Protecting your brain health can now be done, research suggests, via your gut health. What we already know is that the more diverse our microbiome, the healthier we tend to be and the better our brain health. Gut microbial diversity flourishes when we are eating more than 30 different types of plant per week. And research suggests that high plant food eaters have a fewer antibiotic resistant genes probably because of the fact they have less exposure to antibiotic treated meat.
Heavy plant consumers also have similar microbes that ferment the plant food fibre in the gut. Vegetables are high in what is known as resistant starch which is a type of resistant fibre that we humans cannot break down. Unlike other starches that get quickly converted to glucose in the small intestine, this fibre goes to the large intestine and is fermented by our good bacteria. It is turned into short chain fatty acids which feeds the good bacteria, stimulates blood flow to the colon, inhibits the growth of toxic bacteria, helps us absorb minerals and prevents us absorbing toxic compounds.
Pitfalls of the modern diet
Unfortunately modern diets and lifestyles work against microbial diversity and studies show that the variety of gut microbes in populations in general is thirty percent lower than it was 50 years ago. We are hardwired to seek out novelty – 50 000 years ago this would help us to survive because different flavours would have equaled different nutrients. But nowadays due to clever food production, we become attached to the same kinds of foods and these tend to be the ones that support our non-beneficial bacteria. And because of the strong gut-brain connection via bacteria, nervous system and hormonal pathways the health of our gut directly affects our brain chemistry. The following are all symptoms in the gut that can also be influencing your brain health:
- Dysbiosis and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Bloating/acid reflux
The neuroscientist Professor Dale Bredesen MD in his book The End of Alzheimer’s, has identified key ‘neuroterrorists’ on the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s. These include insulin resistance, gluten sensitivity, leaky gut, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, emotional stress, lack of exercise, nutrient depletion, sleep deficiency, smoking and mycotoxins. Many of his ‘neuroterrorists’ involve foods that damage the gut and reduce the health of the microbiome. Bredesen’s research is showing that cognitive decline can be reversed if caught early enough and the first place to start is with the gut.
So the take home message from this research has to be that the number of plant types in your diet plays a huge role in the diversity of your gut microbiome i.e. the number of different types of gut bacteria you have living there. No matter what diet you eat (vegetarian, vegan etc) if you eat more than 30 different types of plant foods per week you will increase the diversity of your own gut microbes and improve your overall health.