It is not uncommon in western medicine to consider the human body as multiple systems that operate as though they are independent from one another. However, recent research in the field of natural medicine and how the overall well-being of the body can influence neurological health has repeatedly proven that the body and mind operate on a holistic, whole-body level. 

In his most recent book, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life, Dr. David Perlmutter discusses the ways that the microbiome, or the the population of more than 100 trillion microorganisms that live in our gut, mouth, skin and elsewhere in our bodies, affects both our overall well-being and, more specifically, our mental health.

Perlmutter, who is widely acknowledged as one of the leading researchers in the field of natural medicine neurology and author of New York Times bestseller The Grain Brain, argues that most neurologists disregard the impact of gut bacteria and overall gut health, and the role they play in the onset and prevention of many neurological disorders. He writes,

“We're now recognizing from research at our most well-respected institutions from around the globe that the gut bacteria are wielding this very powerful sword of Damocles. They determine whether we're going to have a healthy brain or not, whether our brain is going to function well or not, and whether our brain is going to become diseased or not. Who knew that we'd be referring back to the gut?” 

Why Is the Microbiome Important?

The microbiome has become a trending topic in the medical community recently, as its health has been found to be strongly related to the prevalence of multiple neurological disorders. This intricate system of trillions of bacteria is responsible for manufacturing vital neurochemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, both of which are extremely influential in neurological activity. Additionally, the neurotransmitters that govern our brain activity are predominantly produced in the gut, not the brain.

As well as affecting neurological activity, gut bacteria are also responsible for maintaining the lining of our gut. This is crucial because when the gut lining becomes compromised it can lead to inflammation, which has been linked to multiple brain disorders, including Alzheimer's. Beyond this, inflammation has been strongly tied to autoimmune disorders, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Crohn’s, and IBS.

How to Maintain a Healthy Microbiome

In an article published on his natural medicine website, Dr. Joseph Mercola outlines several basic tenements of good gut health, as well as several simple steps to take to help ensure that your microbiome is healthy. He also references several pieces of advice outlined in Dr. Perlmutter’s latest book that also help prevent microbiome deficiencies. These steps and tips can be broken up into three categories:

Quality of Nutrients

  • Try to eat whole, raw, organic, non-genetically modified (GM) foods, along with traditionally fermented and cultured foods. Try fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi, kombucha (a fermented drink), and fiber-rich prebiotic foods like jicama (Mexican yam), Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, and dandelion greens.
  • Ingesting pesticides should be avoided (hence the recommendation for raw organic food). They have been shown to foster drug-resistant bacteria in the soil and food, which can alter gut bacteria when consumed.

  • Genetically modified foods (GMOs) should be avoided. Our gut bacteria has evolved over millions of years and is not capable of dealing with some of the new genetic modifications currently being made to certain GMO foods.

Quantity of Microbes

  • Avoid antibiotics at all costs, whether they are being consumed directly by you or indirectly by the food you are eating.
  • Disinfectant products such as hand-sanitizer also fall into the same category as antibiotics and should be avoided as well.

Composition of the Microbiome

  • Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) should be avoided, as they increase the growth of disease-causing bacteria, as well as harmful fungi and yeast.

  • Probiotic fibers, such as dandelion greens or jicama, should be consumed whenever possible, as they can promote healthy gut bacteria.

It's becoming more and more apparent that a healthy gut can lead to an overall healthier life. It is never too late to begin the journey towards a healthier lifestyle. Along the way you may discover something about your own body that leads to a vastly improved state of being for both your body and mind!

What do you do to maintain your holistic health and well-being? Join the conversation by tweeting @Ace_Wagner!