Today I watched Episode 07 of Alzheimers – Science of Prevention, a groundbreaking documentary series, featuring David Perlmutter, MD, board-certified neurologist and #1 NYT bestselling author, along with leading experts in the field of brain health. For my notes on Episode 06, click here.
This fantastic series reveals the powerful ways we can decrease our chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. According to Wikipedia, Alzheimer’s is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that usually starts slowly and worsens over time. It is the cause of 60–70% of cases of dementia.
With Alzheimers reported to be the fastest growing epidemic among the aging, I want to know what I can do now to optimize my brain health long-term. I took copious notes while watching this episode and want to share these important insights from the series with you below.
For full access to this series, as well as for bonus interviews not included in the free series, check out access to the series here.
Episode 07 Notes:
Your Brain’s Destiny Is In Your Hands.
The microbiome, the collection of bacteria that we all have within us, as well as the chemicals they produce, play an important role in the health, the functionality and even the destiny of the human brain. Most microbes have only one cell. The majority of microbes in your body are bacteria but there are some other microbes as well. There are viruses and yeast & fungi, there are organisms that are loosely termed parasites.
The microbiome is the bacteria that live inside us. We used to think is was only in the gut. We’ve heard of the gut microbiome. But we’ve learned that in recent years that there’s a skin microbiome, there’s an oral microbiome, there’s a microbiome in the female genital tract. And for the most part, these are the beneficial bugs that we want to have living inside us. We live in symbiosis. They help us stay healthy. – Amy Berger
Microbiome is the collection of all the microbes in your body. And specifically, it really refers to the DNA of those microbes. There are 1000 times more types of DNA from bacteria in your body than there is DNA that belongs to you. Bacteria that grows inside your gut affects every other aspect of your body. Your body does not exist without these bacteria. They especially affect the function of the brain. Over 90% of substances, of chemicals, circulating in your blood, are not produced by your own cells. They are produced by the microbes, most of whom are in your gut. – Leo Galland, MD
First and foremost, in the health of our gut bacteria is the food that we eat. Food nurtures our gut bacteria, allowing them to do what they do best which is keeping our bodies and our brains healthy. However, things like a poor diet, taking antibiotics or other medications, directly threaten the health of our bacteria. This is why dietary fiber is so important, especially pre-biotic fiber since that is what our gut bacteria like to eat.
Inflammation is the pivotal mechanism underlying Alzheimers disease.
The biome can get out of balance and there’s overgrowth of pathogenic bugs and insufficiencies of beneficial ones and they can cause all kinds of health problems that manifest in different ways. There is some interesting research linking gut biome disruption to, not only Alzheimers disease, but also Parkinsons disease and some other neurological disorders as well. – Amy Berger
Glyphosate, the Herbicide in Round-Up, Disrupts the Microbiome
We’ve made assumptions over the years that have simply turned out to be wrong. And as we begin to understand this, we begin to understand, wait a minute, glyphosate is not good for you, wait a minute, your gut microbiome is huge, wait, eating things that are not good for you causes leaky gut, wait a minute. We need to correct these. – Dr Dale Bredesen
What we put on GMO plants may be more relevant. For example, glyphosate is also known as Round-Up and there are many plants that are Round-Up resistant, meaning you can grow soybeans and the soybeans are resistant to the Round-Up and it will kill all the rest of the weeds on the farm. It turns out glyphosate is being used in massive quantities because they’re not working as well as they used to. And the amount of glyphosate in our food system is driving changes we had not expected. It increases the rate of cancer, according to the WHO. It alters our gut microbiome, which is the bacteria in there that may drive changes that lead to inflammation and toxicity. If you have gut bacteria that are healthy from not consuming glyphosate, your brain is going to be healthier. – Dr Mark Hyman
How does stress impact the microbiome?
The relationship between stress and the microbiome is bi-directional. The microbiome impacts on the way your body deals with stress. But stress impacts on the microbiome and may even select out for certain kinds of microbes, depending on the nature of the stress. What does stress do to your gut? First, it alters the movement in the gut, the motility. Motility is one of the factors that keeps the microbiome well-organized. Stress may also deplete certain bacteria. – Leo Galland, MD
How does sleep impact the microbiome?
Sleep and the microbiome have a fascinating relationship. First, the normal pattern of sleep depends on the microbiome. It’s the interaction between the microbiome, the immune system, and the adrenal glands that creates this architecture to sleep, where early sleep or beauty sleep is very deep and restful and late sleep is full of dreaming. If you’re not sleeping, lack of sleep begins to impact immune function. It throws the whole architecture of sleep off. And that begins to create a stress response in your body which then begins to alter the composition of the microbiome. – Leo Galland, MD
How does gut bacteria influence blood sugar (and risk of Alzheimer’s)?
Imbalances in gut bacteria present a powerful threat to the brain. One of the most important roles of the gut bacteria is the role in metabolism. Changes in the gut bacteria translate to a significantly increased risk for elevation of blood sugar. And elevation of blood sugar presents one of the most powerful risk factors for the development of Alzheimers disease.
The other important consideration as it relates to the microbiome circles back to the important role of the gut bacteria in keeping inflammation in check. Damage to the bacteria can cause increased inflammation and that is hugely important since Alzheimers disease is an inflammatory disorder.
