One of the core, pillar concepts of my book The Symbiont Factor is the fact that “our” mind is heavily influenced by the presence and activity of our gut symbiont organisms. Gut bacteria influence different parts of the host/human brain and alter genetic expression and neurotransmitter sensitivity, which alters everything from our stress response to our very personality. In this new research study, researchers demonstrated that changes in gut bacteria resulting from changes in diet result in changes in behavior. Specifically, diets high in sugar and fat resulted in reduced short and long term memory as well as less cognitive flexibility. If you click the link and read the research abstract, you’ll see that the diet used simulates the “Western Diet”. This, folks, is basically the American diet, which has now spread to other parts of the world. In research it is used as the standard diet to produce disease in a laboratory animal! So, what does this have to do with humans, since the study was performed on mice? Well, short and long term memory are daily issues and probably declining across Western society. Don’t think so? Try not using your smart phone to recall phone numbers or addresses but just key them in from memory. Try shopping without any list or remembering the last ten meals you ate. These are not really difficult tasks and yet our modern technology combined with our modern diet/loss of microbiome diversity has resulted in significant reductions in these basic mental functions. What is cognitive flexibility? It is the ability to solve a problem when the rules have changed, or to simply adapt to changes in daily life. When you see a person that gets upset because his/her daily routine gets changed, that is a lack of cognitive flexibility. When you see someone who can no longer figure out how to balance a checkbook because now some of the transactions use debit cards, that is a loss of cognitive flexibility. This research article does a simple, elegant job of pointing out that our diet does in fact alter our microbiome, and that has profound effects on how well our brain operates! The gut microbiome heavily influences the brain, and is in turn heavily influenced by what we eat. Think about that when you see how much sugar today’s children consume…every day that I visit a WalMart I see parents with kids that are unfocused, unruly, and hyperkinetic (all signs of reduced brain frontal lobe function) and then see those parents fill their shopping cart with frozen dinners, cases of sweet soft drinks, and let the kids pick out those fake popsicles that are straight colored sugar water. Think it doesn’t change how a child’s brain and mind develop? The average American is now consuming 152 lbs of sugar per year! that is an average, and includes many like my family who consume far less. So, that is today’s “food for thought”… and also one of the reasons that we should all know more about our gut bacteria. For more information, read my book-The Symbiont Factor-available on Amazon here: http://tinyurl.com/mbb8fvc. If you’d like to know more about your personal microbiome, what organisms are there, good guys and bad guys and what can be done to improve it, contact me. This is one of the services that I now offer!
The HPA axis is not a part of the body that is often discussed. It is a functional “axis” that is used to describe the relationship between three parts of the body: the Hypothalamus, the Pituitary gland, and the Adrenal glands. All three of these organs have critical functions with far-reaching implications for physical and mental health. Many psychiatric drugs have been found to affect the HPA axis, resulting in the therapeutic benefit of the drug. Imbalances in HPA function have been implicated in a wide array of neuropsychiatric conditions including in autism. The gut microbiome, gut bacteria, exert control over the development and function of the endocrine hormone system, in particular the HPA axis. Why does this matter? Because imbalances in gut bacteria can therefore result in imbalances in HPA axis development in early life-and this imbalance has the potential to make the person develop autism (as well as other problems in different individuals). It is important because the gut bacteria are so vulnerable to birth practices (c-section vs. natural), antibiotic use, antibiotics in food, pesticides, herbicides such as RoundUp, and even stress levels perceived by the individual. Higher stress is harmful to the gut bacteria through alterations of the digestive functions, secondary to autonomic nervous system imbalance (more sympathetic, or “fight-or-flight”, function). Many of these are factors under our influence if not control! Gut bacterial populations are one of the most variable factors in human health, and yet one of the most neglected. My work on The Symbiont Factor is my contribution to spreading knowledge about the gut microbiome, so that more people can take control of their health and more conditions like autism can hopefully be prevented or successfully treated. The book is being configured/edited/reconfigured/formatted so that it works well on all Kindle download platforms, a task that is keeping me quite busy the last two weeks! Almost there, almost there…It will be so exciting when it is finally published! The book will also be available as a print format following its release as an e-book. Until then, stay tuned in and take care of your gut bacteria!
And, best of all, a slide show from one of the head researchers in the field, Ted Dinan: http://www.genome.gov/Multimedia/Slides/HumanMicrobiomeScience2013/33_Dinan.pdf