The Importance of Gut Health to Brain Health

Does your child have ADD? ADHD? Learning disabilities? Social Disabilities? Extreme shyness? Depression? Anxiety? Insomnia? Irritability? If you answered yes to any one of these brain disorders  or suboptimal brain functioning, you are not alone. These disorders have skyrocketed in numbers in the Western Cultures.

The big question? Why? And why much more prevalent in Western Cultures? 

Scientists and neurologists are now finding strong evidence that it has a lot to do with the gut, specifically the microbiome, and what we feed our microbiome.

Before birth, our children are in a sterile environment with no bacteria. When they descend through the birth canal, they are inoculated with billions of bacteria. Birth is, essentially, the first dose of probiotics. That is the beginning to the all important gut microbiome.

If your child was born by C-Section, this first dose was unfortunately missed. Many studies have shown that these children have more gut flora and health issues. There is a solution to getting them caught up. This is discussed below. 

It has been proposed that up to 90% of all human illness, both of body and of mind, can be attributed to the health of our gut microbiome, which is really a community of bacteria and other organisms that reside throughout our gastrointestinal system. There are “good” bacteria, which benefit our health and brain, and we could not live without them. And, there are “bad” organisms, which can cause harm and illness, but are necessary to a certain extent. It seems to be the ratio of good:bad that is important. The “bad” organisms include bad bacteria, yeast, parasites, and amoeba to name a few. For single celled organisms, these bad guys can inflict quite a lot of trouble.

There are ten times as many microorganisms in your gut than cells in your entire body. Our job is to make sure there are more good bacteria than bad organisms to maintain optimal health. 

How can our gut possibly have such a strong effect on our brain? Well, gut bacteria affect the production of neurotransmitters (like serotonin) that affect mental wellness and emotional stability. Also, gut microbes control the production of several inflammatory chemicals that not only cause inflammation in the brain, but also interrupt the absorption of certain nutrients and the manufacture of certain vitamins that are necessary for good mental health.

Could this be the case with your child? It could be if

-Your child was born by C-section

-Your child was not breast fed

-Your child had frequent ear infections or other infections that were treated with antibiotics

-Your child does not eat vegetables or high fibre foods

-Your child eats sugar and/or drinks juice/pop

-Your child eats processed foods

So what is the answer? For starters adding probiotics and probiotic rich foods along with prebiotic food for the good bacteria to thrive. Bad organisms thrive with sugar and processed foods, so we will need to get rid of these.

But why then are we just starting to look at gut health now? How were we healthy years before we knew? Why do other countries that do not promote probiotics not suffer the same diseases we do?

Years ago, for the most part, the microbiome was in proper balance naturally without having to take probiotics. This was because we ate fermented foods, we were delivered vaginally much of the time, and breastfed exclusively (great for the microbiome). In the past, we did not take antibiotics for everything, or clean every surface and hands with sanitizers. Plus, we were not exposed to the high amounts of toxins, processed foods, sugar, GMOs, and stress that we are exposed to today. We ate real food that wasnt scrubbed and soaked in bleach, which, as we will see, is required food for the good bacteria to thrive. In many other cultures and countries, they do not have the same stress levels, the same toxins, and the poor diets that we have. They eat real, not sterilized, food. They don’t take antibiotics for months on end because they got a pimple. They don’t scrub the high chair with bleach five times a day. They play in the dirt. They prioritize their health over commercialism and excessive sanitation. Because of this, their microbiomes have been less affected.

Dr. David Permutter, in his excellent book Brain Maker, lists many bodily functions that are affected by the balance of the microbiome in our guts.

  • immune system
  • detoxification system
  • Inflammation
  • neurotransmitter release
  • vitamin production
  • nutrient absorption
  • hormones that indicate to us that we are hungry of full
  • the signalling for the brain to utilize carbohydrates and fat (essential for brain function)

In essence, almost every ailment or disease can be linked to this balance! Even tooth decay and periodontal disease is all about microbiome balance. It is vital.

For our children, we need to especially watch this balance. They depend on us to ensure they have optimal immune systems, optimal neurotransmitter release, optimal metabolism, optimal brain development…..

