- A healthier balance of gut microbiome may contribute to better cognitive performance, potentially influencing attention, memory, flexibility, and self-control.
- A Mediterranean diet rich in healthy, unprocessed foods and regular physical activity have been linked to improved gut microbiome and mental health.
- Current research has found a correlation between diversity in gut bacteria and better performance in cognitive assessments, though the specific bacterial composition influencing cognition is yet to be determined.
- While promising, these results require further research and understanding before any definitive health recommendations can be made.
- Boosting gut microbiome’s diversity may be achievable through a stronger emphasis on incorporating more plant-based fibre into daily meals, contributing to a thriving overall bacterial community in the gut.
Recent studies propose that individuals with a healthier balance of gut microbiome seem to perform better in conventional cognitive evaluations that assess attention, memory, flexibility, and self-control. While the mechanism connecting our gut bacteria and cerebral functions is yet to be entirely figured out, some scientific theories have been put forth.
“Based on animal studies, we understand that gut microbiota plays a role in systemic inflammation, a probable precursor to brain diseases,” shared Katie Meyer, a researcher specialising in epidemiology at the reputed Nutrition Research Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Role of a Balanced Diet
A Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, seeds and nuts, and minimal processed foods, along with regular physical activity, is acknowledged as beneficial for mental health.
“These healthy habits have been linked to characteristics in gut microbiota,” Meyer noted. “The protective effects of eating right and exercising may partly owe their efficacy to influencing the gut microbiota.”
Gut Microbiome and Cognition: The Research
The gut is home to trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material, constituting the gut microbiome. An investigation, involving 600 participants with an average age of 55 years, delved into the impact of gut bacteria on cognitive abilities.
Rather than sequencing the entire genetic material, Scientists analyzed a single gene that characterises the overarching bacterial set without specifying its variants. Greater diversity in gut bacteria corresponded with better performance in six standard cognitive assessments. Certain bacterial forms – Barnesiella, the Lachnospiraceae FCS020 group, and Sutterella – were found to influence cognitive examination outcomes.
“We understand that the overall bacterial composition plays a significant role, but we’re yet to determine the most relevant members or attributes of this community with regard to cognition,” Meyer added. The study is a recent addition to a series of ongoing research exploring the link between gut microbiota and health downfalls.
Further Research Needed
While the study’s findings suggest an intrinsic connection between gut-bacteria diversity and brain health, critics warn that it is still too early for any definitive recommendations to be made.
“For a myriad of health conditions, including brain health, abundant bacterial diversity is certainly helpful, while reduced diversity isn’t,” informed John Bienenstock, a former educator in pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, “This study has been meticulously undertaken and draws from diverse racial and communal representation. However, the implications necessitate further understanding.”
Christopher Forsyth from the Rush Center for Integrated Microbiome and Chronobiology Research in Chicago welcomed the study results saying, “The study pushes the frontier in our comprehension of the role of the gut-brain axis in cognitive operations and disorders.”
Another medical expert, Dr. Christopher Damman, an assistant professor of gastroenterology and medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle echoed these sentiments adding, “This study brings us closer, yet there is much to be clarified. We aim to experiment if any therapeutic benefits for brain health arise from modifying the gut microbiome.”
Microbiome and Lifestyle Choices
Even though the idea of the gut-brain connection is well established, Damman notes that correlation should not be mistaken for causality. “While some opt for probiotic supplements to restore bacterial equilibrium, achieving a healthy gut involves more than just introducing ‘good bugs’. It’s about nurturing an entire bacterial community. This change begins with incorporating more plant-based fibre into your meals to foster the beneficial bacteria and boost your gut microbiome’s diversity.”
More Information: For practical guidance on enhancing cognitive health, the U.S. National Institute of Ageing offers a resourceful guide.