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Book Reviews You Can Use: Brain Maker By Dr. David Perlmutter

27 January 2016

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We’re excited to introduce "Book Reviews You Can Use" as a new monthly series here on I On Your Health. Did you ever wonder if that new diet or health book everyone is talking about is filled with good, scientifically sound advice, or, well... bunk? Don't worry, we've got you covered.

In this series, INTEGRIS health and wellness experts will read and review some of the latest books burning up the bestseller lists. We'll let you know if the science is sound, and if the book is readable with easy-to-follow advice. Basically we'll give each book a "thumbs up" (or down) so that you won't waste your money buying a book that isn't worth it.

Alix Benear, a registered and licensed dietitian at INTEGRIS PACER Fitness Center who recently wrote about health resolutions for I On Your Health, reviews this month’s book.

Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life

Hi everyone, Alix here. What would you think if I told you the microscopic bugs in your intestines may determine your likelihood of developing a debilitating brain disorder or brain-related condition -- everything from autism to Alzheimer's, from multiple sclerosis to autoimmune disease, from diabetes to depression? This is the premise of Dr. David Perlmutter’s latest book, Brain Maker. You may recognize Perlmutter as the neurologist-turned-author who also wrote Grain Brain.

His latest book focuses on the microbiome, the naturally occurring community of microbes that occupy the human body, specifically those in the human gut. Perlmutter cites the intriguing findings from the Human Microbiome Project of 2008 as the major contributor to medicine's growing understanding of the link between the microbiome and various bodily processes, like immunity, detoxification, inflammation, nutrient absorption, hunger cues and the production of neurotransmitters and vitamins. He writes that these processes play a major role in the development of a variety of illnesses including asthma, allergies, ADHD, cancer and dementia.

When Perlmutter hones in on neurological health, he establishes a link to an unhealthy gut and brain disease by explaining that chronic inflammation and free radicals are the two mechanisms that lead to brain degeneration.  I am not a neurologist, but this reasoning appears sound.

Later in the book, Perlmutter offers dietary recommendations to improve gut health, which he claims will ultimately help nurture your brain health potential, too. Although he explains there is no definitive research telling us what specific species and amount of bacteria are needed to create a healthy gut, he does propose that a healthy gut is a diverse gut. The diet he presents is based on the following principles:

Eat foods that are naturally rich in probiotics.

These include live cultured yogurt, pickled fruits and vegetables, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, fermented meat fish and eggs -- all of which naturally contain bacteria due to the fermentation process.

Consume a diet that is high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates.

While Perlmutter is on the right track with his recommendation to consume more healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, organic or pasture-fed butter, almond milk, avocados, nuts and nut butters, his recommendation to limit ALL grains, milk, legumes and whole sweet fruit is a little extreme. Based on what I know as a registered dietitian, as long as these foods are not overly processed (making them laden with added sugars and preservatives) they can be eaten in moderate portion sizes on a daily basis.

Enjoy wine, tea, coffee and chocolate.

As someone who enjoys each of these myself, I was particularly excited to see this recommendation! More specifically (and appropriately) Perlmutter recommends consuming wine, coffee and chocolate in moderation, but allows limitless servings of tea. Each of these are rich in antioxidants which reduce "oxidative stress" (dietitian lingo which essentially means an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract their harmful effects by neutralizing them with antioxidants), which in turn reduces the risk of neurological disease. I'm with Dr. Perlmutter on this one. I believe each of these definitely have a place in our diet, but only a couple of times a week.

Choose foods rich in prebiotics.

Prebiotics are fuel for the microbes that live in the gut. These foods promote the growth and activity of the microbiome and include acacia gum, raw chicory root, raw Jerusalem artichoke, raw dandelion greens, raw garlic, raw leek, raw onion, cooked onion and raw asparagus. While I agree that these are good for us, they are less common in the American diet and will take some work to incorporate for those wishing to take his recommendation.

Drink filtered water.

Chemical exposures can be damaging to gut microbes as well as other systems of the body. There are many different inexpensive options to filter your water at home. So I agree with him here, filtered water is never a bad idea.

Fast every season.

Perlmutter suggests that intermittent fasting is good for gut bacteria. He says that even though it may be a stressful activity, it’s one that acts as a very positive stressor for your body, as it instantly activates "life-altering genes." Although he cites two articles to prove this hypothesis, when I look at them closer it seems obvious to me that his theory isn't proven: the first study Perlmutter cites examined caloric restriction in primates; the second article is a television news segment on a study that was performed on mice. Ultimately, I'm not convinced. I would not recommend this tenet of his diet, as neither of those studies demonstrated results in humans, and fasting results in a decreased metabolism, which I know is something we want you to avoid.

Perlmutter’s last recommendation it to take a daily probiotic supplement that contains five core species: Lactobacillus planatarum, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus brevis, Bifidobacterium lactis and Bifidobacterium longum.  He suggests that these are the best strains of probiotics to promote brain health.

Overall, this book was an interesting read and much of the research is sound. In this case (and with any other diet book) I would caution you to be wary of any recommendation that encourages the elimination of a food group, or one that discourages eating all together, even if only intermittently. I do believe there is a great benefit in the consumption of probiotics and prebiotics, and I know the consumption of both promotes a healthy gut and whole body health, too. It makes sense to me that brain health would benefit as well. I give it a thumbs up, with just a few minor reservations.