For years we’ve placed the utmost importance on our brain and heart – the control centres of our nervous and cardiovascular systems, respectively. Yet we’ve dismissed a third, seemingly embarrassing but equally vital organ, the conductor for the digestive system, the gut.
For the most part, the brain and heart were seen to keep us alive while the gut was perceived as good for little more than going to the loo. That is, until now.
More and more research is emerging that suggests the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut plays an incredible role in our brain health in terms of mood and even memory.
Dr. David Perlmutter, neurologist and New York Times bestselling author of Grain Brain, has been a key figure in this research. In his most recent book, Brain Maker: The power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain – for life, he reveals how the microbiome of the gut may hold the answers to help us manage and treat neurological disorders that affect our behaviour and mood, from chronic headaches to anxiety, and even Alzheimer’s and autism.
We spoke to Dr. Perlmutter about his work and found out what he recommends for good gut (and therefore brain) health.
5 key essentials for good brain-gut health
Key #1: Consume Prebiotics
“Prebiotics are indigestible fiber and they are the ingredients that gut bacteria, good gut bacteria, love to eat to nourish their own growth and activity, which includes keeping their host, that’s you and me, healthy. One of the benefits of having good bacteria in the gut is that they are able to use the prebiotic fiber we consume to fuel their metabolism and produce compounds that help us stay healthy.”
We can consume prebiotics naturally in the foods that we eat. Dr. Perlmutter recommends eating a diet high in prebiotic-containing foods such as chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, dandelion greens, and jicama or Mexican yam.
Key #2: Don’t forget Probiotics
“Probiotic bacteria liberate nutrients contained in the foods you eat, making them more easily absorbed. For example, they increase the availability of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as vitamins from the B-complex group.”
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria themselves. According to Dr. Perlmutter, we should consume whole, natural fermented foods, which make them exceptionally bioavailable, or more easily accepted by the body, and consider teaming these foods with a high quality supplement.
Key #3: Cut the Carbs & Sugars
“I suggest a diet that’s devoid of simple sugars, gluten-containing grains and flours, and is rich in healthy fats as well as prebiotic fiber. This particular diet supplies the ingredients to nourish not only healthy biology – and in turn a healthy microbiome – but also a healthy brain. A low carb diet is a diet that keeps blood sugar balanced and gut bacteria balanced.”
Key #4: Avoid Gluten
“Gluten is among the most inflammatory ingredients of the modern era. We now know that disruption of the gut lining as a consequence of gluten exposure may actually occur in all humans – not just those with coeliac disease. This leakiness of the gut leads to inflammation that can affect the entire human body.”
Key #5 Healthy Balance
Dr. Perlmutter says that one must support this dietary lifestyle by engaging in other gut-friendly activities such as maintaining a regular exercise program, getting a good night’s sleep, lowering exposure to potentially noxious chemicals, and reducing life stress.
“The inescapable and empowering truth is that we have co-evolved with these microorganisms throughout our journey on this planet. They are our body and our brain’s best friend. They are as much a part of our survival as our own cells are. So let’s do our utmost best to take care of our microbiome. This is the key that opens the door to exceptional health,” says Dr. Perlmutter.