June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month! Brain health is one of my passions and since our gut is our “second brain,” it’s important to understand how a healthy gut equals a healthy brain.
It can be scary to think about cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. We all silently think, “Could it happen to me?” A lot of us don’t like to talk about these things and just hope that doing our crossword puzzles and Sudoku will save us. They might help, but let’s get more proactive. To get motivated, think about something in the past that you wanted and how you went after it. Was it getting a promotion, upping your workout for better results, spending more time on a passion project you love? Remember that intensity? Bring that energy and commitment to your brain health!
So let’s get started with one of the best ways to get serious about taking care of your brain — taking care of your gut.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR GUT
I’m sure by now many of you have heard about how important it is to keep your microbiome healthy and happy. There are more microorganisms living in your gut than there are cells in your body. Here are a few reasons why they are so important:
- Aid in digestion and absorption of nutrients
- Ward off potentially harmful pathogens and viruses
- Regulate our immune system’s response (your gut is where the majority of your immune cells live)
- Produce and release important enzymes and neurotransmitters*
*An important example is the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is our “happiness/feel good” messenger. Eighty percent of serotonin is made by nerve cells in your gut.
Good gut bacteria produces important brain chemicals:
-the enzyme BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). Several neurological conditions (depression, OCD, etc.) are associated with low levels.
-the neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-amino butyric acid). This is the brain wave and nerve activity calming messenger. Also fights stress and anxiety.
-the neurotransmitter Glutamate. Helps with cognition and memory.
Your gut bacteria are busy and supreme multi-taskers.
One of the biggest enemies of your gut health is stress. When your body perceives stress it starts to pump out cortisol and adrenaline. This is fine for isolated events when you need these two important hormones to get out of danger. However, more often than not, we are living in heightened states of stress brought on by living our continually plugged in, 24/7 lives. They cycle never stops.
Inflammatory chemical messengers called cytokines are released by your immune system, which then puts your immune system on high alert. Constant activation of this immune response results in a constant state of inflammation, and leads to chronic disease.
Your immune system controls inflammation, so if the majority of your immune system is in your gut, it’s crucial to support it in any way you can.
How to take care of our gut:
1. Eat more cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc. Their fiber is a perfect breeding ground to support your good bacteria.
2. Lay off the sugar — bad bacteria thrives in sugary environments.
3. Probiotics. There are many foods rich in probiotics, which means rich in live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your digestive system. Food sources are any fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, kimchee, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, etc.) or you can take supplements. For supplements, there are five key probiotic species that should be included in your supplement*:
-lactobacillus plantarum: Helps regulate immunity and control inflammation.
-lactoballus acidophilus: Yogurt is a key example. Keeps balance between good and bad bacteria, and curbs yeast growth in women.
-lactobacillus brevis: Sauerkraut and pickles. Improves immunity by increasing cellular immunity and enhancing T-cell activity. Increases levels of brain growth hormone BDNF.
-bifidobacterium lactis: Helps get rid of food-borne pathogens.
-bifidobacterium longum: Helps suppress, among other things, cancerous growths in colon.
And let’s not forget about prebiotics!
Prebiotics are able to be fermented or metabolized by our intestinal bacteria, delivering great health benefits.
Prebiotics foods include: Chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, and jicama. They reduce inflammation, inflammatory bowel diseases, and help with mineral absorption.
The best part? It’s never too late to start. And, remember: persistence, not perfection. Maybe adding a quality probiotic and cooking with some more cruciferous vegetables and onions? You choose what might work for you. Start small — but start!