Middle age tends to include select unwanted physiological changes, including potential decreases in cognitive performance. There’s no clear explanation for what drives these issues, but the answer may partially involve gut bacteria changes that influence brain function. In a newly published study, researchers reveal that adding a widely available substance to one’s diet may help reverse these mid-life cognitive impairments.
Beneficial (“good”) gut bacteria has been repeatedly linked to brain functions, potentially having a significant impact on everything from memory to experiences of depression and anxiety. Diet is tightly linked to the good bacteria that populates one’s digestive system; eating low-quality processed and sugary foods may have a negative impact on this bacteria.
In addition to the impact of poor diets and antibiotic use, these beneficial microbes change as a person ages — and at least some of these changes may drive the negative cognitive effects that many begin experiencing in middle age. Prebiotics, a type of dietary fiber that can’t be digested, are known to help good gut bacteria grow, contributing to its positive health effects.
Researchers with University College Cork in Ireland looked at inulin, a type of non-digestible fiber found in a huge variety of whole plant foods like fruit and vegetables, and studied its potential effect on the cognitive impairment experienced in middle age. The results were promising, at least for mice — diets enriched with inulin caused gut bacteria changes that reduced brain inflammation in middle-aged male mice.
Dr. Marcus Boehme, one of the researchers behind the study, explained:
Our research shows that a diet supplemented with prebiotics reversed microglia activation in the middle- aged mouse brain towards young adult levels. Moreover, this reversing effect was observed in a key region of the brain which regulates learning and memory, the hippocampus. Microglia are the major immune cells in the brain and have shown to be a key player in neuropsychological and neurodegenerative conditions. Moreover, microglia play a crucial role in brain plasticity and cognition.
The full study can be found here.