Not long ago, researchers thought that infants in the womb were free of bacteria. Infants are inoculated by bacteria during birth, and later by the environment and diet, they said, but not before birth. In 2005, that idea changed when bacteria was discovered inside the umbilical cord. Last spring, the idea was really put to death when researchers discovered that bacteria are present in the placenta. It has now become clear that even before birth, bacteria are helping to shape our health.
Although mode of birth and environmental exposures still play a big role on the community of microbes that colonize an infant, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found that, in premature infants, age also plays an important role on what bacteria are present. Researchers analyzed over 900 stool samples from 58 premature infants ranging from 23 to 33 weeks in gestational age (7 to 17 weeks premature) and weighing 3 pounds, 5 ounces or less.
They found that three major classes of bacteria colonized the infants’ guts sequentially, but in different ratios based on their age. Earliest, Bacillus bacteria dominated, followed by Gammaproteobacterium, and then Clostridium. Environmental factors such as mode of delivery or whether or not antibiotics were given did determine the pace of colonization, but not the order of progression.
Although they do not yet know the significance of these three groups of bacteria, the researchers are interested in Gammaproteobacterium due to its inflammatory properties. In healthy children, Gammaproteobacterium only make up less than one percent of the bacteria in the gut. In many of the premature infants, they made up over 50 percent, and in some infants they represented over 80 percent of total bacteria.
“It is our first glimpse of how these earliest in life bacterial colonizations—events that may have lifelong consequences—occur,” noted Phillip Tarr, MD, lead researcher.
More studies are needed to determine what relationship these bacteria have to health. Because bacteria are present in the placenta and umbilical cord, whether or not bacteria play a role in the early birth of these infants will be an area of interest to researchers.
Mental illness is often thought to be isolated in the brain, separated from the rest of the body by the blood brain barrier and not at all related to other physiological occurrences elsewhere in the body. This notion is falling by the wayside, however, as study after study links mental illnesses with biological manifestations throughout the body.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found that children who had higher levels of systemic inflammation were more likely to experience depression or psychosis than children with the lowest levels. The researchers studied a group of over 4,500 children who had blood samples taken at age nine and who were followed up again at age 18. Those with the highest levels of the inflammatory marker interleukin 6 (IL-6) at age nine were most likely to have experienced depression or psychosis by age 18.
Low-grade inflammation has been linked to mental illness in other studies. Some researchers think that the inflammation is a cause of the mental illness, which highlights the importance of lowering inflammation with a good diet and healthy lifestyle.
“Our immune system acts like a thermostat, turned down low most of the time, but cranked up when we have an infection,” noted Golam Khadaker, PhD. “In some people, the thermostat is always set slightly higher, behaving as if they have a persistent low level infection—these people appear to be at a higher risk of developing depression and psychosis.”
IL-6 is usually released by the immune system in response to infection. A low level of inflammation, as detected in this study, could mean the response is to a low-level infection such as an imbalance of gut bacteria. This same low-level inflammation has been linked to a range of chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
“Inflammation may be a common mechanism that influences both our physical and mental health,” said Peter Jones, MD, PhD, lead researcher. “It is possible that early life adversity and stress lead to persistent increases in levels of IL-6 and other inflammatory markers in our body, which, in turn, increase the risk of a number of chronic physical and mental illness.”
Antisocial personality disorder is a mental disorder in which the individual often lacks empathy and tends to be callous, cynical, and contemptuous of feelings, rights, and sufferings of others. Poor nutritional status during pregnancy has been linked to the development of antisocial personality disorder in adulthood.1 Poor nutrition is a possible risk factor for the development of antisocial behavior due to its negative impact on brain structure and function, which has been found to be a risk factor for the disorder.
