Proper diet and nutrition provide the building blocks for optimal health. This is also true for mental health. In a recent paper published in The Lancet Psychiatry Today, researchers stated that, as with other medical conditions, the field of psychiatry and public health should recognize and embrace diet and nutrition as important contributors to mental health.
“While the determinants of mental health are complex, the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a key factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that nutrition is as important to psychiatry as it is to cardiology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology,” Jerome Sarris, PhD, lead author. “In the last few years, significant links have been established between nutritional quality and mental health. Scientifically rigorous studies have made important contributions to our understanding of the role of nutrition in mental health.”
The researchers recommend nutrient-based prescription of those nutrients that have a clear link to brain health, including omega-3s, B vitamins, choline, iron, zinc, magnesium, S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe), vitamin D, and amino acids when they cannot be consumed in sufficient amounts from the diet.
Diet during pregnancy and through childhood is a crucial part of incorporating diet and nutrition into mental health care, note the authors. Early-life nutrition and deficiencies are emerging as a significant contributor to poor mental health status in children and adolescents.
“It’s time for clinicians to consider diet and additional nutrients as part of the treating package to manage the enormous burden of mental ill health,” noted Sarris.
I agree. Hopefully more doctors in the mental health field get the message.
The best way to reduce pesticide exposure—especially when it comes to organophosphate pesticides, which are some of the most common pesticides in use—is to eat organic foods. A recent study published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal supports this notion.
Researchers analyzed dietary organophosphate pesticide exposure of over 4,500 people from six cities in the United States. They found that among people who were eating similar amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who reported eating organic produce had significantly lower pesticide levels than those eating conventionally grown produce.
“For most Americans, diet is the primary source of organophosphate pesticide exposure,” said Cynthia Curl, PhD. “The study suggests that by eating organically grown versions of those foods highest in pesticide residues, we can make a measurable difference in the levels of pesticides in our bodies.”
The researchers were able to predict pesticide exposure levels based on the amount and type of produce each participant consumed. “The next step is to use these exposure predictions to examine the relationship between dietary exposure to pesticides and health outcomes, including neurological and cognitive endpoints,” Curl noted.
She recommended, as I do, eating organic versions of the foods highest in pesticide levels, as identified by the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list.
Type 1 diabetes involves the inability of beta cells in the pancreas to produce insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections and carefully monitor their food intake to properly regulate blood sugar. Type 1 diabetes is most commonly diagnosed during childhood in children who are genetically predisposed to the disease. In a recent study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, researchers followed 33 infants who were genetically predisposed to type 1 diabetes. Out of these 33 children, a handful went on to develop the disease.
From birth to age three the researchers collected data on the composition of the gut microbiome of these children. They found a 25 percent decrease in community diversity, or the number of species, one year prior to diagnosis, suggesting that a decrease in gut microbial diversity may trigger the onset of the disease.
“This study is unique because we have taken a cohort of children at high risk of developing type 1 diabetes and then followed what changes in the microbiome tip the balance toward progression to the disease,” said Ramnik Xavier, MD, PhD. Another author called the study “a compelling piece of evidence pointing toward a direct role of the microbiome in type 1 diabetes.”
The researchers noted a decrease in bacterial species known to help regulate gut health and an increase in potentially harmful bacteria known to promote inflammation. This gut imbalance, or dysbiosis, is common among many health conditions, and research shows that it may be the trigger that leads to many chronic diseases.
More studies are needed to determine whether type 1 diabetes can be prevented or treated by making modifications to the gut microbiota. The positive results of this study will certainly spur more research in this area. I will keep you posted as I learn more.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects approximately 11 percent of children aged four to 17—that’s 6.4 million children diagnosed as of 2011. Boys are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. While there are certain hereditary factors that make some children more likely to develop ADHD more than others, environmental factors are also thought to play an important role.
In a recent study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), researchers discovered that exposure to the pyrethroid pesticide deltamethrin while in utero and through lactation was linked to the development of several features of ADHD in an animal model. Dysfunctional dopamine signaling in the brain, hyperactivity, attention deficits, and impulsive-like behavior were observed.
“Although we can’t change genetic susceptibility to ADHD, there may be modifiable environmental factors, including exposures to pesticides that we should be examining in more detail,” noted Jason Richardson, PhD.
Male mice were more affected than female mice in the study, similar to what is seen in children. The ADHD behaviors continued through adulthood even long after the pesticide exposure was no longer detected, highlighting the potential long-term effects of pesticide exposure.
