As such, patients and healthcare providers should continue to rely on established treatments for managing the condition until more data becomes available.

Upcoming Designer Shit Documentary

If you found this article insightful, you won't want to miss our upcoming documentary on FMT.  

This eye-opening film will dive deeper into the science behind fecal microbiota transplantation and share real-life stories of people who have undergone the procedure.   ‍  

"In the end, our goals with this film are to give a voice to those suffering from chronic illnesses and to help alleviate some of the shame and embarrassment around something we all deal with every day."

–– Saffron Cassaday, Director

To stay current on the documentary's release and receive more valuable information on gut health, subscribe to our newsletter.  

‍Together, we can continue to learn and share knowledge about the fascinating world of the human microbiome and its impact on our health.