Omega-3 fats have been found to enhance dorsolateral prefrontal functioning, an area of the brain impaired in antisocial individuals.2,3 Due to the positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids on brain structure and function, studies have been undertaken in adults and children for a number of mental disorders. Notably, a number of studies have found positive results of omega-3 supplementation in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
A recent study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers found that six months of high-dose omega-3 supplementation (1000 mg of omega-3 composed of 300 mg DHA, 200 md EPA, 400 mg ALA, and 100 mg DPA) administered in fruit juice reduced behavior problems in children and adolescents six months after supplementation stopped as reported by the parents.4 Specifically, parents reported a reduction in both externalizing (toward others) and internalizing (toward self) behaviors. The positive benefits of omega-3 supplementation continued through six months after supplementation was stopped.
“The potential clinical promise is that these nutrients can shift the distribution of behavior problems to a lower level in the general population and that more severe behavioral problems that are significant risk factors for serious adult violence and psychopathology may be ameliorated,” noted the researchers.
Interestingly, the researchers also measured antisocial behaviors in the parents themselves and found that those parents of children taking the omega-3 supplementation showed significant reductions in their own antisocial behavior. This improvement positively affected the children’s behavior. This reciprocity effect had not previously been studied for omega-3 supplementation.
The higher dosage and longer term nature of the positive effects found in this study are good news, although replication of the findings is necessary. Antisocial personality disorder is a difficult condition to treat, and the improvement in callous-unemotional traits found in this study, along with improvements in behavior, is notable.
The findings in this study provide further support for the use of omega-3 oils in the diet before, during, and after pregnancy, as well as throughout life. Today it is easy to monitor omega-6 and omega-3 levels with a simple finger stick blood test in order to maintain levels that stay in a healthy safe range. Research has shown that elevated omega-6 to omega-3 ratios (above 2.5–4:1)5 will promote inflammation throughout the body, so it is not surprising it would affect the brain and behavior. It would be interesting to test all people with antisocial personality disorders to see how much this imbalance contributes to their problem. What a different world we could see by balancing these essential fatty acids, not unlike diabetics must do with their sugar levels.
- Neugebauer R, Hoek HW, and Susser E, “Prenatal exposure to wartime famine and development of antisocial personality disorder in early adulthood.” JAMA. 1999 Aug 4;282(5):455-62.
- McNamara RK and Carlson SE, “Role of omega-3 fatty acids in brain development and function: potential implications for the pathogenesis and prevention of psychopathology.” Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2006 Oct-Nov;75(4-5):329-49.
- Fairchild G, Passamonti L, Hurford G, et al., “Brain structure abnormalities in early-onset and adolescent-onset conduct disorder.” Am J Psychiatry. 2011 Jun;168(6):624-33.
- Raine A, Portnoy J, Liu J, et al., “Reduction in behavior problems with omega-3 supplementation in children aged 8-16 years: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, stratified, parallel-group trial.” J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2014 Aug 22.
- Simopoulos AP, “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.” Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79.
September is proving to be an exciting month for new book releases, including the newest book by renowned cardiologist Dr. William Davis—just released today! It’s called Wheat Belly Total Health (The Ultimate Grain-Free Health and Weight Loss Life Plan), and I highly recommend adding it to your reading list.
Dr. Davis and I agree that a diet filled with grains and wheat is behind the epidemic of chronic health problems and obesity we see so often today. His first book, Wheat Belly, sparked a nationwide movement and has helped millions take back control of their health and their weight through the benefits of living a grain-free lifestyle.
Now, with Wheat Belly Total Health, Dr. Davis builds on his previous message, providing new information about the different types of grains we may encounter and why “no grain is a good grain” when it comes to optimal health. He talks about how to make the transition to a life without grains; how your body (including your digestive system) may react; and how to successfully balance your nutrition once you eliminate grains from your diet. This includes taking probiotics to help the body recover from “Post-Traumatic Grain Gut Syndrome,” as Dr. Davis calls it, and he names ReNew Life probiotic supplements among the “best probiotics” on the market because of their high potency and multibillion CFU range.
But I think what I found most amazing about Wheat Belly Total Health were the personal stories and photographs of people just like you who experienced complete health and weight loss transformations without the need for medication or surgery—and who now have more energy and feel better than they ever have before.
