Elevated amounts of fats in the brain may signal early onset of Parkinson's disease. This finding helps care providers identify at-risk individuals and develop future treatments.

Researchers at McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate, and the University of Oxford collaborated to measure the levels of glycosphingolipids in aging brains using young and old mice. They found that increased amounts of glycosphingolipids were evident not only in Parkinson's patients but also in mice models.

"This means that lipid accumulation may also be important in PD, and scientists at the Neuroregeneration Research Institute at McLean Hospital have previously shown that there is an elevation of a class of lipids, called glycosphingolipids, in the substantia nigra of patients with PD," said Dr. Ole Isacson, co-author and a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

The Pathophysiology Of Parkinson's

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative neurological disorder that progresses by the time a person reaches 60. About 5 to 10 percent of Parkinson's patients have early onset, which means the disease may have been developing even before age 50.

Parkinson's is attributed to the significant deaths of neurons in the substantia nigra, a part of the brain that is involved in movements. Experts have long studied that the dramatic loss of nerve cells can cause the accumulation of alpha-synuclein, a protein abundant in the brain.

In the study published April 29 in Neurobiology of Aging, researchers reported that individuals with Gaucher disease have impaired production of glucocerebrosidase. The GBA gene is responsible for breaking down lipids.

Dr. Isacson's team suggested that patients with Gaucher disease have up to a 10-fold risk of developing Parkinson's. They added that both aging and gene mutation are significant risk factors for the development of Parkinson's disease.

The Role Of Nutrition In Parkinson's Risk

Lipids are diverse groups of compounds typically comprised of fats, oils, waxes, and phospholipids. In a related study published in the journal Frontiers In Aging Neuroscience, researchers examined epidemiological studies to determine the role of nutrition in reducing or exacerbating Parkinson's risk.

Several studies cited that consumption of large amounts of dairy products like milk is associated with increased risk for Parkinson's. People with high dairy diet recorded low levels of serum uric acid, which has neuroprotective effects against Parkinson's disease.

Phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables can slow down the progression of Parkinson's as well as functional declines related to aging. Omega-3, soy, tea, and caffeine were mentioned for its neuroprotective effects.

The researchers led by Stacey Emilie Seidl, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Davis, reported that saturated fats could alter the way polyunsaturated fatty acids are metabolized.

"Thus, fatty acids may contribute to an increased risk of PD via oxidative stress. PUFAs are concentrated in neuronal membranes and play a role in oxidative radical formation," the researchers wrote.

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