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Punched in the Gut – The Truth about Fructose and Gluten

Taken from the international best seller, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your brain – For Life, Dr David Perlmutter shares the impact fructose and gluten have on our microbiome.

When people ask me to list all the things that can destroy a healthy adult microbiome, I explain that it all comes down to what you’re exposed to and what you put into your mouth. Obviously, by the time you’ve grown up, you’ve already had the cards either stacked in your favour or not, depending on how you came into this world and what your early life was like. Although there’s nothing you can do to reverse your personal history, you can take charge – starting today – to change the state of your gut and the fate of your brain. And it starts with diet.

Anyone who has read Grain Brain knows my take on the power of diet to effect positive change in human health and the course of disease. But my perspective isn’t just my own, and it’s far from a casual opinion based on anecdotal evidence. It’s backed by rigorous science, some of which has just come out and is truly spectacular. And what the latest science is showing is that changes in human nutrition are not just responsible for so many of our common maladies; they directly correlate with changes in the gut bacteria.

Diet has a dominant role in shaping gut microbiota, and changing key populations may transform healthy gut microbiota into a disease-inducing entity. If there’s only one fact you take away from this book, that sentence is it.

So what kind of diet makes for an optimal microbiome? I’ll get to all of those details. For now, let’s focus on the top two ingredients to avoid when it comes to preserving the health, balance and function of your belly bugs.

As I have mentioned, fructose has become one of the most common source of calories in the Western diet. Fructose is naturally found in fruit, but that’s not where we’re getting it from; most of the fructose we consume is from manufactured sources. Our caveman ancestors did eat fruit, but only during certain times of the year when it was available; our bodies haven’t yet evolved to healthily manage the prodigious amounts of fructose we consume today. Natural whole fruit has relatively little sugar when compared to, say, a can of regular soda or concentrated juice.

Fructose has long-term effects when it’s consumed in large quantities from unnatural sources. Numerous studies show that fructose is associated with impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, high blood fats, and hypertension. It’s a huge burden to the liver, which is forced to extend so much energy converting fructose into other molecules that it risks not having enough left for all of its other functions. One of the fallouts of this energy depletion is the production of uric acid, a consequence linked to high blood pressure, gout, and kidney stones. Moreover, because fructose doesn’t trigger the production of insulin and leptin, two hormones key to regulating metabolism, diets high in fructose often lead to obesity and its metabolic repercussions. I should add that fibre in fruits and vegetables slows down absorption of fructose into the bloodstream. …new research shows obesity might be a reflection of the changes in the microbiome brought on by fructose exposure.

Gut bugs love processed fructose as much as the average human does, maybe more so, and they feast on any excess in the gut. The fructose is rapidly fermented by the gut bacteria, resulting in by-products like short-chain fatty acids, as well as a potpourri of gases, including methane, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulphide. As you can imagine, fermenting gases build up and can cause bloating, discomfort, or abdominal pain. Excess fructose in the gut also pulls excess water with it, which can have a laxative effect. Adding insult to injury, those short-chain fatty acids also draw more water to the bowl.
Contrary to what you might think, methane gas is not inert. A number of experiments have shown that excess methane in the large intestine is biologically active. It can disrupt the actions of the colon and impede digestion and the movement of stool, leading to abdominal pain and constipation.
So the next time you’re tempted to guzzle a regular or diet soda, or chow down on a food product loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, I hope you think again.

I wrote extensively about gluten in the Grain Brain, calling the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye among the most inflammatory ingredients of the modern era. I call gluten a “silent germ” because it can inflict lasting damage without you knowing it. While its effects might start with unexplained headaches and feeling anxious, or “wired and tired”, they can worsen to more dire disorders such as depression and dementia.

Gluten is everywhere today, despite the gluten-free movement taking place even among food manufacturers. It lurks in everything from wheat products to ice cream to hand cream. It’s even used as an additive in seemingly “healthy” wheat-free products.

I can’t even begin to list the number of studies that have confirmed the irrefutable connection between gluten sensitivity and neurological dysfunction. I see the effects of gluten every day in my practice. My patients often reach me only after they’ve been to a slew of other doctors and have “tried everything.” Whether they’re suffering from headaches or migraines, anxiety, ADHD, depression, memory problems, MS, ALS, autism, or just some off set of neurological symptoms with no definite label, one of the first things I do is prescribe the total elimination of gluten from their diets. And I continue to be astounded by the results. To be clear, I am not saying that gluten is specifically playing a casual role in a disease like ALS, but when we see scientific data demonstrating profound gut permeability in this disorder, it makes sense to do everything you can to reduce this process. And eliminating gluten is an important first step.

I like to tell patients that cleaning up their diet to nix gluten and manufactured fructose, while limiting natural fructose from real fruit, is step 1 in preserving the health and function of their microbiome and brain.

The Content on this page was taken from the book, Brain Maker by Dr David Perlmutter.

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