The “Big Four” brain diseases frighten everybody, doctors included. Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, a/k/a Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Not one is curable, although we’re doing well these days in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
You might have read last week about a newly released drug for Alzheimer’s called, Leqembi. Honestly, don’t get your hopes up. “It’s unlikely patients or their families would be able to tell the difference,” said one neurologist. “It doesn’t stop the disease,” said another, “But it may slow rate of progression.” They also expressed concerns about the side effects of brain swelling and bleeding in 12% of recipients, a high enough percent to give a “black box warning” on the package insert.
Overlooked this same week was another report linking gut health to susceptibility to Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Groups of patients with PD all had the same unhealthy gut microbiome (“dysbiosis”), while those who never developed PD did not. The best scientific guess is that the dysbiotic bacteria are releasing inflammatory cytokines that damage brain and nerve tissue. And yes, taking a daily anti-inflammatory supplement, like turmeric, might be a good preventive measure.
Other researchers in this field have linked intestinal dysbiosis to ALS, MS, and Alzheimer’s Disease in which the cytokines trigger the amyloid production, once thought to cause AD.
At this point, scientists are not sure which strains of gut bacteria would be the “best” for prevention. The consensus is that if any of the neurodegenerative diseases run in your family, you should make a conscious effort to maintain a healthy microbiome. Better yet, maintain one anyway.
There are several high quality, functional labs capable of measuring your microbiome status (Vibrant Wellness, Diagnostic Solutions, Genova), but the test is quite expensive ($600) and not covered by your insurance. Moreover, your microbiome is a moving target that can change frequently based on your diet, your supplement regimen, some antibiotics, even going on vacation for a couple of weeks.
What I suggest instead, is to simply be consciously aware of your microbiome and the wellbeing of your gut by taking the following steps:
- Incorporate foods that contain probiotics. Fermented foods are best: pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, Greek yoghurt, kefir. These are ‘gas producers’ so if you begin to feel bloated, cut back and add a good probiotic like Xymogen’s ProBioMax DF, one capsule daily.
- Feed healthy gut bacteria with prebiotic foods. Prebiotics are food sources for the healthy bacteria in your gut. Vegetables are great: asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions; fruits like bananas and apples; oats, flaxseed, cocoa.
- Try to get 25-30 grams of fiber a day. Your sources can be dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, dried fruits, fortified cereals. You can also add a scoop of Sun Fiber to your smoothie, one scoop of which gives you 6 grams of fiber.
- If you eat red meat, limit to once or twice a week and purchase low fat if possible. Red meat worsens dysbiosis; replace with poultry, fish, pork or just go vegetarian.
- Really work on reducing your total daily sugar consumption to no more than 25 grams a day. I know I badger you about this a lot but some of you are now prediabetic or spending a fortune on semaglutides to lose weight because of your sugar addictions.
- Avoid saturated fats, processed, and ultra processed foods.
- Exercise regularly to keep your gut moving. Keep yourself hydrated.
Over 2000 years ago, Hippocrates supposedly said that all illness begins in the gut. Well, “all” may be an exaggeration but when you start linking neurodegenerative diseases, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, diabetes and other endocrine disorders, with gut health, maybe it’s high time you started paying better attention to yours.
David Edelberg, MD