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Category: Science

Could Gut Bacterial Imbalance Cause Brain Illness?

We Americans seem to be obsessed with hygiene and cleanliness. Whether it’s the hand sanitizer dispenser at the end of virtually every aisle in the grocery store, the plethora of antimicrobial cleaning products, or our insistence on taking powerful antibiotics for every cough or cold, somehow or another we have bought into the mentality that bugs are bad and are waging a war against us at every turn.

As it turns out, in many ways the multitude of bacteria that exist in our world and within our bodies may actually be doing more good than harm. Within our intestines, for example, there exists a vast and expensive colony of living organisms upon which we are completely dependent for our wellbeing. Most of these organisms reside within the intestine and are called our microbiota. In fact, the number of organisms living within each of us outnumber the cells of our body by a factor of 10 to 1.

And it is these bacteria and other organisms including fungi and viruses that control any number of aspects of our physiology that determine health versus illness. Our immune function, levels of inflammation, ability to fight cancer cells, detoxification, and even absorption of various nutrients, are all intimately dependent upon the various species of organisms that live within the gut.

Medical research is now clearly revealing that when the balance of organisms within the gut is disrupted, bad things can happen. Autoimmune conditions like lupus, for example, are clearly associated with changes in the gut bacteria as are many inflammatory disorders. Medical research has pointed to a specific change in the gut bacteria associated with diabetes. In fact, there is actually a term for the idea that disruptions of the gut organisms bye our actions may be associated with disease processes. This is called the “hygiene hypothesis,” and it asserts that by our actions we change the composition of the bacteria and other organisms living within our bodies and as such, pave the way for illness.

In a recent British study, researchers evaluated the diversity of organisms and presence of parasites in people from 192 countries and compared their results with the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in those countries. Remarkably, they found that in those countries having the greatest degree of hygiene, in other words the least amount of parasites and microbial diversity, rates of Alzheimer’s were dramatically increased in comparison to those countries in which harboring parasites was actually very common and the gut organisms were more diverse.

The authors stated: 

Variation in hygiene may partly explain global patterns in AD rates. Microorganism exposure may be inversely related to AD risk. These results may help predict AD burden in developing countries where microbial diversity is rapidly diminishing. Epidemiological forecasting is important for preparing for future healthcare needs and research prioritization.

This is actually very exciting information. If indeed there is a relationship between the diversity and numbers of gut bacteria and a disease as devastating as Alzheimer’s, it may well open the door for therapeutic techniques designed to repopulate the gut with healthy organisms.

For now, I think this report should at least make us question whether we really need an antibiotic for a cold and maybe reconsider why we won’t let our kids play in the dirt.

  • Lynn Dell

    Agree about the overuse of antibiotics, and the importance of a good gut flora. I wonder if we wouldn’t have the problem with mrsa and other serious, intractable infections, if we weren’t so medicated with antibiotics, or so clean with hand sanitizers.

    In the case of skin, I’d make a big exception for open wounds, even very small ones, having worked on a burn unit for a few years and seen one too many people succumb to septicemia, also knowing a fairly healthy middle age runner who got necrotizing fasciitis from a very small scratch. The barrier between us and the outside world is the skin, which also has a normal amount of bacteria and such on it, which I believe is replaced a couple hours after we shower. Also, there is a limit as to the ingestion of parasites and bacteria through the mouth into the gut that anybody can handle.

    It will be interesting to see in future research if there is any causal relationship between the correlation mentioned above w/respect to hygiene and Alzeimer’s disease. Thanks for all your work!

  • Tuấn Văn Nguyễn

    It’s not enough to point out an association. What is the mechanism by which the gut flora help the brain function? Too many wrong conclusions have been drawn from observational studies.

  • Kathryn Burton

    I understand that keeping a healthy balance of bacteria in our bodies is important. However, surely allowing pathogens free reign of our bodies is not good either. Parasites are easily picked up by dirt/animals etc. Would doing a parasite cleanse then not be a wise thing to do? Or would it have too great a detrimental affect on our good bacteria?

    • Michelle Sala Radtke

      healthy gut balance wards off the pathogens.

      • David Perlmutter

        Right on Michelle. Many people don’t realize the key role the gut and digestive tract play in our immune system.

  • Kate

    Should we be taking a probiotic daily to help keep out gut healthy and happy?

  • Ron Souther

    What about using colloidal silver? It uses a different mechanism to protect against pathogens. http://www.colloidal-silver-hydrosol.com/

  • Maxmilliana

    Also, the practice of giving livestock antibiotics to prevent disease and increase growth needs to be stopped.
    As for populations and hygiene, it could be that those with more exposure to microbes and parasites are also eating a more unprocessed diet with less sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other processed carbs.

  • A. Enriquez

    How about soaps, shampoos and cosmetics?

    • David Perlmutter

      In particular, you should be careful around shampoos and cosmetics, as they can contain gluten.

  • Sandra Clagett

    This was an excellent article. Thanks for sharing………

  • Marie

    I have diabetes and inflammation. I have not been able to lose weight even though I have been trying. What I am not finding is how I can add bacteria without having to pay for a transplant as I’ve been reading is available. I take a probiotic with 6 strains of bacteria and I also eat fermented foods, but I do not think I have the right bacterial balance. Is there anything else I can do to introduce other strains into my system, or is there a specialized blend of the less common bacteria available for ingestion?

