The short-term effects of a stomach bug suck: cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and an inability to stray more than a few feet from the toilet. But the long-term effects might be way more serious, research from Georgetown University Medical Center suggests.
That’s because when you get an upper GI infection—like in your esophagus, stomach, or the first section of your intestine—your body produces a certain protein called alpha-synuclein to aid in your immune response to fight off the bug, the researchers write in the Journal of Innate Immunity.
But too much of the protein—say, through multiple or chronic gut infections—can become toxic. It overwhelms your body’s system responsible for clearing it out, damaging nerves and leading to inflammation. The buildup of this protein may lead to those neurodegenerative diseases.
The link makes sense, the researchers say. Many patients with Parkinson’s report chronic constipation, which can result from nerve damage in the gut decades before the brain symptoms begin. (Here are 10 weird reasons you can’t poop.)
The clinical implications of these finding down the line are intriguing: For instance, a clinical trial testing a drug that reduces the formation of toxic alpha-synuclein clumps is currently underway.