Jenn Ryan
Jenn Ryan
January 26, 2024 ·  6 min read

What Exactly Is the Link Between Your Appendix and Parkinson’s?

Last year, a study of 1.7 million people found that if you get your appendix removed, you’re 25 percent less likely to get Parkinson’s disease [1]. Now, a study involving over 62 million health records is showing the opposite.

How can this be?

Previous research has had a lot to say about the link between your appendix and Parkinson’s—from claiming appendix removal delays the onset of Parkinson’s, increases your risk, or has no effect at all, research hasn’t been clear about this association [2], [3], [4].

In the most recent study that looked at data from over 62 million patients, authors looked at over 488,000 patients who had their appendix removed. Of these, they found that 4,470 of these people later developed Parkinson’s disease. Of the remaining 61 million who still had their appendix, 177,230 developed Parkinson’s.

Based on this data, it would seem to have your appendix removed makes you three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s later in life [5].

What Exactly Is Parkinson’s Disease and Who Gets It?

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects neurons in a specific area of the brain. Symptoms usually happen slowly over a period of time, but do progress [6].

It’s estimated that more than 10 million people worldwide live with Parkinson’s disease, which is more likely to occur in men than in women [7].

Other risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include age, genetics, and having a family history, as well as being regularly exposed to herbicides and pesticides [8].

People over the age of 60 are more likely to get Parkinson’s, as are those who have specific genetic mutations.

The Role of the Appendix in Parkinson’s

So what exactly does the appendix have to do with Parkinson’s, anyway?

There’s a protein called alpha-synuclein that’s been linked to Parkinson’s disease [9]. This protein also happens to be present when there’s inflammation in the gut. Research shows that alpha-synuclein is present in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

What’s suspected to happen is that due to inflammation, gut microbiome (or, the helpful community of bacteria that live in your gut that play a large role in digestion and gut health) are altered and travel from the gut to the brain, where they can essentially cause cell death [10].

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by cell death [11]. Cell death can lead to symptoms such as tremors, stiffness in the limbs, slow movement or trouble with fine motor movements, and even changes in the voice. However, Parkinson’s encompasses these and a wide range of other symptoms, from a change in your sense of smell to sleep problems to depression, anxiety, fatigue, and many more [12].

Researchers suspect the appendix—which is located at the place where the small intestine and large intestine meet—might protect gut bacteria, which would support the notion that removing it can lead to dysfunction in the gut, which can, in turn, lead to increased levels of alpha-synuclein which can increase one’s risk for Parkinson’s disease [13].

Many people who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s also have digestive or GI issues earlier in life, which could allude to the association between appendix removal and an increased risk for Parkinson’s.

However, it’s important to note that this research isn’t conclusive and therefore doesn’t prove anything, but it does suggest that appendix removal plays a role in cell death—with inflammation being the link—which can lead to symptoms of Parkinson’s.

If nothing else, this research highlights how complex the body really is and how everything indeed affects everything else.

Here’s What We Know About the Role of Inflammation as It Relates to Cell Death and Neurological Disorders

There’s clearly a link between inflammation, cell and tissue damage, and neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease [14].

This newer study confirms what researchers have already known, that “the state of the intestinal environment can have profound effects on the activity of the central nervous system” [15].

The central nervous system (CNS) consists of nerves that control a variety of activities in the body and includes the brain and spinal cord.

Cells in the nervous system protect the immune system from threats through inflammation, but although this inflammation is designed to stop intruders or pathogens and to repair tissue, they can also contribute to tissue damage—and therefore hinder neurologic functions  such as cognitive function, strength, and coordination, as in seen in patients with Parkinson’s disease [16].

What kinds of threats could begin this inflammatory process that can lead to neurologic dysfunction? These could include anything from a traumatic injury to an infection caused by bacteria to an autoimmune disorder.  

Clearly, more research is needed to determine the connection between not just inflammation and chronic disease, but between the gut, inflammation, and chronic disease, as research continues to suggest the significance of gut health in our bodily health [17].

Conditions such as leaky gut have been linked to a range of problems in the body, meaning that gut is likely far more influential on our overall health than modern medicine would have us believe.

While pathogens such as bacteria certainly have the potential to damage our gut microbiome, they can also be negatively affected by the foods we eat such as refined sugar, pesticides, and chemicals in processed foods in addition to the environmental toxins we’re exposed to every day.

Future research might not only show that Parkinson’s disease is more affected by gut bacteria than we realize, but that many if not all chronic diseases are at least in some way influenced by what’s going on in our GI tract.