The gut microbiome may play a role in how diet and exercise affect brain health and dementia risk, suggests a recent Baycrest study. This knowledge could help scientists and clinicians optimize strategies to prevent dementia.
Lifestyle interventions to reduce dementia risk often include diet and exercise, which are known to affect the gut microbiome — the community of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our gut.
“We know that imbalances in the microbiome are associated with impaired cognition,” says Noah Koblinsky, lead author of the study, Exercise Physiologist and Project Coordinator at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI). “However, we don’t know much about the role of the microbiome when we use lifestyle interventions, such as diet and exercise, to support brain health. Can we tailor lifestyle interventions to specifically target the gut microbiome, and will this help to optimize their effects on cognition? In this review study, we aimed to address this gap in knowledge.”
To this end, Koblinsky and his team reviewed all of the existing research on diet and exercise interventions that looked at both the microbiome and brain health. The study was published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A.
They found that the gut microbiome does appear to play a role in how diet and exercise affect brain health, though more research is needed to fully understand how.
Diet studies showed a large impact of diet on the microbiome, with foods associated with a Mediterranean-style eating pattern (for example, fibre and healthy fats) appearing to have the greatest benefit to a healthy gut microbiome and brain. One study of 1,200 older adults looked at the impact of diet on both cognition and the microbiome. Half of the participants were asked to follow a Mediterranean-style diet for 12 months, while the other half were not. Those in the Mediterranean diet group showed significant improvements in cognition. As well, those who followed the diet more closely had healthier microbiomes associated with better brain health.
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