You may recall from your high school science lessons that Nitrogen (N) and Oxygen (O) are crucial elements in the human body. Nitric Oxide, which is made up of both these elements, is a highly reactive compound that plays a key role in many bodily processes, and can act as a warning signal when things go wrong.
Our bodies are made up of various elements, with oxygen making up the majority at 65%, followed by carbon and hydrogen at 18% and 10% respectively. Only about 3% of our body is composed of nitrogen.
In 2015, I established The BioCollective with the intention of learning more about Parkinson's Disease by gathering stool samples from people diagnosed with the condition as well as from those without the diagnosis. Over the years, we've gathered samples and valuable data from a large number of participants. Through a partnership with Ardigen, a company specializing in precision medicine analytics, we've started uncovering some unexpected factors that could contribute to Parkinson's.
One such factor is nitrosative stress.
This is when our bodies or microbiomes have to handle an excess amount of nitrogen. This excess nitrogen can react with oxygen in our gut, leading to the creation of damaging compounds known as reactive nitrogen species (RNS). These harmful compounds, along with reactive oxygen species (ROS), can cause harm to our cells.
In our food production methods, we're creating more nitrosative stress both in humans and plants. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers used in farming can contribute to this problem. Runoff of these fertilizers into water bodies is a known environmental issue, but there's also a potential link between high nitrogen levels and health problems, including Parkinson's.
Our bodies produce ROS/RNS as a defense mechanism against harmful bacterial products like Lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Interestingly, high levels of LPS are found in stool samples from those with Parkinson's. Additionally, we found a higher presence of the NsrR gene in our Parkinson's group, suggesting a defense mechanism against high iron and nitric oxide levels.
Our diet plays a crucial role in all of this. The saying "You are what you eat" truly applies here. Consuming large amounts of animal protein, which is high in nitrogen, can exacerbate nitrosative stress. It's also been found that a high-protein diet and iron supplements can accelerate the progression of Parkinson's. Certain processed and packaged foods, including canned goods, fried foods, and even low fat dairy products, could potentially speed up the disease progression.
The takeaway here is to opt for a balanced, wholesome diet. Avoid processed foods, make meals from fresh, organic ingredients, and be mindful of the packaging of your food.
Martha Carlin, is a “Citizen Scientist”, systems thinker, wife of Parkinson’s warrior, John Carlin, and founder of The BioCollective , a microbiome company expanding the reach of science and BiotiQuest, the first of it’s kind probiotic line. Since John’s diagnosis in 2002, Martha began learning the science of agriculture, nutrition, environment, infectious disease, Parkinson’s pathology and much more. In 2014, when the first research was published showing a connection between the gut bacteria and the two phenotypes of Parkinson’s, Martha quit her former career as a business turnaround expert and founded The BioCollective to accelerate the discovery of the impact of gut health on all human disease. Martha was a speaker at the White House 2016 Microbiome Initiative launch, challenging the scientific community to “think in a broader context”. Her systems thinking background and experience has led to collaborations across the scientific spectrum from neuroscience to engineering to infectious disease. She is a respected out of the box problem solver in the microbiome field and brings a unique perspective to helping others understand the connections from the soil to the food to our guts and our brains.
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