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Gut feeling: Have probiotics for improving brain functions (Book Review)

“When you think of your nervous system, you probably picture your brain and spinal cord. But that’s just the central nervous system. You must also consider your intestinal or enteric nervous system,” writes Dr David Perlmutter, a US-based renowned neurologist.

Brain MakerTitle: Brain Maker; Author: Dr David Perlmutter; Publisher: Hachette India; Pages: 320; Price: Rs 399

Next time you gulp down yogurt or a fermented milk drink, remember that millions of ‘good’ bacteria will pass through your digestive tract to reach the colon not only making your gut strong, they will also help you improve behavioural and mood disorders or even serious brain conditions.

Sounds crazy? Well if you go through the book — packed with plethora of hard-core scientific evidences in the form of clinical research and real-life case studies — it is certain that you will treat the humble curd in your kitchen with much more respect.

Scientists the world over are now learning that the intimate relationship between your gut and brain is actually bidirectional. Just as your brain can send butterflies to your stomach, your gut can relay its state of calm or alarm to the nervous system.

“When you think of your nervous system, you probably picture your brain and spinal cord. But that’s just the central nervous system. You must also consider your intestinal or enteric nervous system,” writes Dr David Perlmutter, a Naples, Florida-based renowned neurologist whose expertise includes gluten issues, brain health and nutrition.

The central and intestinal nervous system — created from the same tissue in the foetus — are connected via the vagus nerve (vagus means “wanderer” and the term “vagabond” comes from the same root).

The neurons in the gut are so innumerable that many scientists are calling them as “second brain”.

In fact, recent research is revealing that our “second brain” can act independently from the main brain and control many factions without the brain’s inputs or help.

So where did this healthy microbiome in your gut came from and what is their role for the brain?

New science is emerging that foetus may be exposed to microbes in the mother’s womb through the placenta.

As a child passes through the mother’s birth canal and is exposed to organisms dominated by the beneficial lactobacillus bacteria, the microbiome begins to consolidate.

Dr Perlmutter here is talking about babies born via natural birth and not caesarean (C-section) birth.

According to him, infants born vaginally obtain bacterial colonies resembling their own mothers’ vaginal microbiome (read lactobacillus).

“Whereas babies born via C-section acquire more potentially harmful skin bacteria (read staphylococcus),” explains Dr Perlmutter, fellow of the American College of Nutrition and also author of the bestseller “Grain Brain”.

After birth comes various antibiotic shots — especially in urban babies prone to a cascade of childhood diseases — that will weaken the diversity of their gut flora.

Coupled with bad diets, sedentary lifestyles and stress, the hara-kiri inside your gut will almost be done. Now enters inflammation.

What does inflammation has to do with bacteria? Well, blame gluten which is found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye, and fructose — found in manufactured foods as high-fructose corn syrup that disrupts liver metabolism.

When the gut is exposed to gliadin — a protein found in gluten — it increases gut permeability, leading to a “leaky gut”.

“In fact, the blood-brain barrier also becomes more permeable in response to gliadin (gluten) exposure,” claims Dr Perlmutter, president of the Perlmutter Health Centre.

With a “leaky gut,” your intestinal barrier is compromised in the absence of good bacteria and you are susceptible — through increased inflammation and a compromised immune system — to a spectrum of health challenges including brain disorders.

Now see how probiotics (or fermented foods) can not only fix your gut but your brain too in the process.

The type of fermentation (Chinese were fermenting cabbage 6,000 years ago while food fermentation dates back 7,000 years to wine-making in Persia) that makes most foods probiotic is called lactic acid fermentation.

“In this process, good bacteria converts the sugar molecules in the food into lactic acid. In doing so, they multiply and proliferate,” he informs.

As these probiotic bacteria metabolises their source of fuel from your diet, they liberate various nutrients, like vitamins A, C, and K as well as those from B-complex group.

This curbs inflammation, boosts immunity and leads to a healthy brain.

Go for yogurt, fermented milk drinks, Kefir (a unique combination of yeast and bacteria), goat’s milk (high in lactobacilli), Kombucha tea (fermented black tea and often served chilled), Tempeh (fermented soybeans), Kimchi (a traditional fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables) and picked fruits and vegetables.

For non-vegetarians, the book has listed some extraordinary mouth-watering recipes to cook fermented meat, fish and eggs — from corned beef to pickled sardines and fermented hard-boiled eggs.

“While going for market probiotics, look for added sugars, chemical preservatives and colouring. Ideally, choose organic,” the author advises.

It is not just about transforming your body from the inside. Your complexion will glow. Your waistline will get smaller. Your emotions, energy levels and your ability to get things done will change for the better too.

There is no harm in trying fermented food-rich diet that our ancestors were used to.

(Nishant Arora / IANS)

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