The gut plays an increasingly important role in health and aging. It’s not just bowel health and susceptibility to colon cancer at stake. More recently, experts are exploring how your gut can affect your mood, trigger alcohol cravings and lead to alcoholism, and even contribute to Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In fact, your own “gut instinct” can serve as a kind of litmus test for the close relationship between gut and brain–have you ever sensed the two-way communication between the two? Experts now call this the “bidirectional axis” between gut and brain, and its influence becomes more important as you age.
Here are ways to improve your gut and promote and protect the health of your body and brain.
Eat a Mediterranean Diet
This diet is mainly plant-based, not meat-based. It’s high in veggies, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, poultry, and fish.
Two elements in this diet have major gut-to-brain effects:
Extra-virgin olive oil is found to improve and preserve cognitive function through its polyphenolic compounds; these compounds reduce inflammation in key brain cells that protect the aging brain and help to prevent diseases like AD and Parkinson’s.
Falling, incidentally, is an early sign of AD. A high degree of classic AD brain plaques is linked to a high risk of falls. Yet experts have also found that consumption of extra-virgin olive oil reduced these AD plaques, potentially staving off this disease and its many terrible effects.
Fatty fish, like salmon, also contains brain-boosting compounds known as omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats are shown to keep the brain and nervous system working optimally and to reduce inflammation; salmon, in particular, contains an antioxidant called astaxanthin that protects the brain from inflammation.
Snack on Raw Carrots
More than any other veggie, raw carrots have a special fiber that attaches to the “bad” bacteria in your gut and helps to sweep it out. This makes way for “good” bacteria to flourish, optimizing gut and intestinal health. In fact, eating raw carrots can even lower your risk of colon cancer.
Stick to a Moderate Exercise Regimen
Walking a few times a week can increase levels of good bacteria in the gut. The growth of this bacteria is associated with a lean body mass index, improved metabolic health, as well as repair of the gut lining and reduced inflammation. This potentially helps to prevent diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and diabetes.
Cholesterol-lowering Medicine May have a Gut Health Bonus
A new study reported in the journal Nature shows that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are linked to healthier gut bacteria. The specific bacteria affected play a role in inflammation; this may be one reason why a statin drug is effective against heart disease. Ask your doctor about whether you’re a candidate for a statin.
Prebiotics and Probiotics Remain Two Key Sides of the Gut Game
Prebiotics are a type of fiber that acts as food for the probiotics. Probiotics are the actual strains of good bacteria in our gut, as well as the bacteria that cause good bacteria to multiply. Prebiotics include leafy greens, onions, and garlic. Probiotics include yogurt and fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut.