The neurologist, Dr. David Perlmutter gave a keynote address where he pointed out that gut bacteria can protect your brain. The topic of his actual talk was “Rewrite your brain’s destiny” and the venue was the 24th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine (Dec. 9-11, 2016) in Las Vegas. Many of the talks centered around the gut microbiome. In this talk Dr. Perlmutter stressed the fact that the right mix of gut bacteria will protect your brain, while the wrong mix can make you sick. There were many slides, but too much information to mention all of details of the talk here. I will summarize the broad outline of Dr. Perlmutter’s presentation and emphasize the practical implications this has for everyday life to prevent degenerative brain diseases.
A few facts
- Did you know that the brain uses 25% of the body’s energy, but has only a 3% of the body’s weight?
- The gut flora has trillions of gut bacteria with its own DNA material. 99% of the DNA material in our body comes from the gut bacteria and the bacteria on our skin surface; only 1% of the entire DNA in the body is your own DNA. We are eating for 100 trillion bacteria, but if they are good bacteria they provide us with important vitamins and they produce molecules that stimulate our immune system.
- This means we better have bacteria in our guts that are friendly, not the bad bacteria that can cause us problems. An Italian study determined the gut flora of children in central Africa (Burkina Faso) and compared the gut flora to children from developed countries in Europe. There was a significant difference with the African children having a healthy microbiome in the gut and the children from developed Europe having unhealthy gut bacteria. This is important new information. Many other research papers have established that leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune diseases are linked to dysbiosis, which is the name for the unhealthy microbiome in the gut.
Dr. Perlmutter showed several slides where literature was cited showing that chronic inflammation in the civilized world is increasing. He also showed that dysbiosis (unhealthy gut bacteria taking over) is also increasing. On several slides Dr. Perlmutter showed that in civilized countries like Iceland, Denmark, Germany, the US, Japan and others the bacterial diversity of the gut bacteria in people was vastly reduced compared to the diversity of gut bacteria of people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria or rural India. The same countries that have diminished gut bacterial diversity (dysbiosis) also have the highest prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand the same countries with diverse gut bacteria have a low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. When infestation with parasites was examined there was also a parallel between increased parasitic stress and low Alzheimer’s disease rates, again in countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria or rural India. The same countries where gut dysbiosis was present the parasitic infestation was low.
Further research has established that gut dysbiosis leads to an inflammatory condition of the gut where lipopolysaccharides (LPS) from gut bacteria are absorbed causing inflammatory reactions within the body.
At the same time this leaky gut syndrome can cause obesity and leakage in the gut/brain barrier as indicated in this link. The result is neuroinflammation, cognitive impairment and vulnerability to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Our most dreaded brain diseases come from inflammation: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, autism, multiple sclerosis etc. These are degenerative brain disorders due to chronic inflammation. If you eat a lot of red meat, sausages and processed foods your gut microbiome will undergo negative changes. If you eat healthy food with lots of vegetables, fruit and you cut out sugar and too many starches, you have a healthy microbiome, which develops a robust immune system. We have to rethink the gut/brain connection and learn how to prevent these chronic illnesses.
Obesity and gut dysbiosis
In the link above it was shown that obesity is associated with inflammation. It was also shown with MRI scans that the part in the brain, called hippocampus was shriveled up (atrophied). This is a typical sign of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The investigators also confirmed with mental health functional tests that these patients had cognitive decline.
Another study also noticed that in a group of obese patients the hippocampus part of the brain was shriveled up the more obese people were. Obesity is associated with dysbiosis of the gut flora.
Practical application: the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are both healthy, balanced diets, strikingly different from the Standard American diet. In a study the hypothesis was tested whether the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet would postpone dementia in a group of elderly patients. The answer was: yes, the hypothesis is true.
What does gut dysbiosis do?
It was shown in mice that chronic inflammation of the gut through ingestion of an irritant (dextran sodium sulfate) led to reduced new nerve growth in the hippocampus compared to control animals. It only took 29 days to show a marked difference between experimental and control animals in terms of reduced growth in the nerve cells of the hippocampus, the center of cognitive control.
