11 September 2017

Relationship between brain and digestive system confirmed anew

Nutritional supplements reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in mice

Utrecht University PhD candidate Paula Perez Pardo has shown that certain nutritional supplements can inhibit the occurrence and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in mice. Although Parkinson’s disease is mainly known as a neurological disorder, patients also suffer from chronic digestive system complaints. These complaints often begin years before the motor system symptoms, such as shaking and slow movement, occur. With her research, Perez Pardo provides more proof for the relationship between the brain and the digestive system. She will defend her dissertation at Utrecht University on September 13.

There are more than 55,000 Parkinson’s disease patients in the Netherlands. Parkinson’s disease kills the brain cells that produce dopamine. Once 70% of these cells have died, patients begin to suffer from the motor system symptoms, such as shaking hands.

No medication

There is currently no medication for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Patients are administered Levodopa to increase the production of dopamine, which helps to reduce their motor symptoms, but they must constantly continue to take the drug, which has serious side effects such as involuntary movements, nausea and confusion.

The mice lost only 20% of their motor function, where 50% is the normal level
Paula Perez Pardo
Paula Perez Pardo

60 percent improvement

In mice that had already developed the disease, the nutritional supplements improved motor function by around 60%. The results of Perez Pardo’s research show that this is due to the fact that the supplements allow the dopamine-producing brain cells to function better. The research also shows that nutritional supplements do not interfere with the effectiveness of the medication, and may in fact improve it.

Nutritional supplements

The nutritional supplements administered to the mice included a mixture of prebiotic fibre and essential nutrients for brain cells. Prebiotic fibre is indigestible fibre that encourage the growth and function of certain ‘beneficial’ intestinal bacteria.

Mutual influence

According to Perez Pardo, the results of the study suggest that the brain and the digestive system influence one another in the development and progression of Parkinson’s disease. It seems as if intestinal inflammations and changes to the composition of intestinal flora and fauna may play an important role, which would explain the observed effects of the nutritional supplements.

Further research

However, the researchers do not yet know how the entire process works, exactly. Another major step forward is needed to apply the results to actual Parkinson’s sufferers. “We are therefore hard at work looking for sources of funding for further research”, says promotor Prof. Aletta Kraneveld.


Paula Perez Pardo
Paula Perez Pardo

Paula Perez Pardo will defend her dissertation, 'Targeting the Gut-Brain axis in Parkinson’s disease’, in University Hall at 16:15 on September 13, 2017. Her promotors are Prof. Johan Garssen and Prof. Aletta Kraneveld, and the co-promotor is Dr. Laus Broersen from Nutricia Research.

This research was conducted in cooperation with Nutricia Research, and is part of ‘Future Food Utrecht’.

Previous research

In 2014, Caroline de Theije earned her PhD on a study that proved the relationship between the digestive system and the brain in mice that displayed symptoms of autism. Read more in this press release.


Monica van der Garde, Press Spokesperson, Faculty of Science, m.vandergarde@uu.nl, 06 13 66 14 38.