1. You are what you eat, according to the old adage. But, I think “you are what you digest, absorb and assimilate” is an important addition to the saying. After all, what you eat, digest, absorb and assimilate will become the building blocks of every cell in your body, including those in your brain. If the digestion process is impaired, your body will lack adequate building blocks to maintain healthy brain and nervous system cells.
2. Research is showing that the gastrointestinal tract (GI) plays a huge part in your body’s immune response. It is one of the main determinants of the levels of inflammation in your body, and whether your body will attack healthy tissue.
Over 100,000,000,000,000 bacteria of more than 400 different species reside in your intestines. Actually, there are more microorganisms found in your digestive tract than there are cells in your body. Most of these bacteria reside in the large intestine, which is also known as the colon. We tend to become alarmed at the very thought of bacteria residing in our bodies, but these bacteria are an important part of our health. They help ensure that food is adequately broken down, nutrients are synthesized and absorbed, toxins are not absorbed into the blood, harmful bacteria stay in check, and that the immune system is healthy. These beneficial bacteria are also known as flora, microflora, or probiotics (the opposite of antibiotics).
The two main types of beneficial bacteria, which are also called “friendly bacteria” include: Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria. Research is beginning to show that these two types of microflora can lower the levels of toxic compounds that could have detrimental effects on the brain.
Studies show that these bacteria lower immune system compounds called cytokines, in the gut but also throughout the bloodstream. Cytokines are linked to anxiety, symptoms of depression, and cognitive disturbances when induced in healthy adults. Cytokines also lower levels of an important brain and nerve cell protector.
Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria can also act as antioxidants in the body. Alan C. Logan, ND, FRSH, in his book, The Brain Diet, cites four studies that demonstrate probiotics’ protective ability against free radical damage, especially against damage to the fatty component of cells. The brain is largely fat so protecting the fatty component of cells from free radical damage is important to brain health. Here are two of the studies:
One study by Dr. Tatyana Oxman and her Israeli colleagues showed that Lactobacillus bulgaricus protected heart cells against the effects of insufficient oxygenated blood.
In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Swedish researchers showed that oral administration of a strain of Lactobacillus plantarum, which they identified as 299v, resulted in a 37 percent reduction in a chemical called F-isoprostanes. The latter chemicals are markers of oxidative stress in the body and are elevated in many brain and neurological diseases. In the same study, the group of people taking this strain of Lactobacillus bulgaricus also had a 42 percent reduction in a particular type of inflammatory cytokines.
So while the researchers are proving the gut-brain link, make sure you’re getting enough probiotics in your diet or through supplementation. And, be sure you’re getting different species from both major groups: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.