One of the largest global health challenges of our generation, dementia currently affects approximately 50 million people worldwide. While there is no effective treatment for neurogenerative diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued its first recommendations for reducing the risk of dementia globally. Per WHO, prevention through a healthy diet and lifestyle remains the best hope for those who seeking to avoid or delay the onset and progression of dementia. Although some argue that the evidence is not strong, lifestyle habits that benefit cardiovascular and overall health are likely to benefit brain health, as well.
In systematic reviews and observational studies adherence to a Mediterranean style diet of simple plant based cooking, minimal meat consumption and an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats has been associated with decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment. As well, recommended amounts of daily physical activity, not smoking and consuming less alcohol support overall health and a reduced risk of many chronic age-related diseases. In addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle, proper management of weight, hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol levels may potentially decrease the likelihood of developing cognitive decline, particularly if adopted before any signs of dementia occur.
Many are already aware that a healthy diet and lifestyle is conducive to and necessary for short and long term health. While this information is helpful, it is not really new. What is new are the results of a recent study of the relationship linking the gut microbiome to deteriorating cognitive function and dementia development. The study, authored by Naoki Saji, MD, PhD, Vice Director, Center for Comprehensive Care and Research on Memory Disorders, National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Japan, was presented at the International Stroke Conference and published online in Scientific Reports in January. Although the study has limitations, the results suggest that dysregulation of the microbiome is independently and strongly associated with dementia.
The gut microbiome refers to about a thousand different species of bacteria or microorganisms that comprise the trillions of cells colonizing the digestive tract. In those with dementia, the researchers specifically noted the depletion of certain beneficial and symbiotic intestinal organisms known as Bacteroides, as well as an elevated level of harmful enterotype bacteria, suggesting that the gut microflora may influence dementia risk similar to other risk factors. Prior studies have shown that certain changes in the microbiome are correlated with inflammatory and autoimmune conditions and may be linked to cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
This also suggests that analyses of the microbiome may not only lead to better management of dementia, but to a new form of therapy to combat the disease. The Alzheimer’s Association (AA) featured a number of studies at its International Conference (AAIC 2018) that investigated how the digestive functions, including gut, as well as the liver, may be related to brain changes and disorders. It now appears that the depletion of certain gut bacteria may result in an increased risk of the disease. Per AA, some scientists have reported a connection between certain bacterial species and protein build up in the brain. More recently, reports from experiments in Alzheimer’s Disease mouse models suggest that changing the bacterial profile in the digestive tract through diet may reduce amyloid plaques, lower inflammation, and improve memory, all associated with cognitive decline.
Here’s where the significance of diet comes back into play. An important modifiable lifestyle factor related to dementia risk; dietary changes can alter gut bacteria. The question remains as to whether diet alone can boost beneficial bacteria enough to affect cognition. However, some studies have suggested that there is an advantage to adopting the Mediterranean diet, not only for the healthy foods it contains, but the unhealthy foods it avoids, specifically sugar and unhealthy fats. In midlife, regular physical activity and healthy dietary changes, including improved quality of fats, increased vegetable intake and decreased sugar and salt consumption, are associated with reduced dementia risk later in life and may have long term benefits for the prevention of age-related conditions.
Supplemental probiotics to combat brain-related dysfunction offer a promising approach. Another small study published in the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease reported Bifidobacterium breve A1 supplementation may have the therapeutic potential to manage cognitive function and maintain quality life in elderly persons. Further studies are warranted to examine the beneficial effects of pre- and probiotic interventions on gut microbial composition in relation to brain heath. Per the National Institutes of Health (NIH), probiotic development shows a great capacity for rebuilding the microbiota, restoring health and boosting immunity.
- Increase your fiber intake by including a variety of high fiber fruits and vegetables daily. Foods such as bananas, asparagus, artichokes, leeks, onions and garlic contain high levels of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that feeds beneficial bacteria.
- Include fermented foods that contain live microbes regularly. Choices include sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as soybean-based products, such as tempeh, natto and soy sauce.
- While antibiotics are a powerful defense against bacterial infections, they won’t treat viral infections. As antibiotics destroy both harmful and beneficial microbes, directly affecting microbial balance, it’s advised to take them only when necessary. During a course of antibiotics, probiotics can help to reduce the risk of intestinal upset. Be sure to take them several hours apart to allow the antibiotic to move through the gut before introducing probiotics. After a round of antibiotics, broad spectrum probiotics may help to re-establish gut microbiota and restore the microbiome to a healthy state.
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Kids Probiotic Drops by Metabolic Response Modifier®: Formulated for children aged 4 and older, this formula provides one billion cells per serving of two proven, highly researched strains of beneficial bacteria. The product is designed to help establish and promote the balance of a healthy microbiota in support of immune and digestive health. Free of milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, lupin, soy, gluten, fish, shellfish, celery, mustard and sesame ingredients. Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Dementia and Gut Bacteria: New Research Shows Link. https://www.alzheimers.net/dementia-and-gut-bacteria-new-research-shows-link/
Human gut microbiota: the links with dementia development. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5291774/
‘Bugs’ in the gut might predict dementia in the brain. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190130075751.htm
More Evidence Links Gut Bacteria to Dementia. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/908769
Bifidobacterium Breve A1 Supplementation Improved Cognitive Decline in Older Adults With Mild Cognitive Impairment: An Open-Label, Single-Arm Study. http://www.jpreventionalzheimer.com/all-issues.html?article=434
Healthy Dietary Changes in Midlife Are Associated with Reduced Dementia Risk Later in Life. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6265705/