Scientific research over the last few years suggests that diets rich in fiber can set off a biochemical cascade resulting in reduced brain inflammation which could mean less cognitive decline and memory loss with age, and improved brain health. So how does this work? Let’s connect the dots –
Step 1 – Some Dietary Fibers are Prebiotics
Dietary fiber is not just about regulation and stool hardness. Some dietary fibers are also good prebiotics. Prebiotics are specific kinds of fibers that can feed the microbiome to generate a healthy outcome. They can be found in many fruits, vegetables and fungi (such as mushrooms).
Step 2 – Prebiotics Support the Growth of Good Bacteria in the Gut
Prebiotics are the food that supports the growth of good bacteria in the microbiome. They also support the colonization and growth of probiotics which are orally consumed to enhance the gut microbiome. This is an active area of current research. Scientists are looking at the microbiome and analyzing individuals for the flora of bacteria present in their microbiome. Then they are looking at the effects of taking prebiotics on the composition of the microbiome.
Step 3 – Good Bacteria in the Gut Generate Butyrate Short Chain Fatty Acids
This is a key step in the process. Many studies are now demonstrating that prebiotics feed the bacteria in the gut which then produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). The major SCFAs are acetate, propionate and butyrate. Good prebiotics produce higher levels of butyrate than acetate or propionate. Why is this important? – see Step 4.
Step 4 – Butyrate is a Key Signaling Molecule Which Affects Brain Inflammation
The increased production of butyrate is a result of the upregulation of good bacteria in the gut – either endogenous (already present in the gut microbiome) or exogenous (such as through the consumption of probiotics). Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid that appears to reduce intestinal inflammation, and also brain inflammation. We won’t go into the biochemistry here, except to say that scientists have identified some of the activation pathways which make butyrate a key anti-inflammatory signaling molecule.
Step 5 – Reduced Brain Inflammation Improves Brain Health
Research studies have shown that butyrate can inhibit the production of damaging chemicals by inflamed microglia (macrophages in the central nervous system). As a result of the generation of the butyrate signaling molecule, brain health, as in cognitive function, attention and focus, and memory, all seem to be improved.
…and thus the importance of the gut-brain axis!
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