Microbiome and the Brain

The theory that microbes that colonize the gut and the brain rarely interact except when pathogens penetrate the blood-brain barrier (the cellular fortress that protects the brain from infection and inflammation), is slowly changing.  For years the vast majority of the body’s microbes have remained uncharacterized, and the belief that it could impact neurobiology is hardly considered conventional.  

The collective name for the trillions of microbes that reside in the body, is known as the microbiome and weighs an estimated two to six pounds – almost twice the weight of the average human brain.  The majority live in the gut and intestines, and aid digestion, help synthesize vitamins and resist infection.  New research on the microbiome suggests that its impact extends beyond the gut and includes the brain.  A range of complex behaviors have been linked to the gut microbiome, including satiation and appetite, mood and emotion, learning and memory.  Besides helping to maintain brain function, it may also influence the risk of psychiatric and neurological disorders such as anxiety, depression and autism.   More attention is being being focused on the gut microbes to help understand noncommunicable diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other brain disorders.  Brain-related disorders place a heavy burden on society.  Ongoing research is required in order to discover and understand the close relationship between our biome and our brain, and thereby opening the door for improved treatment of various brain disorders that currently have very limited intervention and treatment.

Before you were born, you were more or less sterile.  The moment you entered the world your  body became inhabited with different kinds of microbes, depending on the type of birth and feeding mode that you were subjected to.  Within a few years, you were covered with thousands of microbes that continue to shift throughout the different ages and stages of life.  Changes in the composition, type and stability of gut microbiota have been associated with a number of diseases including autoimmune, gastrointestinal, metabolic and brain disorders, as well as  antibiotics, exercise, diet and external environmental factors.  It is important to take these aspects into consideration when preventing and treating brain disorders.

It is a known fact that communication between the gut and brain may occur directly and indirectly via the central and enteric nervous systems, the vagus nerve, the endocrine and immunoinflammatory systems and through the modulation of neurotransmitters.  Diet could also utilize these pathways as the microbiota in the gut reinforces maximum nutritional bioavailability. DNA sequencing technology has enabled researchers to conduct large-scale screening of the gut microbiota and their affiliated physiologic functions, linking the disruption of the gut microbiota with biological markers of the communication pathways mentioned above.

Knowing how much your brain health and overall health are affected by the state of our bacteria, it is imperative that you take extra care to nurture your microbiome.

Below are seven essential things that you can do to build up and protect the symbiotic bacteria in your gut: 

  • Limit the Use of Antibiotics – Antibiotics are not effective in treating the common cold or viral infection, and the over-prescribed use for the everything from a sore throat to a runny nose means that all kinds of bacteria, good and bad are eradicated unnecessarily.
  • Add probiotic-rich, fermented foods as well as probiotic supplements to your diet – Natural sources of probiotic bacteria include kimchee, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables and kombucha.  If you purchase probiotic supplements from a health-food store, make sure you choose one that contains Lactobaccilus plantarum, Lactobaccilus acidophilus, Bifidibacterium longum and Lactobaccilus brevis.
  • Enhance your diet with prebiotic fiber – There are two ways to add prebiotic fiber to your diet and boost the growth of your resident probiotic organisms  – either with a supplement that contains acacia gum, or by eating foods rich in it such as chicory root, dandelion greens, onions, garlic, jicama or Jerusalem artichoke.  
  • Do not use aspartame – Aspartame can cause significant changes to the microbiome which can increase the chances of developing diabetes.
  • Reduce your sugar and carb intake – Refined sugar and carbohydrates alter the balance in the gut bacteria that is linked to inflammation and the risk of developing diabetes.
  • Restrict gluten – Gluten increases the permeability of the gut lining, allowing bacterial contents that enhance inflammation to leak into the systemic circulation.   
  • Purchase non-GMO products – Food crops today are being genetically modified to make them immune to the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup® that is doused on GMO plants to kill weeds.  Research reveals that glyphosate harms the microbiome in your body.

For more information on the microbiome and the brain, please contact our clinic.