Gut health and Alzheimer’s disease (AD)
You may have heard in recent years that your gut is your ‘second brain’. Although it was first thought that the gut was just the ‘end’ of the digestive process and only a ‘waste’ organ, the gut – (and its bacterial population – or microbiome) is now seen as a crucial player in your body and brain health.
Your gut and brain are connected by the vagus nerve that transmits information and messages from one to the other. This is called the ‘gut-brain axis’.
This axis explains why changing gut bacteria in some lab experiments can change animal behaviour – to the point of making a mouse become infatuated by cats. In another fascinating study, transferring gut microbiota from anxious IBS sufferers into healthy mice, altered not only their guts to develop IBS symptoms but also anxiety (a common co-occurrence of the condition).*
In the case of Alzheimer’s disease, promising research last year further pointed to the fact that the microbiota of AD patients was less diverse, with an over-growth of certain bacteria and a strong decrease in other microbes when compared to that of healthy seniors.*
But even though this new research shows strong evidence of a link between the gut and AD, researchers are not yet viewing these findings with the hope of a treatment. What they are hopeful about however, is the potential for AD prevention, especially in those with the AD ‘gene’ (APOE4).
What can you do to improve your own microbiome?
Avoid (where possible): antibiotics, sugar, processed foods, energy drinks and artificial sweeteners.
Have more: full fat live yogurt (if you tolerate dairy), probiotics, fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, kimchi for example), abundant pure water and a great variety of fresh produce and plant foods, with good quality (not quantity) protein such as wild fish and grass-fed beef.
Increase good fats: Always a valuable recommendation when it comes to gut and cognitive health, you’ll want to have generous daily portions of seeds (chia, sunflower, pumpkin, flax etc); good quality raw unsalted nuts (favour walnuts for brain function); oily fish a few times a week (salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel, trout and tuna: once a week only); coconut oil or ghee in cooking, olive, avocado or sunflower oils added to cool or cold foods (never heated); and plenty of eggs and avocados.
Reduce: stress and anxiety – whichever way you can: gentle yoga, qi gong/tai chi, meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing.
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*Gut, 2020; 69:859-67
*Jad, 2020, 78:683-97
*MolPsychiatry, 2019, 24: 1513-22
*Exp Gerontol, 2019, 115:122-31
*Sci Rep, 2017; 7:13737