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Our guts are smarter than we think. As it turns out, the gut acts as a second brain, providing vital information for our overall health and wellbeing.
Gut health: A delicate balance
A few years ago, I started getting recurrent yeast infections. Eventually this will get a post of its own, but long story short, the doctors had no solutions except to prescribe pills and creams which only offered temporary relief.
So I did my own research, discovering how candida (or yeast) overgrowth can be attributed to a lack of good bacteria in your gut, which is needed to keep the fungus in check. This can be caused by antibiotic use, a diet high in sugar/carbs, stress, and birth control (which was probably the culprit in my case — also worth an entire post).
Thankfully, after a bit of trial and error, I discovered vaginal suppositories containing borax and tea tree oil. These finally did the trick.
But at the same time, they weren’t addressing the core issue, which was my gut health.
Candida in the brain?
A couple of years later, I started having seizures.
You’re probably thinking, what’s the connection?
But other than once when I was 14, I had no history of seizures. True, when I started having the seizures again at age 27, the first couple were influenced by lack of sleep. But I’d pulled plenty of late nights in high-school and college with no episodes.
Of course, seizures can also be caused by issues such as brain tumors, but my MRIs always came back normal.
Soon, the seizures became more and more unpredictable. That’s when I remembered reading that candida overgrowth can spread to the brain. When I mentioned this to my doctors, of course, they thought I was crazy. Even my homeopathic doctor.
The link between gut and brain health
Now, though, mainstream health sources reveal that there may be a link between gut health and brain health, after all. This article from Epilepsy Talks cites a UCLA study in which women who added fermented yogurt to their diets showed improved brain function. The researchers believe that probiotic strains in the intestine circulate through the bloodstream and send signals to the brain.
The New York Times article Germs in Your Gut Are Talking to Your Brain proposes that when your gut lacks certain probiotic strains, the overgrowth of bad bacteria eventually spreads to your brain, causing neurological issues. Studies with mice altered their gut bacteria either by giving them antibiotics to kill off the good bacteria or by injecting them with the same bacterial strains found in people with neurological issues.
An overgrowth of bad bacteria, the study found, were linked to the following issues in mice:
- antisocial behavior connected with autism
Let’s expand on that last point.
Can the Ketogenic diet reduce seizures?
The study found that putting mice prone to seizures on the ketogenic diet would reduce their seizures. Interestingly, many epilepsy websites also recommend this low-carb, high-fat diet. According to the NY Times article, this diet has actually been recommended to epilepsy patients since the early 1900s.
Most articles I’ve read on this topic, though, don’t explain precisely why the keto diet reduces seizures. Either they say something to the effect of “nobody really knows” or attribute this mechanism to the “ketones.” Maybe, but I wanted a more thorough explanation.
Then I came across the blog of Dr. David Perlmutter, neurologist and author of Grain Brain. Now you’ve probably heard of leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which toxins penetrate the intestinal walls and enter the bloodstream. Perlmutter brings this full circle by citing evidence for “leaky brain,” where changes in the gut microbiome can lead to toxins penetrating the blood-brain barrier.
The worst culprits for leaky gut syndrome such as gluten, which is said to poke holes in your intestine (for anyone, regardless of whether or not you have known allergies), can eventually lead to neurological problems.
So it makes senses that by eliminating the foods that cause gut health problems such as gluten, sugar, and grains in general, the keto diet could also help reduce seizures.
The Gut as Second Brain
In fact, scientists believe that the gut and brain are not only interconnected, but the gut actually functions as a second brain. This means:
- The “good bacteria” in your gut guard your bloodstream from foreign invaders (i.e. toxins).
- The gut is made up of millions of neurons that can actually impact your mood.
- The gut is also responsible for intuition (hence “gut feeling”).
Conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which are linked to poor gut health are also associated with depression and anxiety. It’s unclear what causes what, but that’s precisely the point.
As above, so below. And vice versa.
Everything operates on principles of balance and harmony. If one thing is misaligned, eventually the whole system collapses.
Here’s the good news. By improving your gut health, you can also improve your brain health. And you might even drop a few pounds in the process! A win-win all around.
Now, I am not on a strict ketogenic diet. As a (mostly) vegan, that would be tough (though not impossible). Plus, I do love my fruit and cereal. But I have made some big changes to my diet over the years, including drastically cutting back on simple carbs and sugar.
Here are some changes I’ve made and you can, too.
- eat plain yogurt (read label to make sure there’s probiotic cultures like Lactobacillus acidophilus and minimal sugar)
- add fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut to meals, replacing typical sauces which have tons of additives
- replace meat substitutes such as tofu and soy sausage with tempeh which contains fermented soybeans
- use apple cider vinegar in large quantities (though sometimes, I admit, I overdo it)
- oil pull with coconut oil, which is good for your teeth and, I believe, is good for your gut health in the long run since coconut is an anti-fungal and your mouth contains a lot of fungus/bad bacteria
I also use a liquid probiotic. The advantage of using it in liquid form as opposed to the solid form you typically find is that it is in its raw state, directly from nature, rather than being treated by heat and chemicals as solid probiotics are. This means that it retains its peak potency. You can get it below:
What are your favorite solutions for optimal gut health?