Whether you have already made the transition to grain-free living or you are ready to take the first step, this book has all the information you need. It explores the science behind how grains affect everything from weight gain and metabolism to sleep patterns, mood and cardiovascular health. It even includes a handful of new recipes (homemade yogurt and kefir made easy!), plus shopping tips and advice for keeping track of hidden grains as you embrace your new lifestyle.
Like I said: a must-read!
In addition to the everyday digestive support supplements that I recommend everyone take on a daily basis (whether or not they have “digestive” issues)—High fiber, Omega-3, Probiotics, and digestive Enyzmes (I call it the H.O.P.E. Formula)—I always recommend vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency is very common, even in “healthy” people and in those who get regular sun exposure. (Sun is a major source of vitamin D.)
A recent study published in the journal Neurology found that people who are severely vitamin D deficient are more than twice as likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease as those with normal vitamin D levels. Even those people who were moderately deficient still had a 53 percent increased risk of dementia and a 69 percent increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
“We expected to find an association between low vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the results were surprising—we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated,” stated David Llewellyn, PhD.
The study involved over 1,650 adults over the age of 65 who were free from dementia, cardiovascular disease, and stroke at the beginning of the study. They were followed for six years to determine who would develop dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“Clinical trials are now needed to establish whether eating foods such as oily fish or taking vitamin D supplements can delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” noted Llewellyn.
Daily supplementation with vitamin D is recommended for most people. Regular testing of vitamin D levels is helpful to determine what dosage you need. The Vitamin D Council is an excellent resource for all you need to know about vitamin D.
Sugar-sweetened beverages, most notably soft drinks and sweetened juices, are a regular part of the diets of many adolescents. Sugar-sweetened beverages make up 48 percent of added sugars in the diet, most coming from soft drinks. Adolescents enjoy more freedom than they experienced during earlier childhood, which may lead to the increased consumption of such beverages.
A recent study presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior found that daily consumption of beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or sugar can impair the ability to learn and remember information, particularly in adolescents.
“It’s no secret that refined carbohydrates, particularly when consumed in soft drinks and other beverages, can lead to metabolic disturbances,” noted Scott Kanosky, PhD. “However, our findings reveal that consuming sugar-sweetened drinks is also interfering with our brain’s ability to function normally and remember critical information about our environment, at least when consumed in excess before adulthood.”
The researchers used an animal model in which adult and adolescent rats were given access to sugar-sweetened beverages that contained the equivalent sugar content of soft drinks. They found that sugar-sweetened beverages interfered with normal brain function memory when consumed in excess before adulthood, suggesting that this is a particular sensitive developmental period when it comes to brain health.
Adolescence is also a difficult period to make dietary changes, but reducing sugar intake is worth the trouble. For some healthy beverage options (and so much more!), check out Elana’s Pantry. Elana Amsterdam has been publishing healthy recipes on her blog for years. It’s a goldmine of goodness.
Obesity during pregnancy has a number of detrimental effects. Not only does it negatively affect the mother by increasing the risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, infections, sleep apnea, and even infertility in the first place, but it also has harmful effects on the baby, including problems with labor and the increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes later in life.
In a new study presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB), using an animal model, researchers found that maternal obesity triggers changes in the gut microbial composition and gut function in offspring.
Offspring born to obese mothers had an increase in the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio that is a known characteristic of obese humans, an interesting finding considering that this trait, which is passed down from mother to offspring, is not genetic. With about 30 percent of pregnant women obese, the health of many children is at risk.
“Modulation of microflora composition is fairly easy and non-invasive, and may be of benefit for these children,” noted Claire de la Serre, PhD, lead researcher.
This is not the only study to link alterations of gut microbes and obesity. A couple years ago Dr. Smith blogged about the connection between Cesarean delivery and obesity, and how alterations in gut microbes might be to blame. I also talk about this link in my new book, The Skinny Gut Diet.
If you loved reading Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter as much as I did, you’re going to love what I have to say next. The Grain Brain Cookbook is now available—with over 150 recipes for everything from Eggs Benedict with Zucchini Pancakes to Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Swiss Chard and Goat Cheese. Yum!