So, what probiotic should they take? And how much?

Well, that depends on their current state of health. You should see your physician for advice specific to your child. Recently, there have emerged some tests that check the “health” of our microbiome, but it is speculation as to the real results. The tests are not 100% clear as to what proportion of which bacteria are healthy. We can measure healthy individuals and compare, but each person is different. And, there are well over 10,000 species of bacteria in our guts. Several refrigerated probiotic concoctions have many known beneficial bacteria. This is a great starting point. Try different ones with your child. See which one gives the best outcome. Keep a journal of their symptoms so you can more easily determine results. Key symptoms to note are amount and quality of sleep, energy levels, colic or digestive issues, skin issues, mental focus, relative happiness, impulsiveness, and irritability. 

You must incorporate prebiotic foods such as raw and lightly cooked vegetables so that the probiotics can proliferate and thrive. You must also decrease the foods that are inflammatory and foods that feed the bad organisms. All will be for nothing if prebiotics are not included. Your journal will show little change.

Your child may resist at first, but they will come around, especially when they start feeling better and thinking better. Takes up to 21 days to change a habit and to start liking foods you once didn't. The change will come. Be patient with them. This is not a quick fix, but it is a lifelong one.

Better than probiotics, in my opinion, is to eat a variety of fermented foods everyday. Fermented foods naturally have billions of bacteria, even ones we have yet to identify. The good and the bad bacteria will battle it out, and if you can keep clear of all the things that kill the good bacteria, and supply them with a daily dose of vegetables, the microbiome should balance out in time on its own. Then, your child can enjoy sound sleep (yes they affect the hormones of sleep), vitality, clear thinking, calm mood, great digestion, no depression, no chronic illness, lowered risk of dementia later in life….. The list goes on. It will also impact your child's thyroid and their hunger. If your child has difficulty with weight, eating fermented foods will help them get to a healthy weight, and naturally maintain it.

Fermented foods are very simple to make yourself. In subsequent posts, I will give recipes that the kids will like....eventually....

As you can see, balancing gut microbiome is of utmost importance.

If you are unable to balance the system by probiotics or by fermented foods, Dr. Perlmutter has a protocol in his book Brain Maker for a probiotic enema. May be worth exploring if your child is in poor mental and physical health. Dr. Perlmutter points out that some people go as far as getting a fecal transplant from someone that is healthy. This has been shown to be quite beneficial for those most affected. For this post, however, we will try fermented foods first.

I do need to disclose that your child may not feel great during the die-off of bad microorganisms period, and if you are removing sugar and processed foods at the same time as introducing probiotics, your child may have withdrawl. The addiction to sugar and processed food is slightly reminescent to that of a drug addict (same brain mechanisms). Also, for some, depending on overall health and on the balance of the bad population, adding probiotic food such as broccoli or cauliflower, may cause some symptoms of detoxification and flatulence. Your child may want to just rest during this bad bacterial die-off phase, which could take a couple of days. They may even get a fever or have mild flu-like symptoms! It is, unfortunately, a necessary part of the fix.

It may be challenging, but, stick with it!

Don’t quit!

It will be the best thing you do for your child.

If I were to choose one health option to employ for myself and for my children, it would be, hands down, to eat a variety of fermented foods, and prebiotic foods.

If you do not like fermented foods, there are many things to choose from, some you can hide in your smoothie or salad dressing like kombucha, kefir, fermented garlic, or fermented lemons. My family and I have learned to love fermented foods. It took a while. We now regularly drink kombucha, apple cider vinegar, and water kefir. We eat sauerkraut, pickled asparagus, pickled beans, fermented lemons, pickled garlic, pickled salsa, and, of course, pickles! I make sure my kids eat/drink one or two varieties of fermented foods a day. (I also get them to swish it around in their mouths so that it can help keep the oral microbiome happy. As a dentist, I always look for the dental benefits ;-). We eat many organic unscrubbed and unbleached vegetables. I do not clean the house or dishes with any chemicals. We play in the dirt often, and we have never felt better.

I am 100% convinced that food rules…. Add some fermented foods to your child's everyday and they will become unstoppable!







Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published