Want to lower dementia risk? Grow good gut bacteria

gut bacteria dementia

With rates of dementia rising dramatically, you’re not alone in wondering how to avoid becoming another casualty. Although lowering the risk of dementia depends on dietary and lifestyle changes, one little known approach involves cultivating your garden. Not the garden in your yard, but the one in your gut.

A team of Harvard-affiliated researchers discovered gut bacteria influence brain inflammation, a mechanism behind dementia. Brain inflammation, which is more common than you’d think, kills brain cells, thus gradually atrophying the brain and raising the risk of dementia. If you want to lower your risk of dementia, you need to learn how to prevent brain inflammation.

Best way to combat brain inflammation? Diet

The foods you eat influence the bacteria in your gut. Our intestines host about three to four pounds of vitally necessary bacteria. Gut bacteria number in the trillions, with hundreds of varieties discovered so far.

A more recent discovery is that these bacteria can travel to the brain via the vagus nerve, a large nerve that connects the brain with the gut. Communication travels back and forth between the brain and the vagus nerve in what is called the gut-brain axis. This means what you eat and the state of your digestive health profoundly affects your brain health.

The study found that a deficiency in gut bacteria can set the stage for inflammation in the brain, thus aging the brain more rapidly and increasing the risk of dementia.

Grow beneficial gut bacteria to protect your brain

This isn’t the first study to show the profound influence of gut bacteria on the brain. Researchers have found links between gut bacteria and depression, anxiety, mood disorders, memory, cognition, and more.

So it’s no surprise dementia is on the rise when you consider the modern diet, which seems designed to destroy good bacteria while populating the gut with harmful, inflammatory bacteria instead.

Modern diets and mass extinction of gut bacteria

In fact, researchers have found the modern gut is home to a mass extinction of many varieties of necessary gut bacteria that have been around as long as humans. Diets high in processed foods, meats, and sugars but pitifully low in plant fiber have killed off a rich diversity of gut bacteria on which our health depends. The result? Inflammation and chronic diseases such as dementia.

You can boost your beneficial gut bacteria by taking probiotics and eating fermented foods, such as sauerkraut. But it’s even more important to feed those bacteria with a diet that is primarily plant-based. Eat mostly vegetables, and switch up the vegetables you eat on a regular basis as your friendly bacteria depend on dietary diversity to thrive.

Also, avoid foods that have been shown to increase brain inflammation and raise the risk of dementia: Sugar, processed carbohydrates, excess salt, excess alcohol, and foods to which you have an immune reaction. Gluten and dairy are two common triggers of inflammation and can be particularly destructive to the brain in those who react to them.

Gluten sensitivity can raise your risk of gallbladder surgery

Bruce Blaus

Gallbladder surgery is one of the most commonly performed surgeries today. Did you know simply going gluten-free may lower the risk of needing gallbladder surgery?

For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers a wide range of adverse reactions, from joint pain to poor brain function. In the last several years, research has also linked gluten with gallbladder disease in gluten-sensitive individuals.

Gluten sensitivity largely undiagnosed

An astonishing number of people are gluten intolerant but do not know it. Undiagnosed gluten sensitivity can cause leaky gut, chronic pain, inflammation, neurological damage, and autoimmunity (when the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue). Gluten sensitivity is estimated to affect between 20 and 40 percent of the general population, and is less frequently identified than celiac disease, though this is changing.

How gluten can raise the risk of needing gallbladder surgery

So how can gluten raise the risk of requiring gallbladder surgery? The process begins with damage to the small intestine. This damage inhibits its ability to properly secrete a hormone called cholecystokinin. Cholecystokinin is the hormone that signals the gallbladder when it’s time to release bile, which aids in the digestion and absorption of fat. As a result, bile builds up in the gallbladder, causing inflammation and raising the risk of gallbladder disease and subsequent gallbladder surgery.

Approximately 60 percent of people with celiac disease — an autoimmune reaction to gluten — also have gallbladder, liver, or pancreatic conditions, and this is apparently one reason why.

Why you need a gallbladder

Although you can live without your gallbladder, it is essential to overall health. The bile stored and secreted by the gallbladder enables you to digest fats. Without a gallbladder, your liver still produces bile, but the bile just “leaks” continually into the small intestine. This means there are no adequate reserves of bile to break down fats when needed.

These fats then become rancid and inflame the digestive tract while fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids are not properly absorbed. Ultimately, this compromises the function of your entire digestive tract. In fact, studies have linked gallbladder removal with an elevated risk of colon cancer.

Also, if the gallbladder is not removed but isn’t doing its job well, this can be detrimental to liver function.

It is worth caring for your gallbladder to preserve the health of your digestive system, and hence your immune system. If you are sensitive to gluten, it’s important to go gluten-free to maintain gallbladder health and lower your risk of needing gallbladder surgery.

Additionally, your gallbladder appreciates a diet high in omega 3 essential fatty acids, and free of processed oils and hydrogenated fats. And in general, it is safest to keep starchy carbs (cake, potatoes, white flour, refined sugar, etc.) to a minimum.

Various botanicals and nutrients can support liver and gallbladder health. They include milk thistle seed extract, dandelion root, ginger root, and phosphatidyl choline.

If you have already had your gallbladder removed, don’t despair. Taking ox bile with your meals can help you emulsify and absorb your fats, which are vital for many aspects of health including brain function. For more information, contact my office.