The science of the microbiome (our gut bacteria) is exploding and it tells us that the health of our brain is dictated by the health of our microbiome. In addition to influencing the brain research has found that our microbiome influences our thyroid, immune system, cellular metabolism, glucose and energy metabolism, inflammation, cardiovascular health, longevity, and organ function.
It turns out that the body and bacteria work together. The bacteria create a neural network that affects the brain and stress response and this is called the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is referred to as our second brain and it plays an active role in controlling inflammation, mood, metabolism, and cravings.
Our gut makes up 70-80% of our immune system. The reason for this is our intestinal wall is our body’s border with the outside world. When our gut encounters something bad it alerts the rest of our immune system to be on the lookout.
When we have too many bad bacteria in our gut we get an imbalance and this has a negative effect on our brain. So treating your gut well by eating the right foods will improve brain health and function.
“All disease begin in the gut” – Hippocrates
Hippocrates, the father of natural medicine said this more than 3,000 years ago. It turns out he was on to something long before he had the ability to see these little guys.
We now know that the bacteria in our body outnumber our cells by a factor of 10:1. We have about 100 trillion of these little creatures covering our inside, outside, mouth, nose, ears, intestines, and genitals. All together these bacteria weigh 3-4 pounds and scientists have discovered at least 10,000 different species.
These bacteria affect a number of physiologic actions and they help:
- Digest and absorb nutrients
- Cognitive function
- Protect us from harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites
- Influence our immune system’s response
- Produce enzymes, vitamins, and neurotransmitters (80 – 90% of our serotonin is manufactured in our gut)
- Handle stress
- Control inflammation
- Breakdown polyphenols for absorption
The Top Three Negative Influences Affecting Your Gut:
- Lack of nutrients supporting your good bacteria
- Exposure to substances that kill your good bacteria – environmental toxins, glyphosate (sprayed on GMOs and wheat), sugar, gluten, chlorine in water, antibiotics (fed to factory farmed animals)
All of these cause inflammation in the gut. Remember, inflammation is the root of all disease. Alzheimer’s begins as inflammation in the brain and coronary disease begins as inflammation in the arteries.
I’ve been reading, “Brain Maker”, by Dr. David Perlmutter and it’s all about the power of our gut to heal and protect our brain. I highly recommend it and if you don’t have time read on for Dr. Perlmutter’s top recommendations for a healthy gut.
6 Steps To a Healthy Gut
Step 1. – Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are the best source of probiotics. In fact you can get 100 times the healthy bacteria from fermented foods that you can from taking a supplement. In addition to providing healthy bacteria for your gut fermented foods aid in detoxification; heal and maintain the integrity of your gut lining; balance your body’s pH; are natural antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals; control inflammation; regulate immunity; and make nutrients from food easier to absorb.
Some great fermented foods are:
- Sauerkraut – make sure it has not been pasteurized. Look for one in the refrigerated section like Bubbies
- Pickles – same as sauerkraut. Avoid the mainstream brands that have been pasteurized. Bubbies is another good brand for these
- Live-cultured yogurt – beware of mainstream brands that are loaded with sugar, artificial colors and flavors, and emulsifiers. Stick with these recommendations from The Cornucopia Institute
- Kefir – just like yogurt watch out for cheap brands with sugar and fake stuff. I make my own using whole goat milk and this starter and it tastes amazing
- Kombucha – this is fermented black tea and there are tons of flavors available these days. See if you can find someone who makes it locally for the best quality. I have to admit the first time I had this I thought it was disgusting. Now I love it and it makes me feel great
- Tempeh – this is a meat substitute made from fermented soybeans. If you are a vegan/vegetarian this is a great source of B12. Make sure you buy organic
- Kevita – my favorite fermented drink now available in most grocery stores
Go easy on fermented foods when starting out. If you eat too much you can actually end up feeling worse. This is because an influx of good bacteria can kill bad bacteria, fungi, or viruses. When this happens they release toxins making your symptoms even worse. So start off slow and work your way up.
