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!
With the upcoming release of the movie “Fed Up” with Katie Couric (http://bit.ly/1m60mlD) I feel it’s time to review some of the current information on soda, sugar, obesity and the role of the microbiome (the trillion residents of our insides). The first observation to consider is that drinking soda with meals is a direct predictor of weight gain due to the extreme sugar content of soda. Indeed, the intake of sugar sweetened soda has been known to be causative of weight gain and obesity for several years, yet its intake has not been curtailed particularly among youth. Half of the empty calories in 2-18 year olds comes from only six foods: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza, and whole milk. The changes that come from empty calories and in particular sugar are due to the effect of the diet on the intestinal microbiome, a fact that is highlighted by the observation that a survey of the microbiome can predict how easily the person will lose weight! The effect also carries over to obesity, cholesterol levels, and liver cancer though that is the subject of another post coming up. What’s the lesson? Perhaps that parents should take an active role in teaching their children to avoid sugars and soda, and that those who influence our children should also. Perhaps when athletic coaches are driving a team home late at night, stopping for fast food (high in sugar) and sodas (super high in sugar) is not a good idea. Sorry, coaches, but…if you’re trying to make kids perform better in their sports, part of that is teaching them to be healthier-and this relates directly to what they eat or drink! All of us need to work harder at avoiding sugar, as the average person in the US now consumes 152 lbs of sugar per year. The rate of obesity and the diseases it causes continues to rise, and predictions are dire when looking at how this trend could continue in the future. In view of the effects described above, it is no wonder that the obesity rate and disease incidence have skyrocketed! Remember the people in the movie “Wally?” Great, funny animated movie with some real messages!