With the discovery that both the gut and the brain each have a ‘microbiome’ and that they are linked via the immune system, it is not surprising therefore, to learn that the health of one directly impacts the wellbeing of the other and vice versa.
We each play host to our own personal communities of micro-organisms; viruses, bacteria, yeast, fungi, parasites and protozoan microbes, coexisting in their trillions throughout our bodies. In fact we have more microbes than cells with the greatest concentration residing in the gut.
Acquired at birth the combined genetic make up all these microbes is known as the ‘microbiome’, the bugs of which constantly evolve and change in response to their immediate environment.
Existing mostly symbiotically to help prevent disease, they are also responsible for the production of important neurotransmitters such as serotonin (low levels of which often feature in depression) fatty acids, vitamins, proteins and enzymes to name a few of their vital roles.
However, the colonies within the gut (which, importantly is also home to most of our immune cells) can be easily disturbed, destroyed and disrupted. Ingestion of things like oral antiobotics, sugar, toxins and unnatural emulsifiers in fast foods lead to imbalances within the species causing overgrowth of some unfavourable groups to the detriment of others that are ‘good’ such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.
This dysbiosis (imbalance) of the gut flora leads to the interference with the composition and function of the microbes changing their interaction with each other. Such imbalance can cause damage to the gut wall resulting in leakage through the lining, causing chronic inflammation, pain, bloating and diarrhea. Chronic inflammation within the body can develop into serious illnesses including, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, Altzheimers disease and cancer.
That there exists a connection between the gut and the brain has been known for a long time. Indeed, in the early 1900’s the Nobel Laureate Elie Metchnikoff hypothesized ‘that the link (between the gut and the brain) is stronger than we previously thought… ‘that ‘good gut bacteria’ may delay senility and benefit symptoms of depression and anxiety associated with deteriorating cognition.’
As research into this mysterious and highly complex world of biomes continues, it is becoming much clearer just how important both the welfare and the type of bugs residing in the gut is to the health of the brain’s own biome and to what extent this is unquestionably influenced by the foods we eat. It seems that the colonies of microorganisms in the brain and the gut have a lot in common.
The conclusion drawn in a study (The Gut Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression) ‘has suggested that the gut microbiota has an influence on mood. Poor diet is a risk factor for depression: thus, a healthy diet may prevent depression’ seems to be generally accepted and that inflammation caused by the ‘balls of plaque’ created by the brain in Altzheimers disease is inflammation that has begun in the gut.
So, what can you do to keep your bugs healthy?
- Time is a huge factor and planning what you are going to eat can be really tricky but start to cultivate a practice of eating and buying Real Foodwhenever you can! By this I mean food that is fresh, real and whole, not ready made but made from scratch. Some fruits and masses of vegetables (organic if (Pesticides disrupt the gut flora)) A guide of 1:5 fruit to vegetables. Check all labels. If there are unpronounceable ingredients and you think your grandmother wouldn’t recognize them as food, then they are not Real Foods! A wide variety of good foods = a wide variety of good bacteria.
- Fermented foods including kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, buttermilk and live yogurt all contain probiotics. Most supermarkets stock some of these products. (It is also possible to make your own)
- It seems universally agreed that the ‘Mediteranean’ diet of fresh colourful vegetables and fruits, oily fish like mackerel or salmon, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and salads are beneficial to the gut biome.
- Pre-biotic foods to include are oats, rye, onions, bananas, berries, garlic, leeks, artichokes and beans. These support the life of probiotics.
- Probiotic supplements can be quite variable in the quantities of the good bacteria (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria) so take advice as to which brand is the most reputable and check that there are billions These bacteria are the only ones that can survive the stomach acid. (This said, David DiSalvo’s writes that although it sounds like a good idea, we don’t yet know for sure which, or even if, supplement probiotics can improve brain biome health by replenishing the gut flora this way)
- B. If you purchase ready made probiotic drinks/yogurts, check the sugar content as it can be undesirably high.
- Relaxation and good quality sleep is essential. Meditation is a really invaluable tool to help achieve these. ‘Burning the candle at both ends’ is more likely to encourage unhealthy eating patterns and stress, both of which are major sources of inflammation in the body.
- Exercise in whatever form you enjoy to help de-stress and increase oxygen intake which helps fight inflammation and encourage good quality sleep.
- Keep your brain and body stimulated by interacting socially with your friends and community, taking time away from social media.
- Keep hydrated with herbal teas and water.
- Reduce your sugar intake.
Sources of info:
Michael Pollan (Article published 2013 NYTM)
Robin Seaton Jefferson. Forbes.com Published 2017
Invivoclinical.co.uk Dr Marco Ruggiero MD PhD 2018
CURE ALTZHEIMERS FUND home page
Francino MP Jan 2016 Antibiotics and the Human Gut Biome: Dysbiosis and Accumulation of Resistances. (Frontiers in Microbiology)
(The Gut Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
David DeSalvo. Forbes.com. Aug 2017