Step 2. – Avoid Processed Carbs, Sugar & Gluten / Eat Your Veggies / Eat High Quality Fats
Processed carbs (anything made with flour such as pasta or bread, and yes even whole wheat flour) convert to sugar. Excess sugar (artificial sweeteners included) destroys our microbiome. They do this by increases intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and sugar is food for bad bacteria.
Foods That Fuel Your Brain & Gut Health:
- Veggies – eat a variety of leafy greens (salad, kale, collards, mustard), cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, onions, celery, turnip, fennel, mushrooms
- Low-sugar fruit – avocado, cucumber, zucchini, squash, tomato, lemon, lime
- Healthy Fats – extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grass-fed butter, grass fed ghee, avocado, almond milk, olives, nuts, seeds (flax, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, chia, hemp)
- Protein – wild fish (salmon, black cod, mahi mahi, grouper, flounder, sardines, anchovies); shell fish (oysters, shrimp, scallops, lobster, mussels, clams); pastured eggs; grass-fed meat, pastured poultry and pork; wild game
- Herbs & condiments – mustard, horseradish, organic salsa, basil, thyme, rosemary, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon
Step 3. – Wine, Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate
Of course this is everyone’s favorite. Just be sure to enjoy wine, coffee, and chocolate in moderation. You can drink as much tea as you like.
So why are these on the list? They are all great sources of polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that significantly reduce oxidative stress. And black tea and green tea have been shown to increase Bifidobacteria. These are healthy bacteria that increase immune function, stabilize gut permeability, and break down proteins.
Red Wine and chocolate have an added benefit of containing Resveratrol, which has been shown to slow down aging, increase blood flow to the brain, protect against cardiovascular disease, and is good for gut bacteria. Wines highest in resveratrol are Malbec and Pinot Noir.
For full benefits, men should not exceed 1-2 glasses or red wine a day and women should not exceed one. And please drink responsibly.
To get the benefits from chocolate eat dark organic chocolate of the highest cocoa content you can find and eat in moderation. I usually eat a small square of 85% cocoa dark chocolate each day.
Step 4. Eat Prebiotic Foods
Prebiotics are your gut bacteria’s food of choice. They are non-digestible and go through your stomach without being broken down and they are metabolized or fermented by your intestinal bacteria.
Prebiotic food sources are raw garlic, raw or cooked onion, raw leek, raw asparagus, chicory, acacia gum, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, and raw dandelion greens. Additionally you can take prebiotic supplements.
You should aim for 12 grams a day to keep your gut happy.
In addition to being great food for your gut bacteria prebiotics enhance absorption of minerals in the body, reduce inflammation, make us feel full and help with weight loss, and decrease insulin resistance.
Step 5. – Drink Good Water
Water is key to life so make sure you drink the good stuff. Avoid tap water because it contains chlorine that kills our friendly bacteria. You can buy a filter for your tap, buy spring water, or get a BPA free container and get reverse osmosis water from your grocery store.
Step 6. – Fast Every Season
Calorie restriction is one of the best ways to increase your lifespan. It has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, reduce oxidative stress, decrease inflammation, and put your body into fat burning mode. It also increases healthy bacteria and decreases bad bacteria leading to a better balanced gut. Ideally we want to fast as the start of each season.
Many of us avoid fasting because it’s no fun being hungry. A hack around this is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is fasting for 18 – 24 hours. One way is to skip breakfast, eat lunch at 2:00 and dinner at 6:00 for a 20 hour fast. I do this a few days a week and it’s an easy way to burn more fat and build more muscle.
I have little hack to make intermittent fasting easier. I’ll occasionally have bulletproof coffee but usually do a modified version called bulletproof tea. To make bulletproof tea, I use 2 cups of Yogi Ginseng Tea, 2 tbsp of grass-fed butter, and 2 tbsp of MCT Oil. Make the tea and blend with the grass-fed butter and MCT oil. Since there are no protein or carbs in this and just fat your body goes into ketosis and burns fat and you get the benefits of intermittent fasting without being hungry.
So there you have it. Give these a try and see how much smarter you get.