If you pay attention to health and nutrition, you know that the microbiome is a big deal right now. It turns out that bacteria—a word that had developed an entirely negative connotation—are not all bad. In fact, these tiny “bugs” are not only useful and important, but are necessary for our well-being and survival .
Dr. David Perlmutter is one of the public leaders disseminating intelligence about how our microbiome affects our health. You might know him from his prior book, Grain Brain, which persuasively explained how grains and sugars, especially in excess, create neurological and other health problems.
Dr. Perlmutter’s most recent book is called Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect your Brain—for Life . We recommend that you read this book and take good notes.
We—meaning human beings, particularly scientists—are in the early stages of “discovering” the role and importance of the microbiome to the rest of our body. It is truly like an essential organ to the human body.
So, like anything else that we just start to figure out, it is likely that much of the detail that we believe now could, ultimately, be wrong. We just don’t know yet. And the exact relationships and mechanisms probably work at least slightly differently than we currently think they do. That is the nature of scientific discovery.
But we shouldn’t just put our heads in the sand until the ultimate scientific “truth” is revealed because that doesn’t happen— we do our best along the way, recognizing that at any point we could discover that something or everything we thought was wrong.
So when you read Brain Maker, do so understanding that we are early in the process of grasping the role of the microbiome and hopefully Dr. Perlmutter’s excitement about the potential of this area to heal and protect our brain will cause you to continue following the microbiome research and to try some of his recommendations.
Dr. Perlmutter's Probiotics are available on Amazon here. We discuss these probiotics at the end of this article.
Books on Diet and Nutrition
Another reason to read Brain Maker or any other book on nutrition is that by focusing on the text, you will make better decisions when you eat. The connection between your diet and your health will be top of mind through this focus and, inevitably, you will likely be more conscious of eating the right foods and taking care of your health.
Here at Success, Health & Lifestyle, our approach to diet and health fits the generally lower-carb, higher-fat Paleo approach , using the term “Paleo” very broadly. We are not Paleo disciples or fanatics, but we believe that understanding the historical context of how human beings developed adds value to figuring out an optimal diet .
The reality is that each person has their own optimal diet, so there is no one right way to eat. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the processed low-fat diet of our recent past has caused more harm than good.
If you enjoy learning about diet and nutrition, please read our book recommendations on health, fitness and diet . You might also enjoy our reviews about the following books:
- “The Paleo Solution, The Original Human Diet,” by Robb Wolf .
- “Perfect Health Diet,” by Jaminet and Jaminet .
- “The 4-Hour Body,” by Tim Ferriss.
Your microbiome is a world in itself: you have your own rainforest of sorts. Is your microbiome going to include a diversity of bacteria? Will you provide it with the resources for bacteria to thrive? Are you going to take antibiotics, which indiscriminately kills both good and bad bacteria and substantially reduces bacterial diversity? Will you replenish and support your bacteria through probiotic and prebiotic foods?
The decisions you make will determine the strength, diversity, and health of your microbiome, which, in turn, will affect your own health, in more ways than you think. Don’t underestimate how important this is as bacteria outnumber the cells in your body by a significant margin.
The bacteria in your body, in fact, assist your cells in innumerable ways, affecting immunity, metabolism, anxiety, appetite, mood, mental sharpness, levels of inflammation, gene expression and much more.
According to Dr. Perlmutter, there are anywhere from 10,000 to 35,000 or more species of microorganisms in your gut. Some are good bacteria and some are less beneficial, but the line between good and bad bacteria isn’t as clear as many people assume.
One example that Dr. Perlmutter describes in Brain Maker involves C. difficile bacterium. (p. 32 of hardcopy). It is present in most of us, including babies and newborns, and typically doesn’t cause any problems. But if you change your gut environment by, for example overusing antibiotics, this bacteria can grow excessively causing severe and, eventually (if not treated), potentially life-threatening problems.
What Harms Your Microbiome?
If your microbiome is weak or sick, you probably are too. You might be depressed, anxious or obese, and at risk for a number of neurological and other conditions.
Diet is one of the most important factors in the health of your microbiome. According to Dr. Perlmutter, fructose and gluten are particularly damaging to your gut biome. Antibiotics, which indiscriminately kills bacteria of almost all types also harm the rain forest in your body. Of course, please consult your doctor as antibiotics are sometimes needed. We are not doctors.
