(Natural News) According to the World Health Organization, around 50 million people worldwide are affected by dementia. In the United States alone, for example, 5.8 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. However, while only a small percentage of people are diagnosed with full-blown dementia, every single person on the planet will eventually be affected to some extent by age-related cognitive decline.
The organization Brain Renewal explains that the processes that facilitate reasoning and thinking ability start to decline as early as the mid-20s. As we age, and particularly from middle age, we become increasingly forgetful, struggle to focus and have trouble solving problems.
This does not mean, however, that we have to accept cognitive decline as an inevitable part of the aging process. At the very least, we can take steps to slow this process down.
A new study, published in the journal Nature’s Molecular Psychiatry, has concluded that the secret to doing so may lie in maintaining the delicate balance of the gut microbiome by increasing consumption of prebiotic-rich foods.
Why we lose cognitive function as we age
Brain Renewal explains that there are multiple reasons why we start to lose brain function as we get older:
[A]geing causes damage of the very cells that we use in our brains, neurons. Even their length diminishes with age. Also, the substances they use to transmit signals, called neurotransmitters, are less in quantity but are also less effective.
In a broader sense, the physical assembly of the brain as a whole also deteriorates with age. Shrinkage and death of neurons, and reductions in the amount of synaptic spines and functional synapses contribute to annual decline of as much as 0.5% to 1.0% in cortical thickness. This essentially means the brain is smaller!
And there is another, more obscure, but equally important cause of brain decline. In their study abstract, the researchers from the APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre at University College Cork explain that there is a vital link between brain function and the gut microbiome:
The gut microbiome has been implicated as a key mediator in the communication between the gut and the brain, and in the regulation of brain homeostasis, including brain immune cell function.
For this reason, the research team set out to discover whether a balanced gut microbiome would lead to better brain function and slow the progression of cognitive decline in mice. They particularly focused on whether increasing consumption of prebiotics – non-digestible fibers that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut – could protect brain function. The prebiotic inulin is commonly found in fruits, vegetables and herbs.
What the researchers found
To test their theory, the research team administered a diet enriched with inulin to a group of young and middle-aged mice for 14 weeks. A control group was kept on a normal diet for the same time period.
The results? The abstract explains:
Prebiotic supplementation differentially altered the gut microbiota profile in young and middle-aged mice with changes correlating with faecal metabolites. Functionally, this translated into a reversal of stress-induced immune priming in middle-aged mice. In addition, a reduction in ageing-induced infiltration of Ly-6Chi monocytes into the brain coupled with a reversal in ageing-related increases in a subset of activated microglia (Ly-6C+) was observed.
The researchers concluded:
Taken together, these data highlight a potential pathway by which targeting the gut microbiome with prebiotics can modulate the peripheral immune response and alter neuroinflammation in middle age. Our data highlight a novel strategy for the amelioration of age-related neuroinflammatory pathologies and brain function. (Related: Inulin-rich foods provide prebiotic fiber that can help you lose weight and stabilize your blood sugar.)
Increase consumption of prebiotic foods
The best way to cultivate a healthy, balanced gut microbiome is to avoid processed and sugary foods and to increase consumption of prebiotic foods, including:
- Chicory root
- Coconut meat and flour
- Dandelion greens
- Flax and chia seeds
- Jerusalem artichokes
Increasing and maintaining high levels of good bacteria in the gut will make the body less susceptible to harmful bacteria which can lead to a wide range of negative health consequences. And, as this research has shown, doing so can also provide long-term protection against cognitive decline. Learn more at Nutrients.news.
Sources for this article include: