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The Link Between Hep C and Parkinson’s Disease

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Pending further study results, Parkinson’s might be added as a possible extrahepatic manifestation of chronic Hepatitis C.

New research suggests that those with chronic Hepatitis C are more susceptible to developing Parkinson’s disease than those without Hepatitis C. The two illnesses do not appear to be related; Hepatitis C is a contagious viral infection of the liver and Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, neurological problem. However, the Hepatitis C virus has been known to escape the confines of the liver and deleteriously affect other parts of the body.

Hepatitis C

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly three million people in the U.S. have chronic Hepatitis C. Despite Hepatitis C’s high prevalence, the majority of those infected are undiagnosed because symptoms typically take decades to appear.

Most commonly transmitted via infected blood, Hepatitis C causes chronic liver disease in approximately three-quarters of those who acquire the virus. Unfortunately, chronic Hepatitis C can lead to severe liver problems such as liver cancer, cirrhosis or liver failure. Although medications to eradicate Hepatitis C are improving rapidly, those who are unaware of their infection and those who do not respond to or are ineligible for treatment are vulnerable to the hazards of chronic liver disease.

Extrahepatic Manifestations

The Hepatitis C virus mainly affects the liver, but many other conditions are associated with this disease. An extrahepatic manifestation is when organs other than the liver are affected. Extrahepatic manifestations with Hepatitis C are more common than many people realize; they include the skin, eyes, joints, immune system, kidneys and the nervous system. Read more about Hepatitis C’s impact on 7 other areas of the body.

According to Alan Franciscus, Editor-in-Chief of the Hepatitis C Support Project, studies have found between 70 and 74 percent of Hepatitis C patients experience extrahepatic manifestations.

Some of the most common extrahepatic manifestations with Hepatitis C include:

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that impairs movement. Many may be familiar with the well-known actor who has lived with Parkinson’s for decades in the public eye, Michael J. Fox. In Parkinson’s disease, certain nerve cells in the brain gradually break down or die. Many of the symptoms are due to a loss of nerve cells that produce a chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine. When dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to signs of Parkinson’s disease.

The three most common motor symptoms of Parkinson’s include:

  1. Bradykinesia – slowness of movement
  2. Rigidity – unusual stiffness in a limb or other body part
  3. Resting tremor – uncontrollable movement of a limb or body part when it is at rest

In addition to these motor-related symptoms, some additional signs of Parkinson’s include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Depression and anxiety
  • REM sleep problems
  • Constipation
  • Speech and swallowing difficulties

The exact causes of Parkinson’s are unclear. Nonetheless, past studies imply that it may be triggered by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

The Link Between Hepatitis C and Parkinson’s

Based on some recent research, one of Hepatitis C’s extrahepatic manifestations may include Parkinson’s disease. Since the nervous system is already a known target of the Hepatitis C virus once it sneaks out of the liver, finding an association with Parkinson’s is not surprising. According to Dr. Chia-Hung Kao of China Medical University Hospital in Taiwan, research has suggested that Hepatitis C is neurotropic – meaning it can infect nerve cells and replicate in the central nervous system.

In a study published in the journal Neurology, where Kao was a co-author, Hepatitis C was acknowledged to trigger the death of nerve cells that secrete the neurotransmitter dopamine. Because a decline in dopamine is implicated in Parkinson’s, it is logical that those with chronic Hepatitis C are particularly susceptible to this progressive neurological disease. More specifically, the researchers found that although Parkinson’s is a relatively uncommon illness (affecting 1.5 to 2 percent of people aged 60 years and older), there is a 30 percent greater risk of Parkinson’s for people with Hepatitis C infection.

Although more research on the link between Hepatitis C and Parkinson’s disease is warranted, the preliminary evidence is convincing. We already know that chronic Hepatitis C has extrahepatic manifestations that extend to the nervous system. In addition, the research demonstrating Hepatitis C’s penchant for injury to dopaminergic cells is intriguing. Once conclusive research cements the connection between the two ailments, Hepatitis C will likely be added as a risk factor for Parkinson’s disease development.

Editor’s Note: WebMD states that “the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids may include trimming the chance of developing Parkinson’s disease.” Natural Wellness’ Super Omega-3 Fish Oil is sourced from sardine and anchovy, which contain the highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids among fish. It also promotes natural anti-inflammatory actions, which can help support the health of your liver.

http://hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/extrahepatic.pdf, Extrahepatic Manifestation of HCV, Alan Franciscus, Retrieved February 7, 2016, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2016.

http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/neurology/parkinsons-disease/, Parkinson’s Disease, Patrick Sweeney, Retrieved February 7, 2016, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 2016.

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/basics/causes/con-20028488, Parkinson’s Disease, Retrieved February 7, 2016, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2016.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/304405.php, Hepatitis C may raise risk for Parkinson's, Honor Whiteman, Retrieved February 3, 2016, MediLexicon International, Ltd, 2016.

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/852066, Hepatitis C Virus Infection: A Risk Factor for Parkinson's Disease, W. Y-Y, Wu, et al, Retrieved February 3, 2016, Journal of Viral Hepatology, 2015.

https://www.michaeljfox.org/understanding-parkinsons/living-with-pd/topic.php?symptoms, Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms, Retrieved February 7, 2016, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, 2016.

https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_156376.html, Hepatitis C May Be Tied to Greater Risk for Parkinson's Disease, Mary Elizabeth Dallas, Retrieved February 3, 2016, US National Library of Medicine, 2016.

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