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  • Writer's pictureDearbhla

Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain

'Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food'

- Hippocrates


A leaky gut leads to a leaky brain. Literally. If the good bacteria in your gut is outnumbered by bad bacteria for too long the barrier protecting your brain can start to leak, like an old pipe.

Our gut is porous enough to absorb nutrients but equally able to block pathogens. Yet, when pathogenic bacteria eat away at the gut lining (yum!), this then creates leaks large enough for toxins and even microbes to sneak through into the bloodstream. From the bloodstream, they can then be pumped through to your brain. If the layer protecting the brain is damaged by this continued influx of pathogens from the gut, your blood brain barrier starts letting pathogens in, which in turn leads to illness.


This imbalance in our gut is called dysbiosis. If the body can't rectify this, because of poor diet or even an overuse of antibiotics at any point, you can end up with chronic inflammation and long-term depression. It is already well documented that we are facing an antibiotic resistance crisis because of their oversubscription and equally their over-use in farming, but we now know that they can contribute to gut dysbiosis if the good bacteria in our system is not replenished.


The power of microbes in our gut has been researched extensively by Scientific Professors John Cryan and Ted Dinan in a book called the Psychobiotic Revolution. They reveal that the food we eat directly impacts our psychological well-being. The microbiota in our gut can influence our brains, leading to various chronic illnesses like MS, inflammatory bowel disease, and depression, to name a few.


A GP friend of mine in Ireland told me they were only required to take one module on nutrition the entire time they were in training. Many doctors' nutritional knowledge is therefore fairly rudimentary, favouring medicine as a solution to most ailments. Not to poo-poo medicine. Mine is crucial to slowing disease progression, yet I was never asked about my diet or my lifestyle when I was diagnosed with MS. The Neurologist and the clinical nurses simply told me to "Stay on my medication." I could have been on a staple diet of Big Mac meals, cemented to my couch for daily binge sessions of day-time soap operas for all they knew. Surely lifestyle is a major influencer on health outcomes, particularly for those of us with chronic illnesses? Yet, it was not deemed an important factor, despite increasing evidence to show the contrary.


There are various diets recommended by MS organisations based on independent studies undertaken on a subset of MS patients over prelonged periods. Yet, there are no large scale studies on nutrition outcomes for disease progression, apart from the Swank diet, which is slightly outdated because of recent gains in disease modifying treatments. I guess research into nutrition doesn't make anyone any money. I follow the OMS diet, which is loosely based on the Mediteranean diet, minus the cheese and gluten. It also incorporates overall lifestyle changes of increased levels of exercise, meditation and Vitamin D. The lack of emphasis on nutritional links to chronic illness seems ludicrous to me given that even Hipocrates, over 2,000 years ago, flagged poor nutrition as a major component of disease.


Medicine and nutrition can work symbiotically, why does it have to be one or the other?


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