The researchers then analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and found that children with higher levels of pyrethroid pesticide metabolites in their urine were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, supporting the findings of the animal study. The authors caution that young children and pregnant women are particularly susceptible to pesticide exposure. “We need to make sure these pesticides are being used correctly and not unduly expose those who may be at a higher risk,” said Richardson.
There is something about social connection that enhances our ability to stick with a new habit or practice. The feeling of “we’re in this together” seems to encourage success within a group setting. In a recent study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, researchers found that online dieters who were well connected and participated in an online dieting program were most likely to lose weight when compared to those who participated less.
“Our findings suggest that people can do very well at losing weight with minimal professional help when they become centrally connected to others on the same weight loss journey,” noted Bonnie Spring, PhD.
The researchers found that users who did not connect to others lost about five percent of their body weight over the course of six months while those who were somewhat connected lost almost seven percent and those who were most connected lost over eight percent of their weight.
That’s good news for our Skinny Gut Forum. If you are following the Skinny Gut Diet (or want to be!), the Skinny Gut Forum is a place where you can interact with me and others to get support and encouragement.
Or, why not start a support group of your own? Maybe you have a few friends who want to try the diet. You could create a Facebook group to check in and encourage each other while sharing tips about how to be successful. Clinical studies have found that regular tracking of progress helps people to lose more weight. Report your weekly weight and inches lost in your group to help keep you on track.
If you’ve ever struggled to lose weight or improve your health, I want to let you in on a secret: until now, you have probably been taking the wrong approach. Be sure to watch my Skinny Gut, Vibrant You special on public television throughout the month, and I will show you how to get back on track!
The truth is, you are not entirely responsible for your weight gain or poor health. There is actually a missing piece to the puzzle, and it has to do with the trillions of bacteria inside your gut and whether they are in balance or out of balance. In fact, they are the underlying reason why you still have a hard time losing weight and staying healthy.
In Skinny Gut, Vibrant You I reveal the science behind your inner weight loss secret and provide surprisingly simple ways to help you lose weight and achieve vibrant health. You will learn how to address your internal gut balance so you can finally reach your weight loss goal—plus enjoy the side benefits of fewer digestive problems, a stronger immune system, and even a better mood!
Click here to find out when it will be airing locally, and be sure to tune in to Skinny Gut, Vibrant You all through March on your public television station.
The average age of a girl’s first menstruation has been decreasing in recent years. While there are a number of potentiation causes, consumption of the contributing of sugary drinks is the topic of a recent study published in the journal Human Reproduction. Researchers followed over 5,500 girls aged nine to 14 years and found that those who drank more than 1.5 servings of sugary drinks per day had their first period 2.7 months earlier, on average, than those who consumed two or fewer drinks per week.
“Our findings suggest that frequent consumption of sugar sweetened beverages may be associated with earlier menarche [onset of menstruation],” noted the authors. “A one-year decrease in age at menarche is estimated to increase the risk of breast cancer by five percent … thus, a 2.7-month decrease in age at menarche likely has a modest impact on breast cancer risk.”
In another study published in the Public Library of Science ONE journal that included over 1,400 women aged, on average, 61, researchers found that those women who were exposed to high levels of chemicals found in everyday household and personal care items experienced menopause two to four years earlier than those women with lower levels of these chemicals.
“Chemicals linked to earlier menopause may lead to an early decline in ovarian function, and our results suggest we as a society should be concerned,” noted Amber Cooper, lead researcher. “Many of these chemical exposures are beyond our control because they are in the soil, water, and air, but we can educate ourselves about our day-to-day chemical exposures and become more aware of the plastics and other household products we use.”
The researchers tested the women’s blood and urine for 111 chemicals from the following categories: dioxins/furans, phthalates, phytoestrogens, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phenols, organophosphate pesticides, surfactants, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
Both of these studies are cause for concern. Although they do not prove causation, they suggest that reducing sugar intake in young girls, and reducing chemical exposure in women is a priority.
Scientists are hard at work researching the effects of probiotics and prebiotics on metabolic abnormalities such as those seen in people with diabetes and related conditions. A recent study published in the journal Diabetes highlights the effects of a Lactobacillus probiotic on blood sugar levels. The researchers engineered the Lactobacillus strain to secrete glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). Glucagon-like peptide-1 is normally produced in the small intestine and stimulates insulin release to lower blood glucose levels.
People with diabetes are either unable to produce enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin (insulin resistance) due to an overabundance of insulin produced in response to continually high blood sugar levels (type 2 diabetes).
In an animal model, the GLP-1–producing probiotic induced the conversion of intestinal lining cells so that they would produce insulin, much like beta cells found in the pancreas. “It’s moving the center of glucose control from the pancreas to the upper intestine,” noted John March, PhDlead researcher. The probiotic reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic rats by up to 30 percent.
This proof-of-concept study will need to be followed up with more study to determine dosage, and later in humans to determine efficacy, but it shows promise that we might soon be able to better control blood glucose levels by targeting the site of glucose absorption.
Some evidence in humans does exist, however. For example, a recent human study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet and also drank a probiotic fermented milk experienced less insulin resistance than those individuals who did not drink the probiotic milk.
Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) involves the transfer of fecal material from a healthy donor to the digestive tract of an ill recipient (most commonly, someone with refractory, or difficult to manage, C. difficile diarrhea). Transplanting the gut microbiota from a healthy individual to someone with C. diff has resulted in an impressive 90+ percent cure rate of the disease. Brenda and I have blogged about this topic a few times.
In a recent paper published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases, Neha Alang, MD, and Colleen Kelly, MD report weight gain in a patient who received FMT from a donor who also gained weight shortly after the donation took place, suggesting that the microbes themselves may be to blame for the weight gain.1
“We’re questioning whether there was something in the fecal transplant, whether some of those ‘good’ bacteria we transferred may have had an impact on her metabolism in a negative way,” noted Kelly.
The patient was a 32-year-old healthy, normal weight female who had been unsuccessfully treated for C. diff infection on multiple occasions. Upon discussion of FMT with her physician, she requested that her 16-year-old daughter be the donor. At the time, her daughter’s weight was normal (~140 pounds), but later increased to 170 pounds. The patient improved after the transplant and did not experience a relapse of C. diff.
Sixteen months later, however, the patient had gained 34 pounds and had become obese. She was unable to lose the weight despite dietary and exercise practices. She continued to gain weight—twenty months later she weighed 177 pounds and had developed constipation and indigestion.
The physicians suggest that, due to her previous history of never being obese and the weight gain that had also occurred in her daughter, the obesity may be a consequence, at least in part, of the bacteria transferred via the fecal microbiota transplantation. Animal studies support the hypothesis that an obese microbiota can be transferred and that it can induce obesity in the recipient.2
Unfortunately, there is no baseline stool evaluation to determine what the before and after microbiomes looked like. Fortunately for us, it is possible to evaluate the microbiome of our stool using an affordable test ($89) from UBiome.
As a result of this case study, the physicians have altered their FMT practice policy to require FMT donors be non-obese. This study highlights the importance of rigorous donor selection, and may discourage FMT recipients from choosing family members as donors. This study is yet one more indication that our microbes are truly in control of our health. Or, on the flipside, perhaps one day we will treat bulimia and anorexia with fecal microbiota transplants.
- Alang N and Kelly CR, “Weight gain after fecal microbiota transplantation.” Open Forum Infect Dis. Winter 2015 2(1): doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofv004.
- Ridaura VK, Faith JJ, Rey FE, et al., “Gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate metabolism in mice.” Science. 2013 Sep 6;341(6150):1241214.
Although scientists are hard at work studying the human gut microbiome, the complexity of the task is such that we still know very little about the trillions of microbes that live in and on us—and on whom we are intricately dependent. In a recent article published in the Journal of Human Evolution, researchers suggest that by studying the gut microbiome of our ancestors we can more completely understand the nature of our own health.
“We have little information about the ancestral state of our microbiome, and we therefore lack a foundation for characterizing this change,” they note. “The process of industrialization has dramatically reduced our direct interaction with natural environments and fundamentally altered our relationship with food and food production.”
The researchers question whether humans are in “mutualistic symbiosis” with our microbes, or whether the diseases of civilization—heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma, allergies, and osteoporosis, for example—“are out of ecological balance and teetering on dysbiosis?” Indeed. They suggest studying mummified remains in a time-series approach linked to major moments in human development and innovation.
“Although reconstructing the ancestral microbiome by studying our ancestors directly is not without challenges, this approach provides a more direct picture of human-microbe coevolution.”
The more we know about our gut microbes and how they evolved, the better we will understand the current state of our health. I look forward to more studies that help us to understand how our gut microbes evolved—and how that shift has affected our health over time.