Over a decade ago, my grandmother died of dementia. As if it’s not bad enough that someone you love so deeply doesn’t recognize you, doesn’t remember all the wonderful moments of their life – your life with them… it was even worse for me because Grandma May was one of the most youthful, vigorous, alive people I’ve ever known. (I think the reason I became so rapidly and profoundly attached to Elaine Gottschall (read my post about her here) was that, in so many ways, she reminded me of my grandmother.) Grandma was one of my best friends on this earth. And then…she was alive, but she wasn’t.
Never again. I could not bear to see anyone else I love go through that. I don’t laugh when people talk about “senior moments,” and in fact, always feel a bit panicked whenever anyone talks about memory lapses. I’m on top of my parents like white on rice, watching their diets, their supplements: I am their Biome Babysitter.
So it is a very personal thing to me, when I read articles like this one that came out yesterday in the Huffington Post, “Targeting Gut Bacteria May Be the Key to Preventing Alzheimer’s.”[i] The article describes research that’s just come out of Sweden which demonstrates that unhealthy gut flora can accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s.
The research involved colonizing germ-free mice with the gut bacteria of mice with Alzheimer’s. They began developing many of the brain plaques which are a hallmark of the disease. (These plaques disrupt signaling in the brain and lead to the gradual death of nerve cells.) However, when germ-free mice were colonized with bacteria from healthy rodents, they developed significantly fewer of these plaques.
While the exact mechanism by which gut bacteria cause Alzheimer’s is unknown, the researchers suspect that bacteria affect regulatory cytokines: those same regulatory t-cells that I’ve been writing about, which turn off the body’s inflammatory system when it’s no longer needed.
One of the researchers is quoted as saying, “Alzheimer’s is a preventable disease and in the near future we will likely be able to give advice on what to eat to prevent it. Take care of your gut bacteria by eating lots of whole-grains, fruits and vegetables.” (See my post about the crucial importance of fiber in your diet.)
I cannot begin to count the number of times in my life people have made comments about cognitive decline being an “accepted” and “expected” part of aging. NO! I do not accept it, and neither should you. Eat right. Get adequate sleep. Exercise both your body and your brain. Supplement your omega 3s. And work on the health of your biome.
Live, as I do, by the words of the great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.