Blog Post No. 30
22nd April 2016
Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016
Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A rave review of “Brain Maker: The power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain – for life” by Dr. David Perlmutter
In this blog I’m going to review some of the key elements of this book on brain-mind-body health. In the process, I will explain to you why I think this is such a useful and surprising book, and how it can help all of us to be happier and healthier, and to enjoy our life more. Then I’ll outline a few of Dr Perlmutter’s dietary guidelines – from which we could all benefit – and then explain why it can be very tough to make changes to your diet on our own.
Why is nutrition important?
If we have to get up in the morning for work, school or college, and we have no energy, that’s bad news, isn’t it? So we need energy to get things done in life.
So where do we primarily get our energy from? Strictly speaking, from our carbohydrate consumption. But it’s not quite as simple as that; think of the example of the lethargy of depression.
According to Dr Perlmutter, the state of our guts is very important.
He says, “I’ve found that patients report never feeling anxious or depressed until they start having problems with their guts. Coincidence? I think not. Thankfully studies are finally starting to emerge that show the connection.”
Perlmutter considers that our mental health and physical wellness are totally affected by the internal systems of bacteria that operate in the gut.
But what happens there? Apparently we’ve all got millions of microbes in our body and most of them live in our digestive tract (10,000 species!). And each of the microbes have their own DNA, and that means that for every human gene in our body, there’s at least 360 microbial ones. These organisms include fungi, bacteria and viruses.
So what do all these microbes do?
These tiny microbes: strongly influence our immune system; affect absorption of nutrients; signal to us whether our stomach is empty or full; and determine our level of inflammation and detoxification (which are directly related to disease and health).
Apparently our guts contain 70-80% of our immune system. They can keep cortisol and adrenalin in check. These are the two major hormones of the stress response that can cause havoc in the body when they are continually triggered and flowing.
And our gut microbes influence whether we get: allergies, ADHD, asthma, dementia, cancer and diabetes, a good night’s sleep, or whether we quickly fall prey to disease-causing germs. And there is increasing evidence of a link to anxiety and depression.
Dr Perlmutter makes recommendations for changes in our diet which he says will: treat and prevent brain disorders; alleviate moodiness, anxiety and depression; bolster your immune system and reduce autoimmunity problems; and improve metabolic disorders, including diabetes and obesity, which are all linked to overall brain and body health.
Six essential keys to a healthy gut
Perlmutter’s recommendations are very practical and there are six essential keys, which are:
- Only eating gluten-free foods;
- Consuming healthy fats;
- Taking prebiotics (which are functional foods, high in fibre, that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria, helping produce digestive enzymes);
- Probiotics (like acidophilus), which stimulate the growth of micro-organisms, especially those with beneficial properties (such as those of the intestinal flora);
- Fermented foods (like sauerkraut);
- And low-carb foods (such as: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, high-fat dairy, fats, healthy oils and maybe even some tubers and non-gluten grains).
What’s wrong with gluten?
I’ll briefly look at his first recommendation, which was “eat gluten-free foods”.
Why does he say that?
Apparently gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley and what it does is damages the lining of our guts, because it causes the release of a protein called gliadin.
What gliadin does is pulls apart the tight junctions that exist between the cells in our guts. The space between the cells start to widen, and the result is that toxins and larger molecules of food (that normally pass through the intestine and are eliminated), begin to leak into the blood circulation system of our bodies.
As a result, you get increased inflammation when your intestinal barrier is compromised. This means that you are susceptible to health challenges such as rheumatoid arthritis, food allergies, asthma, eczema, coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The blood/brain barrier’s integrity is threatened
What happens is that the blood-brain barrier (which has been thought of as a “highly protective, fortified portal keeping bad things out of the brain”) is weakened if the gut is leaky, and this lets in molecules that could be really bad for the body, including bacteria, viruses and proteins that would normally have been prevented from crossing the blood/brain barrier.
Dr Perlmutter illustrates in his book how eating gluten harms the gut wall and causes all sorts of problems for the body and brain. I had no idea that gluten was so bad for your guts but I am now more than 80% gluten free, and can report that it is great to be free from having indigestion, which I always used to get after eating bread.
The effects on our mental life of a change of diet is clear to see in the experiments Dr Perlmutter describes, especially in relation to children who have autism.
Perlmutter has presented a lot of case studies in his book.
On his website (www.DrPermutter.com) he presents a picture of one of his clients, Martina, who came to him for anxiety and depression. He advised Martina to change her diet (gluten-free, prebiotics, probiotics, etc.), and he has presented a “before” and “after” picture of her on his website. The contrast is dramatic. If you go on his website, and click on “Success” and then go to “Older posts”, which is right down at the bottom of the page, at the left hand side, you will see a picture of Martina before and after treatment from Dr P.
By the way, if you suffer from insomnia, then, on page 85 of his book is a section entitled, “Gut bacteria and a good night’s sleep”. What he says is this: “Balance the gut, break through the insomnia”.
This is just a short introduction to some of the ideas in Perlmutter’s book, which gives lots of evidence to show how mood disorders like anxiety, depression; plus insomnia; and brain diseases of different types; are very influenced by the different types of bacteria in our guts.
And these ideas are now becoming more widely supported. As Dr Perlmutter writes:
“New, leading-edge science coming from the most well-respected institutions around the world, is discovering that, to an extraordinary degree, brain health, and on the flipside, brain diseases, are dictated by what goes on in the gut.”
The only difficulty with a book like this is that it challenges our ideas about our daily diets, and asks us to change very deep-seated habits, which isn’t easy!
Why is it so difficult? Because human beings are by definition creatures of habit. We operate automatically, and we tend to eat today what we have habitually eaten in the past.
That’s where a coach/ counsellor comes in – because changing our habits can be one of the most difficult things we ever do; and a coach-counsellor who understands behaviour change methodologies can be an essential step in the process.
In previous blogs, I have talked about some of the habit-changing techniques and strategies that I have taught over the years. And when my coachees do the necessary work, the rewards (of better health, more stable moods, more energy, and a stronger immune system) are invaluable to them.
I hope you take a look at Perlmutter’s website – and the feedback from satisfied clients to Dr Perlmutter. This could really benefit you, or one of your loved ones.
That’s all for now.
The Coaching/Counselling Division