    • mesmereyes

      The probiotic I use has 15 strains, but even then it’s only the tip of the iceberg regarding the numbers of different strains in our bodies, which is why fermented foods are recommended, along with a diverse selection of vegetables (most preferably raw, as in salads, except possibly cruciferous veggies like broccoli). Eliminate/reduce foods detrimental to a healthy gut bacteria balance (and are also high glycemic), e.g., sugars, grains and dairy (with the possible exception of plain — unsweetened — yogurt and kefir. Kefir reportedly has more strains than yogurt.). For energy and feeling full, replace grain carbs with healthy fats such as those in organic meat, eggs and butter; avocados, nuts and coconut oil. A couple eggs will keep me energetic and feeling full for hours, the caveat being that the whites should be cooked but the yolks runny (cooked yolks oxidizes — similar to making rancid — the fats and cholesterol in them). I lost 40 lbs. following this regimen. There are also available “soil-based probiotics” which have additional strains, although you might want to read up first as their appears to be some controversy concerning them.

    • Sarah

      Have you been tested for food allergies? There’s the skin test and the blood test. I went through a multitude of appointments, tests, out-of-state referrals, and none were able to help me with my abdominal pain and inflammation. One quick test told me that I had been eating foods that caused an allergic reaction.

    • Tamlew

      Have you done a parasite, virus, bad bacteria cleanse? Also, look into intermittent fasting to decrease stimulating your insulin levels many times throughout the day. This will help you loose weight and reverse your diabetes… Read Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Obesity Code for more information. He is a nephrologist who works with end stage diabetics and CURES them of diabetes!

  • sawski3

    I am 10 yrs recovering from celiac sprue and If I do not take the appropriate dosage of probiotic every day It shows up in the next days poor movement. What a struggle. Can not seem to get anywhere in this muddy information on the subject. Any thoughts Doc would be greatly appreciated. TYVM

    • Mellan

      Look into leaky gut, lipopolysaccharides and Cross contamination. thedr.com has good answers.

  • Mari

    Thank you Dr Perlmutter for this info.. I personally have had major candida issues due to antibiotics and stress. I can report today I am much better and
    my candida is under control. I also eat saurkraut at every meal.. along with a good digestive enzyme combination!

  • Angela Koenigsberg

    Dr. P. Can you please share your opinion about antibacterial eye drops for pink eye? I’m still trying to recover from pink eye that I’ve had for over a week. I have lost partial vision in one eye and still have some pain in both even though my eyes don’t look pink anymore. I tried Polymyxin B Sulfate and Trimethoprim drops but seemed to make the pain and vision problems worse so I stopped after two days. Taking turmeric seems to help some with pain. However, I’m very worried about my vision. Having trouble getting an appointment with an ophthalmologist right now. I’ll at least see an optometrist tomorrow. He may try to switch me to different A/B drops. Should I take them?… Or is there something else I should do. I know you can’t prescribe over the internet but if you have any general advice that would be wonderful. Thank you, if you can reply! P.S. I already tried similasian irritated eye drops as well as thera tears lubricating drops and colloidal silver drops. None did the trick.

    • Carol Tipler

      Angela, See an opthamolgist ASAP to rule out iritis. An optometrist might get you a referral to see one on an emergent basis. Check out iritis.org.

      • Angela Koenigsberg

        Hi Carol. Thank you so much for the suggestion. I actually saw an optometrist last Thursday. He told me that I no longer had an infection but now have a pinguecula and very dry eyes. I’ve been in a lot of pain and cannot tolerate lights, air conditioners or wind. The lubricating eye drops don’t seem to help. I’ve been using refresh pm ointment which is not the healthiest thing in the world, (petroleum and mineral oil based.) I’m also nervous about wearing it in the sun because I don’t want to attract more UV damage. However, it is the only thing which gives me some relief. I thought I was going to have to pay $200.00 to get an appointment this week with an ophthalmologist. All of the other ophthalmologists I called cannot see me until next month. However, your idea to get an emergency referral from the optometrist is well worth trying!!! I will see if I can pull that off tomorrow. 🙂 Thanks again Carol! P.S. Based on the photo on the page you linked, it doesn’t look like I have iritis. I probably would be able to tell because my irises are amber. Have a great night and take care!!!

  • sawski3

    TYVM Mellan. I never heard of LPS s before. I doing research on the subject. I follow a paleo diet. No carbs. Lost a lot of weight but I am skinny already. Now I am to skinny and can not figure out how to gain some weight.

  • Carrie Ingrisano

    Thank you Dr. Perlmutter for staying engaged in the conversation at this chat level, with all the practice hours, research hours and writing hours that you invest on a daily basis.

  • artlover

    How about kombucha? Is this fermented drink ok on this plan?

    • David Perlmutter

      A healthy choice!

  • Ralph

    This article is but another extreme example of disassociative conjectures in scientific theory. Certainly antibiotics do play a role in diminidhing gut bacteria but there are many more causes of AD in modern more deleoped societies.
    Exaggerated dependence on raw carbs instead of good fats for energy are one of the many other factors associated with both more depeloped societies and are also the main cause of brain diseases. The human brain are 95% dependent on good fats for it energy to function properly. Amaloyd plaque are caused by heavy metals and other modern chemical put into the body through the contaminated agricultural practices, the antibiotic and hormone laden meats, and the substitution of sugars for fats given its great momentum in 1952 by our defunct medical system and its pseudu scientific research. In was in that year that our medical institution fabricated the fat myth which over time removed Americans from their diet containing healthy fats and fowwlowing that we started out affinity for a diet containing many raw carbs to supply our bodies energy.

  • jjdjcdodcw

    psuedo-news psuedo-science corrolation fallacy.

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