In addition, Dr. Perlmutter discusses the following as potentially harming the microbiome: The Pill, NSAIDs (like ibuprofen and naproxen), environmental chemicals, and herbicide-laden GMO foods.
You should read Brain Maker or review Dr. Perlmutter’s website for more detail about how these factors affect your gut bacteria.
How to Improve Your Microbiome
Dr. Perlmutter describes six specific ways that you can improve your microbiome. Let’s examine them.
- Choose Foods Rich in Probiotics
These are fermented foods that provide probiotic bacteria to the diet. Fermentation is an ancient tradition, dating back over 7,000 years to wine making in Persia and 6,000 years to cabbage fermentation in China, according to the author.
In this fermentation, beneficial bacteria multiply and proliferate and the lactic acid protects the fermented food from pathogenic bacteria by creating a low pH (i.e. acidic) environment.
Perlmutter provides a probiotic food list that you should try: Kombucha tea (becoming more and more popular ), Tempeh, Kimchi, Sauerkraut, Pickles, Pickled fruits and vegetables (in brine not vinegar), cultured condiments, and fermented meat, fish, and eggs.
- Go Low-Carb, Embrace High-Quality Fat
A low-carb, high-quality fat diet will limit excess blood sugar, which hurts gut bacteria (in addition to other damage it causes). If you want to learn more about the benefits of this type of diet, you should read another Dr. Perlmutter book called Grain Brain .
- Enjoy Wine, Tea, Coffee, and Chocolate
This should be an easy prescription for most people to follow. Wine, tea, coffee, and chocolate contain flavonoids or polyphenols, which have been found to reduce markers of oxidative stress. They have also been shown to positively benefit the gut microbiome—perhaps feeding beneficial bacteria similarly to how prebiotics do so.
- Choose Foods Rich in Prebiotics
Prebiotics are fiber-rich foods that gut bacteria eat to fuel their growth and activity. The good bacteria metabolize the prebiotic fibers and often produce short-chain fatty acids like butyric acid, which, for example, improves your intestinal lining, in addition to other benefits.
Below are some lists from Dr. Perlmutter that will get you started with prebiotics:
According to Dr. Perlmutter, prebiotics have three characteristics:
A. They are non-digestible and thus survive the stomach intact;
B. Bacteria can ferment or metabolize them; and
C. This metabolizing must create health benefits.
The Brain Maker author also describes several other benefits of prebiotic foods:
- They reduce fever-related illnesses associated with diarrhea or respiratory events;
- They reduce inflammation in inflammatory bowel disease;
- They enhance mineral absorption;
- They lower cardiovascular disease risk factors;
- They promote satiety, which can contribute to weight loss and prevent obesity; and
- They reduce glycation.
Finally, here is a list of prebiotic foods:
- Acacia gum (or gum arabic);
- Raw chicory root;
- Raw Jerusalem artichoke;
- Raw dandelion greens;
- Raw garlic;
- Raw leek;
- Raw onion;
- Cooked onion; and
- Raw asparagus.
- Drink Filtered Water
Dr. Perlmutter recommends filtered water to avoid chemicals like chlorine that harm gut bacteria.
- Fast Every Season
Fasting can not only improve mitochondrial health, it can also prompt beneficial changes to gut bacteria.
As you may have noticed, there are many types of probiotic supplements, sold by an increasing number of manufacturers, and at this stage, confusion reigns. Probiotics are regulated minimally through the FDA like supplements rather than drugs and there is less reliability that any particular brand will do what it claims to do. In addition, research into the microbiome and the benefits of probiotics is relatively young, so it isn’t completely established which strains are best.
Dr. Perlmutter recommends that his patients seek probiotic supplements that contain at least the following species:
- Lactobacillus plantarum;
- Lactobacillus acidophilus;
- Lactobacillus brevis;
- Bifidobacterium lactis (or B. animalis); and
- Bifidobacterium longum.
Finally, although he doesn’t mention it in the book, Dr. Perlmutter has created his own brand of probiotics, called Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Probiotics . There are probiotic variations for different goals or people, including men, women, and mood improvement , and weight management, for example.
You can view these products from Dr. Perlmutter in two ways: Either you trust him less because he is now profiting from probiotics or you are relieved that someone that seems to know and understand how the microbiome and probiotics work is putting his reputation behind a set of products.
You can be the judge yourself. But first, you should read the book .