Healthy tummy – healthy mind

What’s good for your tummy may be good for your mind.

New research shows that people with a more robust balance of bacteria in their gut are more likely to perform well on tests of standard thinking skills including attention, flexibility, self-control and memory.

A Mediterranean diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and lean protein, and low in processed foods, plus regular physical activity, is known to be good for the brain.  The reason may be that such a diet, combined with physical activity, improve the quality of bacteria in the gut which then are able to optimise brain functions.

And while a healthy gut driving an efficient brain is obviously important for children who are learning, it is also important for adults.

A new study analysed the bacteria in the guts of nearly 600 participants, all aged in their fifties. Those with a diverse population of gut bacteria tended to do better on six standard tests of thinking skills and memory (cognition). Several specific kinds of bacteria—Barnesiella, the Lachnospiraceae FCS020 group and Sutterella—appeared to affect performance on mental tests. 

But the researchers said they must dig deeper to understand how and why. They know that the overall community (in the gut) is related to a lot, but are still not sure which specific members or characteristics of the community may be most relevant for brain functions.

The findings were published Feb. 8 in JAMA Network Open. They’re the latest in a recent series of examining the role of gut bacteria in health and disease.  The researchers do write that more research is needed to understand its implications and to better understand the link between gut and brain function and dysfunction. 

In the meantime, although taking probiotic supplements to help stock our guts with good bacteria may be beneficial, we should keep in mind that we ultimately need a whole community of bacteria to provide the diversity that may be needed.   To this end, eating more plant-based fibre (fruit and vegetables) is sensible – for healthy gut and brain functioning in all members of the family.


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