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How to prevent gut inflammation as new study links it to Alzheimer’s

Doctor analyzing patients brain scan on screen
A new study has linked gut inflammation to Alzheimer's disease. (Getty Images)

Gut health is a pivotal tool in aiding the function of the rest of our body – and a new study has even linked gut inflammation to Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s not the first time an inflammatory gut has been linked to the cognitive disease, but the new study has confirmed the link between the digestive system and a healthy brain.

"We showed people with Alzheimer's disease have more gut inflammation, and among people with Alzheimer's, when we looked at brain imaging, those with higher gut inflammation had higher levels of amyloid plaque accumulation in their brains," University of Wisconsin psychologist Barbara Bendlin, said.

To find these results, researchers looked at stool samples of 125 individuals from two Alzheimer’s prevention cohort studies.

After a series of cognitive tests, it was determined that levels of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease increased with higher levels of inflammation.

What is gut inflammation?

Chronic inflammation, particularly inflammation of the gut, is a common factor in several widespread diseases such as type 2 diabetes, dementia, and cardiovascular disease.

"Most chronic diseases share similar mechanisms, even though the manifestations of these diseases may differ," Rohini Bajekal, nutritionist and a Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Professional at Plant Based Health Professionals, says.

"The key driver is low grade chronic inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s response to any sort of tissue damage. Usually, inflammation is a protective response against injury. However, when the body becomes overwhelmed, inflammation can lead to damage of normal tissues resulting in chronic disease. Diet and lifestyle choices can either promote or prevent inflammation."

Selection of homemade rustic baked goods such as sweet pies and cupcakes shot in a home kitchen setting, Newport, Wales, 2010
A high sugar diet is a key driver of gut inflammation. (Getty Images)

The link between gut health and Alzheimer’s disease

"Diet and lifestyle habits are crucially important for minimising our risk of developing chronic illness, including Alzheimer's diseases in certain cases," Bejekal says.

"Alzheimer's disease is one of the most common forms of dementia. Higher intake of saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of dementia. Saturated fat in the diet comes predominantly from animal foods such as meat and cheese and the consumption of processed red meat seems to be particularly bad for brain health."

She adds that diets high in refined sugars and carbohydrates can also impair cognitive function in both the short- and long-term.

"This is in part due to the ability of sugar to increase inflammation and the risk of heart disease,” she adds. “Interestingly even artificially-sweetened beverages, in some but not all studies, have been associated with an increased risk of dementia."

Signs of gut inflammation

A major symptom of gut inflammation are bowel issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBD), constipation, and diarrhoea, Bejekal says. Others include:

  • Brain fog

  • Heartburn

  • Depression

  • Low energy levels

Foods that can reduce inflammation

While processed foods and foods high in salt, refined carbohydrates, and sugar can lead to inflammation of the gut, you can also reduce inflammation through food choices as well.

"An anti-inflammatory diet is made up predominantly or exclusively of whole plant foods, that is fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and herbs and spices," Bejekal explains.

"These foods form the cornerstone of a number of healthy diet patterns including the Mediterranean, vegetarian and vegan diets. Plant-strong diets have been shown to reduce pain and improve quality of life in people living with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and may even be helpful in psoriatic arthritis."

plant based food
A largely plant-based diet can help to heal an inflamed gut. (Getty Images)

How to heal and prevent gut inflammation

"The positive news is that you can influence your gut microbiome every time you eat," Bejekal says.

"An area of active research is the role of the gut microbiome. People living with chronic conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or type 2 diabetes tend to have a less healthy gut microbiome than people without, suggesting our gut health may be an important part of the puzzle."

Bejekal suggests switching to a healthy, plant-based diet as a tool to help restore gut health.

"Studies have shown that people with the healthiest gut microbiome are eating 30 different types of plants a week. Not only is a healthy fibre-rich diet important in healing an inflamed gut but so is regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, minimising stress, spending time with loved ones, avoiding tobacco and minimising alcohol and spending time in nature."

Gut health: Read more

Watch: Five reasons why you should prioritise gut health