But healthful and delicious recipes aside, the real message is one Dr. Perlmutter carries through from his previous book: the more we know about the damaging effects of wheat, grains, carbs and sugar on the human brain (and consequently the whole body) the closer we come to understanding the critical role of diet and nutrition in preserving and maintaining our well-being. It’s a message both he and I are working hard to spread.
Fatigue, brain fog, depression—all of these can be blamed on a body weighed down by carbs, sugar and unhealthy fats. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the beginning of The Grain Brain Cookbook Dr. Perlmutter talks about the dangers of silent inflammation and its effects on the human brain, as well as the connection between blood sugar, dietary fats (they’re not all evil), grains and brain health. From there, you’ll learn how to choose and prepare foods that will truly benefit your whole body with the Grain Brain Diet.
Wouldn’t it be nice to finally put an end to your carb and sugar addiction? And to fill your body with foods that make you feel healthy from the inside out? Once you learn exactly what to keep and what to toss from your pantry (and why), you’ll be ready to start making all those yummy recipes.
Happy (and healthy) cooking!
Studies have linked the high-carbohydrate Western diet to colorectal cancer, but scientists have been unsure of just how carbs may trigger the development of the disease. In a recent study published in the journal Cell, researchers discovered that microbes inside the gut are able to metabolize carbohydrates from food in such a way that causes intestinal cells to form tumors.
Using an animal model of mice genetically prone to develop colorectal cancer, researchers found that the mice fed a low-carbohydrate diet or given antibiotics had significantly less tumors than those on a typical Western diet. The fact that antibiotics had an effect is evidence that gut microbes play a central role. The study suggests that a low-carbohydrate diet could prevent a common type of colorectal cancer in humans.
“Because hereditary colorectal cancer is associated with aggressive and rapid tumor development, it is critical to understand how major environmental factors such as microbes and diet interact with genetic factors to potentially affect disease progression,” noted Alberto Martin, PhD, lead researcher.
Almost one in 15 Westerners will develop colorectal cancer, a disease that occurs in much higher rates in countries that have switched to a Western-style diet. Although a highly treatable disease when caught early, without regular screening it can go undetected. Hopefully this study leads to more insight about how it can be prevented in the first place.
“By providing a direct link between genetics and gut microbes, our findings suggest that a diet reduced in carbohydrates as well as alterations in the intestinal microbial community could be beneficial to those individuals who are genetically predisposed to colorectal cancer,” stated Martin.
Studies in humans will hopefully follow this research. In the meantime, a low-carbohydrate diet might not be a bad idea for people genetically prone to colon cancer. The low-carbohydrate diet should include plenty of nonstarchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits that provide plenty of fiber and phytonutrients.
I read an excellent book recently that I want to share with you. Gutbliss by Robynne Chutkan, M.D. is an excellent review of digestive conditions and how to treat them naturally, along with many success stories from her patients who have followed the Gutbliss plan.
A conventionally trained gastroenterologist turned integrative, Chutkan embodies what I wish more docs would—she recognizes that when patients take their health into their own hands, they find the healing they were searching for. She experienced this firsthand with her daughter, and now works to empower her patients and readers to heal themselves with the Gutbliss lifestyle.
The book covers a range of digestive conditions and gives helpful solutions for each one. I was particularly impressed by her coverage of parasites and Candida, topics that are skirted far too often by mainstream medicine. She also covers leaky gut syndrome, another topic I hear about too infrequently from medical doctors.
Dr. Chutkan explains the root causes of bloating and gas, offers steps to alleviate symptoms, and outlines a nutrition and exercise plan for optimizing gastrointestinal health. Research-based and gimmick-free, Gutbliss will provide a fascinating trip down your gastrointestinal superhighway.
If you are suffering from bloating, indigestion, constipation and other gastrointestinal ailments, you will find the book to be a valuable read. Her diet recommendations differ somewhat from my own, but they are still sure to help many people seeking better digestion through better eating habits.