The relationship between intestinal health and overall good health – including a healthy brain – is receiving a great deal of attention these days. Your intestines are brimming with bacteria, which play a role in a wide range of your body’s functions. Maintaining healthy gut bacteria may help you avoid excess inflammation and limit the activity of free radicals, highly reactive molecules in your body that can cause cell damage.
Inflammation and cellular decay are thought to be important factors in aging and in the vulnerability of your body – and your brain – to illness and dysfunction. The idea behind books like David Perlmutter’s Brain Maker (Little, Brown and Company, 2015) and other gut-focused books and programs is that by eating to promote healthy intestinal bacteria, you can protect your brain from degeneration. What does gut-friendly eating look like? It favors prebiotic, probiotic and fermented foods, all of which promote healthy gut bacteria. It avoids sugar and processed foods, which can promote unwanted bacteria and inflammation. Many of these diets strongly urge avoiding carbohydrates and gluten, however, for people who do not experience sensitivity or allergy to these foods, there is nutritional value in whole grains and complex carbs. There’s a lot to recommend in these eating strategies (such as consuming plenty of prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods) – but as with any eating program, it’s important to keep a sense of balance.