Leaky Gut and Leaky Brain: The Impact of Gut Bacteria Imbalance
It turns out, not only can you have Leaky Gut, but you can also have Leaky Brain and that is causing so many of the inflammatory processes to be active. So when your gut is out of balance, when you have a microbiome that is disregulated, the things that are inside that tube, which are outside of you, leak inside of you inside this barrier and end up causing inflammation because 60% of your immune system is under that lining. And when that lining breaks down, the poop and the food particles leak across into your immune system and your immune system says, ‘hey, this is not me”, let’s fight this battle and creates a massive inflammatory response. And it’s affecting every part of your body, including your brain. – Dr Mark Hyman
There is a very direct relationship between the gut microbiome and Alzheimers disease. There are a handful of mechanisms by which the gut microbiome may contribute to Alzheimers. First, there is the effect on glycemic response. Alzheimers is associated with elevations of blood sugar. The blood sugar response that you show to a meal is strongly influenced by the microbes living in your gut. 2. There are certain bacteria that produce enzymes or fragments of proteins called peptides that contribute to the kind of pathology that is seen in the brains of people with Alzheimers. These enzymes and these peptides travel through the nervous system to the brain to do their damage. But they come not from your body, they originate with these organisms, either in your mouth or in your intestine. So these are the ways in which the microbiome are important for Alzheimers disease. – Leo Galland, MD
It is a huge breakthrough to understand why people who have gluten problems have early dementia. You can get someone who is adverse to gluten, the major effect is on brain immune disfunction.
Elevation of blood sugar and increasing inflammation are related to increased risk for Alzheimers. Both blood sugar and inflammation can be improved when we take steps to improve our gut bacteria.
The trillions of organisms living within you eat what you choose to eat. When they’ve been nurtured, your health is optimized and you are more resistant to disease. A healthy microbiome is vital in an Alzheimers disease prevention plan.
The Benefit of Probiotics and Prebiotics To Support Microbiome
A probiotic is any life organism that has a demonstrated beneficial effect on the health of the organism. A prebiotic is food for the microbes – it’s whatever the microbes can metabolize and use for their own energy requirements. Plantbased fiber is a major one. Polyphenols. Any large molecule that is too large to be absorbed in our small intestine and gets into the colon and has a beneficial effect on the health and diversity of the microbes is considered a prebiotic.
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feed the probiotics. They feed the good bacteria in the gut. These beneficial bugs will feed on that fiber that we find in artichokes and things like that. – Amy Berger
The ancient diets that people ate that were based on indigenous foods had some really important role to play in the community of bacteria that live in our gut. So, unrefined foods, foods from multiple plant sources, foods that we call prebiotics that are the food for friendly bacteria, all have very important roles to play in indigenous diets where people had stable and very healthy microbiomes. So we’re starting to take all that info from indigenous cultural diets, from what we’ve done through dietary analysis, looking at the microbiome, looking at the effect of microbiome on immune function and starting to say, hey we have a lot more control over this if we eat the right things. And eating a lot of refined processed snack and garbage foods is the wrong way to go. It’s going to increase inflammation and disbiosis and potential for neurological problems.
The one factor that is associated with a healthy gut is microbial diversity. Your gut is like a rainforest. Biodiversity is the key to health. The best way to nurture a healthy microbiome is to avoid those foods that provoke inflammation in your gut. And we know what they are. A SAD that’s high in fat and sugar, that has a lot of added fat, that’s depleted of fiber, that kind of inflammation-provoking diet causes leaky gut, inflammation in the gut, it disrupts the microbiome, sometimes in very drastic ways. It really diminishes the variety of bacterial species that are growing there.
You need to feed your gut well. Feeding your microbiome includes eating high fiber foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds. If you do eat grains, then whole grains, not refined grains. Legumes, if you tolerate them, And also foods that are high in anti-inflammatory nutrients that are found in plant foods. And Omega-3 fats, found in flax seed and chia seed, and in cold water oily fish like salmon. Those are all anti-inflammatory, they help to nourish a healthy microbiome. You also have to be very careful to substances that decimate the microbiome. Your food should be organic, whenever possible because non-organic, conventional foods are exposed to herbicides. The animals are given antibiotics. And you ingest those antibiotics when you eat the meat or drink the milk of those animals.
Exercise has a very beneficial effect on the microbiome. And there have been many studies done on cardio-respiratory fitness and gut microbes. People with the highest cardio-respiratory fitness have the healthiest microbiomes. And aerobic exercise has a positive impact on the microbiome and encourages the growth of bacteria that produce substances that enhance exercise performance and nourish the lining of the gut. Good stress management has an impact on the microbiome. – Leo Galland, MD
Thank you, Dr. David Perlmutter and experts featured in this series for sharing your life-changing knowledge, practical tips and habits to help us optimize our brain health. It’s incredibly empowering and inspiring to know that we have more control over our cognitive health than statistics suggest.
Actionable steps to nurture a healthy microbiome:
- Eat probiotic foods (aka fermented foods) – yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, any kind of fermented vegetable
- Eat prebiotic foods (fibrous) that good bacteria love (asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, mexican yam, jicama)
- Eat a diet low in refined sugar and processed carbohydrates
- Avoid consuming pesticides and herbicides by choosing non-GMO organic foods
- Exercise regularly
- Get 7-9 hours high quality sleep each night
- Practice reducing stress
- If you choose to eat meat, make sure it’s organic and grass-fed, so that it was raised without antibiotics