Gut Microbiota and Neurodegenerative Disorders

I can remember when my grandmother started to battle with dementia. It was quite traumatic to me and I tried all I could to avoid confronting this. She was already well into her 80s but it made no sense that someone with her fitness level, intellect and talents would now be so frail and so confused.

For much of my life my intellect had been such a large part of my identity, that losing it seemed worse than death.

It turned out that she had a cranial vascular disorder which usually shortens life expectancy significantly, and living to the ripe old age she did, was probably the result of her healthy lifestyle.
Still, neurodegenerative disorders scare me and I am constantly researching ways to avoid or at least postpone it, not only for myself but for all those I care for.

We have suspected that our gut microbiota plays a role in our neurological health for a long time, and increasingly studies confirm this. Imbalance of our gut microbiota is associated with mood disorders, including depression, as well as neurodegenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

The Michael J. Fox foundation is now funding a large scale study to see which dietary advice will be best to improve symptoms of Parkinson’s and I look forward to seeing the results and following the studies which will flow from that.

In the meantime, be gut-healthy and do what you can to keep your gut microbes supported and diverse. Keep an eye out for new research, but be careful of buying snake oil. There are many of those with beautiful packaging and eloquent marketing messages.


  • Eat a diverse diet with plenty of plant fibers. Your goal should be to get 30 different plant foods in your diet weekly.
  • Consume a variety of live culture fermented foods. It is often best to make your own, but there are a couple of passionate foodies who can help.
  • Spend time in nature and when you can, dig your hands into the soil: both in the wild and in your garden.
  • Socialise in person with people and pets and include plenty of hugs
  • Only take vitamin or mineral supplements for specific deficiencies which were diagnosed accurately. Take this in the correct form and where possible with the goal to stop taking them. This might be intravenously every 6 – 12 months for certain malabsorption issues. Supplements are never needed daily on a long term basis. No. Vegans don’t need B12 supplements (it can be stored in a healthy liver for 5 years), they need more fermented food.
  • Exercise enough to help healthy bowel movements.
  • Practice some form of time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting. Aim for regular periods of at least 14 hours of fasting.
  • We do need to be able to store food or prevent it from spoiling, but try to keep to gut healthy ways of preserving food. This includes dehydration, freezing, tinning, pasteurization, irradiation and fermenting. Each with their own advantages and limitations.

Do not:

  • Do not eat food containing emulsifiers (this is surprisingly common and surprisingly harmful)
  • Do not eat food containing preservatives (Vit C is often used as a preservative – don’t be fooled)
  • Do not take multi-vitamins (never), extracts or other supplements or commercial pro-biotics.
  • Do not use antibiotics unnecessarily. Insist on a differential blood count before taking anti-biotics and if time permits, do a culture. Also consider possible anti-biotics in the meat you consume. If you do eat meat, always choose quality over quantity.
  • Do not binge drink. Alcohol will act as a preservative in concentrated amounts.
  • Do not overdo salt intake. Salt can also act as a preservative (meaning it kills microbes)
  • Do not smoke.
  • Do not consume any form of non-caloric sweetener. (low-calorie / no-calorie sweeteners either natural or artificial.)
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