It is well known by now that we should be avoiding high levels of sugar in our diets, from obvious problems like weight gain and obesity to the more low key dangers of type 2 diabetes sugar has been clearly identified as an enemy of the state. But what if it goes deeper? What if it is affecting our brain?
It is also very well documented in most text books that our brains use glucose (sugar) as their primary source of energy. Hence why when your blood sugar levels drop you get head aches and nausea like symptoms. But sugar if uncontrolled can have a devastating affect on your brain health long term. And it’s a scary one.
Okay so lets get into the science for a while. Most brain related diseases have a root in inflammation. Inflammation is part of your body’s response to potentially harmful stimuli such as invading pathogens (bacteria or viruses) and is a protective response involving your immune system and blood stream mostly. It is often simplified as the body’s attempt to heal itself after injury as it attempts to heal and repair the damaged tissue. So a little is good, for a short time. But a lot of inflammation means a lot of pressure and a lot of damage.
Now in the case of Alzheimer’s disease it is clear the lipopolysaccharide (LPS – a combination of lipid fatty acid and sugars) is the main component of the membrane of certain bacteria protecting them from being digested. These specific bacteria represent 50-70% of the bacteria lining the walls of your gut. Scientists have long known that if these bacteria enter the blood stream they produce a rapid and violent response from your immune system leading to large scale inflammation. Many human studies have shown that elevated levels of LPS in the blood stream has significant links to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
But how does it enter the blood stream?
Normally LPS is unable to pass through the tight lining of the intestinal walls however if your diet is high in high fructose corn syrup, gluten, wheat,refined sugar or alcohol then you will be highly susceptible to a process termed ‘Leaky Gut Syndrome’. Now think about that for a moment. Those five things in particular tend to come hand in hand in most ‘western’ foods. The fructose in corn syrup is not a natural fruit based fructose but a manipulated, man made version added to almost every sweet or candy food you buy, not including all of the other things it finds its way into. It is essentially a combination of glucose (sugar) and fructose (sugar) and has extremely negative affects on everything from blood sugar levels, insulin tolerance and long term liver health. Alcohol is often loaded with sugar, refined sugar and wheat or gluten if often added to thousands of products from energy drinks to baked goods and candy bars. Put all of that together and you get a common theme, sugar. And if you are putting all of it in your body on a regular basis then you are just asking for leaky gut syndrome.
And as you can probably imagine when your gut becomes ‘leaky’ and the gaps in the intestinal walls become large enough all of this bacteria loaded with LPS can freely enter the blood stream and cause significant levels of inflammation. Increased levels of LPS in the blood causes the development of a protein called beta-amyloid in the hippocampus (the brains memory centre). And elevated levels of beta-amyloid are strongly implicated in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
- In May 2011 Marielle Suzanne Kahn and colleges at Texas Christian University published a paper that showed that following injections of LPS on test mice’s bodies (not their brains) led to increased levels of beta-amyloid in their hippocampus and the animals showed signs of increased learning deficits.
- LPS has also been shown to decrease the production of BNDF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) a chemical that helps to control nerve cell growth and brain development.
- It has been shown that LPS is three times more concentrated in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients than in people with no symptoms of the disease. rising from under 20pg/ml to 60pg/ml.
So how do we avoid it?
Knowing that the LPS containing bacteria live in our gut and are actually very important to maintaining gut health it is not a simple case of avoid LPS but rather a case of maintaining a healthy gut micro-biome and avoiding the development of leaky gut syndrome.
Here are three tips to help you keep your gut healthy and leak free:
- Avoid Refined Sugar and Gluten. Avoiding refined sugar such as high fructose corn syrup and gluten as well as other leak causing substances (alcohol, wheat etc) is a great place to start. By doing so you help keep your gut healthy, and reduce the leaks reducing LPS levels entering the blood stream and thus reducing inflammation.
- Include plenty of plant based fibre in your diet. Plant based fibre is very good for your gut health, not only in assisting the movement of food through your bowls but also in helping promote the growth of and in feeding many of the health boosting ‘good’ bacteria in your gut.
- Include probiotics when you can. Foods such as Tempeh, Kimichi, Sauer Kraut, Pickles and live cultured yogurts are a great place to start, and most are vegan options. They help feed and nurture colonies of healthy gut bacteria that we want in our bodies to ensure a fully functioning and stable gut micro-biome. Ensuring optimal health and fully functioning, leak free guts. Also foods such as dark chocolate and coffee can be beneficial also, in small doses.