Written by: Kevin Cann
In my last article I wrote about a study showing how our gut microbiome can play a critical role in our development of a neurological disorder such as Parkinson’s disease. Interestingly enough the importance of our gut microbiome does not stop there. If alterations in our gut microbiome can cause Parkinson’s disease, is it safe to assume that it may play a role in the development of other neurological diseases?
The answer to that question is absolutely. Not only can alterations in our gut health cause neurological diseases, but they can cause behavioral changes as well as cognitive decline. New research is beginning to show the mechanisms by which alterations in our gut microbiome affect our health. In fact, there are various pathways of communication between our gut microbiome and our brain and central nervous system (1).
Our gut microbiome does not just affect our nervous system, but communicates with all of the systems in the human body. The largest concentration of immune cells is found within our gastrointestinal tract. There are 500 million neurons located within the gastrointestinal tract (2).
One way that our gut bacteria can influence our mood and behavior is through cytokine production. Cytokines are protein messengers that send signals to cells and affect the behaviors of those cells. Cytokines are released from the immune system and these inflammatory messengers have been implicated as a cause for mood disorders (3).
Due to the current research linking our gut bacteria to all of these systems, researchers are actually looking at the role probiotics can play in helping treat some of these conditions (4). This could be the future of medicine. Imagine being able to produce prescription medications that are highly effective, cheap, and come with no side effects.
The benefits of specific probiotics and increasing our health does not just stop for behavioral issues. Research shows that our gut bacteria play a critical role in our cognitive development. Studies conducted on mice have shown that gut bacteria influence motor control (5). It is crazy to think that the bacteria in our guts can have an influence on how we move.
Our gut microbiome is given to us when we are born by passing through the birth canal and continues to flourish when given breastmilk. The modern world is filled with C-sections followed by feeding our babies processed formula. The good news is that our gut microbiome can be influenced from the foods we eat later on in life.
Researchers out of UCLA showed that our gut microbiome can be influenced by the food we eat, and that change can lead to an increase in brain function (6). This study looked at a small sample group of 36 women between the ages of 18 and 55 years old.
These women were divided into three groups. One group ate a yogurt that was filled with probiotics twice a day for 4 weeks, one group at a yogurt product with no probiotics, and another group did not eat any yogurt. Researchers then used MRI imaging to assess the change in brain function. What they found was nothing short of astounding.
Researchers found that the women that consumed the probiotics saw a decrease in activity in areas of the brain that are responsible for our emotions. They also showed positive changes in the areas of the brain related to cognitive development and sensory processing. Could this be why so many people ditching processed foods for a more nutrient dense diet seeing so many positive benefits in different areas of the body? Makes sense to me to be true.
This does not mean you need to eat yogurt with probiotics twice per day. I do think everyone could use some gut health in the form of a probiotic supplement or regularly consuming fermented foods. From there you need to support the system that you are laying the foundation for. Much like breastmilk supports our gut health as children, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, and eggs do the same for us as adults.
The majority of our time on earth our gut bacteria received breastmilk first, followed by foods we were able to get from the earth. Doesn’t it make sense to go back to doing this to try to reverse some of the issues we see today that we did not see then? Even if you do not believe that modern foods cause an issue, could it hurt to try? The research just seems to be too overwhelming to not listen to it, no matter what you feel about the Paleo diet.
This is not a guaranteed success. Further research may show that a change in our gut microbiome is just a symptom of something much larger going on. However, I like to think the glass is half full and we are onto something. Even if you are a skeptic is there any harm in eating more fruits and vegetables instead of processed junk foods? I have seen the positive effects a Paleo diet has had on people’s weight, mood, and health. Perhaps the reason is because it alters our gut bacteria in a way that allows us to feel better and flourish.