A parasite commonly found in cats faeces may cause Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and even cancer, new research suggests. Toxoplasma gondii, which is carried by around 30 percent of cats at any one time and sheds in their stools, may alter more than 1,000 genes associated with cancer, a study found.
Once a human is infected, proteins from the parasite could also alter communication between brain cells, which may increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and epilepsy, the research adds.
Up until now, only pregnant women were advised to avoid cat faeces as the parasite is known to cause miscarriages, still births and damage to foetus’ development, particularly their brain and eyes.
Infections often seem harmless, with few people experiencing symptoms and just a few showing signs of mild flu. Study author Dr. Dennis Steindler from Tufts University in Massachusetts, said: “This study is a paradigm shifter.”
The findings were published in the journal Nature. Researchers from around the world analyzed data from a study that has monitored 246 infants with Toxoplasma gondii-related disease since 1981.
Results reveal a link between the parasite and almost 1,200 human genes that are associated with cancer. Protein fragments from children with severe forms of the disease are also linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and epilepsy.
The parasite is thought to increase the risk of these conditions by releasing proteins that alter communication between brain cells. Steindler said: “This study is a paradigm shifter.”
Only pregnant women are currently advised to avoid cat faeces, which often contain Toxoplasma gondii, as the parasite is known to cause miscarriages, still births and damage to foetus’ development.
Infections often seem harmless, with few people experiencing symptoms and just a few showing signs of mild flu. Yet, the researchers add other factors aside from Toxoplasma gondii infection likely also influence a person’s risk of developing such diseases.
They wrote: “We hypothesise that disease occurs in the presence of the relevant susceptibility genes, parasite genotype and other innate and environmental factors such as other infections, the microbiome or stress that influence immune responses.”
Steindler added: “At the same time, we have to translate aspects of this study into preventive treatments that include everything from drugs to diet to lifestyle, in order to delay disease onset and progression.”