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The low down on fat, sugar and gut bacteria

Most of the world’s wisdom can be found in Beatles songs. You can begin and end with all you need is love, but there is so much more to be found in the Beatle Canon. As far as this story goes we need look no further than the White Album (otherwise known as “The Beatles”) and the song “Savoy Truffle” which contains the farseeing lyrics, “You know that what you eat you are/ But what is sweet now, turns so sour”. Maybe when writing these lyrics George Harrison was more concerned with having a dig at his sweet-loving friend Eric Clapton but, regardless of his intention, the message is never more relevant than right now as we consume huge amounts of sugar that might taste good in the moment but have dire consequences in the long run. In fact, as a new study has shown, lots of sugar and fat might affect more than your waistline; it might impact your thinking too.

In the new study mice were given a range of diets and then given tests of their physical and mental functioning. At the same time tests were given to measure the effects of the diets on bacteria in the gut. The logic behind this is that since gut bacteria can release compounds that act as neurotransmitters, then any changed in gut bacteria caused by diet may have flow on effects on brain chemistry and function.

The results showed that after just four weeks on a high fat, high sugar diet mice began to experience declines in mental and physical performance compared to mice on a normal diet. One of the most marked declines was in “cognitive flexibility”, the capacity to adapt to change.

The researchers believe that it is the changes in the gut microbiota producing chemicals that impact brain function that is producing this result. They also point out that these changes occurred in young, healthy mice so in humans with an already compromised gut flora the results might be even more pronounced.

Last week this column reported a study showing that fermented foods can reduce anxiety by altering gut bacteria. In April we reported a study showing that getting your gut bacteria right with probiotics can reduce ruminative thoughts. The gut-brain connection seems pretty cleat and it appears you not only have “gut feelings”, you have “gut thoughts” as well.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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