Unexpected Associations with Parkinson’s

As part of Parkinson’s Awareness Month 23andMe is releasing the first of three surprising associations we’ve found between Parkinson’s and certain traits.

The associations are surprising because they appear so unrelated to the disease itself, but they may offer insight into the direction for future research.

Parkinson’s is a degenerative brain disorder, but sifting through the data 23andMe scientists have found associations with such things as personality types, joint pain and levels of cholesterol.

These associations may indicate true relationships between say, cholesterol metabolism and the development of Parkinson’s, or they may simply reflect some other underlying phenomenon. We don’t know yet, but we do know that other similar odd associations — such as some Parkinson’s patients developing a “sweet tooth,” or losing their sense of smell — have helped researchers diagnose and track the progress of the disease, which initially can be difficult. For instance, the loss of smell is associated with the loss of dopamine receptors in the brain, and it is an early indicator of the disease. The sooner Parkinson’s can be diagnosed the sooner treatment can start.

23andMe researchers looked at more than 1,000 different traits, conditions and diseases to find these associations with Parkinson’s. At the very least, they open up interesting directions for further inquiry.