We each have a second brain, another organ in our body which controls as much of our physical and mental functions as the brain in our heads, and which may be the key link between modern disease epidemics, globally, from obesity to cardiovascular disease, maybe even mental health. ~ Ruairi Robertson
Ruairi Robertson grew up in a household of professional psychologists. Instead of following family tradition he decided to pursue his studies food, as it was his passion. While studying human nutrition he learned about how food affected our bodies, contributed to diseases, and how it could be used to fight and prevent diseases.
During his TedxTalk, Roberston recalls a story about a Russian man from 1845 named Ilya Mechnikov who uncovered immunology research. At one point Mechnikov discovered phagocytes from cells in our immune systems which lead to him winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1908.
But as you emerged into this world, you were smothered in an invisible coating of microbes, friendly microbes from your mother’s birth canal. And these bacteria grew to form what is now a three-pound invisible organ inside your large intestine, the same weight as your brain and which has become known as our microbiota, or microbiome.
Our health depends on this bacteria, and in particular gut bacteria.
Gut bacteria is responsible for digestion, production of essential vitamins, and hormones, responding to medicine and infections, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels.
Circling back to Mechnikov, in 1982 while he lived in Paris there was a deadly cholera epidemic. This resulted in thousands of deaths. Wanting to understand this epidemic he decided to drink the broth of cholera. Fortunately for him, he didn’t get sick. He then recruited colleagues to do the same and ultimately led to the death of one.
His findings resulted in certain species of the bacteria from the human intestines increased cholera growth, but other species prevented it. His theory was the gut bacteria were essential to human health and finding the right balance was crucial to prevent diseases.
When Mechnikov died in 1916, so did his theory.
A decade later, antibiotics were discovered, and drastically became overused. C-sections became common. Diets became Westernized. A war was waged on microbes and we spent a century trying to kill them.
See right now one in three children in America are born via C-section, meaning they dont get this initial innoculum or coating of bacteria that’s been designed by evolution to be in the mother’s birth canal. Instead they are first coated with other bacteria on the skin or in the hospital environment which has contributed to up to a 25% increase risk of obesity, asthma, immune deficencies, and inflammatory bowel diesase in later life.
On a positive note, we are now rediscovering the importance of gut microbes.
Towards the end of his speech, he emphasizes three key points in his presentation:
- Our intestines are physically linked to our brains through the vagus nerve, this sends signals in both directions. This suggests our intestines have a mind of their own
- Our brains are made up of a hundred billion neurons telling our bodies how to work/behave. Our guts have a hundred million neurons
- Thirdly our microbiomes are the center point of our immune systems. A disturbance could cause subtle immune reactions all around the body. If this is prolonged it could affect brain health
Our microbiomes are the center point of our immune systems, meaning a disturbance down here can cause subtle immune reactions all around the body, which if prolonged can affect brain health
It’s important to note that serotonin is nature’s antidepressant. About 90% is produced in our intestines and less then 10% is produced in our brains.
At the APC Microbiome Institute in Ireland, they are designing interventions to target the microbiota to prevent and treat chronic diseases. Additionally, they’ve come up with a list of foods that act as prebiotics and/or stimulate healthy bacteria growth.