The negative mediators were inflammatory kinins released from the gut wall and affecting the brain.
Antibiotic treatments and antibiotic residues in milk, milk products, meat, but also in all GMO foods are the irritants of the gut wall in humans. The antibiotics change the gut flora and lead to dysbiosis, which then causes gut wall inflammation and the cascade of events described above. The new finding is that GMO food contains RoundUp (they are “Roundup ready” crops). The herbicide Roundup was originally patented as an antibiotic and still leads to significant dysbiosis. Dr. Perlmutter urged the audience to buy organic food as the only method to reduce our exposure to Roundup. Roundup contributes to causing celiac disease and gluten intolerance in addition to exposure to the modern wheat (Clearfield wheat). The FDA is starting to do testing on foods for Roundup (glyphosate).
If things are sounding bad for Roundup, it only gets worse: Roundup has now been linked to causing cancer. In medicine it usually takes some time before definite action is taken. The agriculture industry is so deeply entrenched in the use of Roundup; I suspect that denial will be the first line of defense. My first line of defense in turn is to stick to organic food.
To sum up: Roundup and the Standard American diet lead to dysbiosis in the gut, which causes leaky gut syndrome. This causes inflammation with the release of cytokines and LPS from the gut wall to the blood. These substances cross the blood/brain barrier and lead to inflammation in the brain. This affects the hippocampus with the classical sign of shrinkage. But Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, autism in children and Alzheimer’s disease in older people are all caused by chronic inflammation. There are three more brain-related diseases that are related to gut inflammation: stroke, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Dr. Perlmutter spent some time explaining that antibiotic overuse even leads to an increase of breast cancer as a Danish study has shown. Antibiotic use showed a linear increase of breast cancer as a result of increased antibiotic amounts used. The highest group had a twofold risk compared to a control group with no antibiotic use. Dr. Perlmutter interpreted this to indicate that chronic gut inflammation can even cause a disease like breast cancer.
What can we do to diversify our gut bacteria?
- Exercise: A recent study has shown that regular exercise is associated with a diversified gut flora. The reason seems to be the production of butyrate with exercise, which leads to a diversified gut flora. There are reduced LPS levels (lipopolysaccharides from gut bacteria) in people with a higher fitness score.
- Eat a DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet as indicated above.
- Avoid GMO foods because of the presence of Roundup, which functions like an antibiotic and leads to gut bacteria dysbiosis.
- Remember “Antibiotics are weapons of mass microbial destruction”. If you need to take them be careful that you rebuild your gut flora with probiotics. Use of antibiotics increases the risk of type-2 diabetes by 1.53-fold. It also causes a quadrupling of Alzheimer’s disease.
- A woman should consider natural childbirth whenever possible, as with a vaginal birth the child is “anointed with gut bacteria”. Vaginally delivered children remain healthier than children delivered by Cesarean section for several years.
- Acid-suppressing medications and NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory medication for arthritis) can also lead to dysbiosis. Proton pump inhibitors increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 44%.
- Prebiotic fiber can prevent Alzheimer’s. Probiotics do the same.
- Avoid sugar: even the Oompa Loompa knew that “If you eat sugar, you get fat” as this YouTube video shows. And obesity is associated with gut dysbiosis with the associated higher risk of degenerative brain diseases.
- Take magnesium supplements (250 mg twice per day) and DHA from fish oil capsules. It stabilizes your brain metabolism.
- In severe, persistent cases of gut dysbiosis a fecal transplant can be considered by your gastroenterologist. This procedure is done in more than 500 hospitals in the US.
The diversity of gut bacteria is immensely important. As discussed, in rural areas of the world there is gut bacteria diversity. In civilized parts of the world dysbiosis of the gut flora frequently occurs. This can lead to gut inflammation and the inflammation eventually gets internalized and can even reach the brain. These are the points to remember: exercise; avoid GMO foods, use prebiotics and probiotics. Avoid antibiotics; also avoid meat from animals that were fed antibiotics for faster growth. Don’t eat processed foods and avoid sugar. A healthy gut creates a healthy body, and this includes a healthy brain as well.
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