Cognitive Health and the Microbiome
Alzheimer’s, dementia, and even mild cognitive impairment (MCI) such as brain fog may be linked to a surprising culprit: a unique fungi co-living with bacteria in the gut. A small study has discovered this organism increases cognitive impairment, particularly in those with Alzheimer’s disease. What’s more, they believe a Mediterranean ketogenic diet may be the key in reducing the fungi and modulating its harmful activity, thereby improving cognitive outcomes.
While many of us know that a healthy diet is interrelated with both cognitive and physical health, this is the first study of its kind to show a direct link between gut fungi and Alzheimer’s — and how to correct it through dietary choices. It is exciting research that has significant implications for those who would like to encourage cognitive health.
Below we will dive deeper into the study and the recommended diet. We will also have a look at medicinal mushrooms and explore if they are helpful or harmful in the case of this fungus or if someone is suffering from mold sensitivities.
In a single-center, randomized, double-blind crossover pilot study, researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine identified gut organisms that directly contribute to mild cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease. The team sequenced the fungal rRNA ITS1 gene in 17 older adults, which included eleven who were diagnosed with MCI and six with normal cognition. This sequencing was done before and after a six-week intervention with a modified Mediterranean ketogenic diet.
When the researchers examined the results, principle investigator Hariom Yadav, assistant professor of molecular medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, noted “Although we do not fully understand how these fungi contribute to Alzheimer’s disease … [o]ur study reveals that unique fungi co-living with bacteria in the gut of patients with MCI can be modulated through a Mediterranean ketogenic diet.”
He added, “this is the first study of its kind to reveal their role in our mental health, which we hope will ignite thinking in the scientific community to develop better understanding of them in relation to Alzheimer’s disease. … It also indicates that dietary habits such as eating a ketogenic diet can reduce harmful fungi in the gut which might help in reducing Alzheimer’s disease processes in the brain.”2
Their findings were published in the journal EBioMedicine in 2020.
Mediterranean Ketogenic Diet: The Basics
You may be familiar with a standard ketogenic diet where carbohydrates are restricted to 20-50 grams a day, protein intake is between 20-35% of daily calories, and plenty of fat is consumed to encourage ketosis where the brain burns ketones for fuel instead of glucose.3 This type of diet has been shown to treat seizures, encourage body fat loss, improve diabetic markers, and improve cognitive function.4 This is the diet I personally use to manage my multiple sclerosis.
How is a Mediterranean ketogenic diet different?
With this diet, you are focusing on all the keto-friendly foods found in a typical Mediterranean diet, particularly fish and olive oil. It is recommended that you consume over 2.2 pounds of fish per day, at least four days per week. Secondary are poultry, eggs, and cheese. For olive oil, it is recommended you consume at least 2 tablespoons a day. Low-carb vegetables are limited to one serving a day in addition to 2 portions of salad. Small amounts of nuts can also be included. An unexpected element is red wine — up to 400 ml per day.
Interestingly, a pilot study of the diet found that those who followed this eating plan lost at least 30 pounds and their waist circumference shrank by 6 inches (16 cm); their metabolic syndrome disappeared; blood sugar levels came within a healthy range; triglycerides dropped more than half; and markers of fatty liver disease fell significantly.5 Not bad for a relatively simple dietary shift!
Medicinal Mushrooms for Gut and Cognitive Health
One question that may arise is whether or not medicinal mushrooms can cause issues in those with mold sensitivity or if they will encourage harmful fungi in the gut. When using high-quality, dual-extracted mushroom extracts, like the ones found in my apothecary, these botanicals are exceptionally healing and will not cause issues with mold or fungi. In fact, the reverse is true. These extracts actually promote gut and cognitive health, while supporting a healthy microbiome.
As a potent prebiotic, turkey tail mushroom in particular helps to promote “good” bacteria so that harmful bacteria or fungi cannot take hold. Then we have lion’s mane mushroom which is renowned for its ability to “grow” new brain neurons and improve cognitive health.
Reishi and cordyceps both modulate the immune system, so that it is balanced and not over or under active. This is especially important if you are struggling with autoimmunity or a mold sensitivity. Extracts of these mushrooms also lower inflammation, fight viral and bacterial infections, improve energy, inhibit cancer, manage blood sugar, and much more. Each is found in my convenient Mushroom FOURtress Bundle.
If you need extra help in healing the gut and maintaining a healthy microbiome that is thriving with “good” bacteria and fungi, have a look at our Balanced Gut Tincture in the apothecary. It heals leaky gut, cools inflammation, and allows the gut to regenerate.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure if gut health was really a problem for me — I always seemed to have pretty decent digestion. But after a friend raved about the results she experienced, I gave Nicole’s Balanced Gut Blend a try as I have lingering health issues that I haven’t been able to resolve.
Incredibly, I noticed a difference in inflammation/bloating within 24 hours after starting this tincture. After a week of use, my acid reflux also subsided. Energy has increased and I find that I don’t have as many reactions to “trigger foods”.
I have been so impressed with this formula that I’ve started my 13-year-old daughter on it to see if it might help with her behavior and mood. She is doing exceedingly well with it and we have seen great improvement over the past month!” -C. Wright
Are you ready to experience the healing power of these formulations for yourself? Visit the apothecary today!
Nicole’s Apothecary Products in this Post
- Ravinder Nagpal, Bryan J. Neth, Shaohua Wang, Sidharth P. Mishra, Suzanne Craft, Hariom Yadav. Gut mycobiome and its interaction with diet, gut bacteria and alzheimer’s disease markers in subjects with mild cognitive impairment: A pilot study. EBioMedicine, 2020; 59: 102950 DOI: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2020.102950
- Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. (2020, August 31). Fungi in gut linked to higher Alzheimer’s risk can be reduced through ketogenic diet. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 12, 2023 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200831131633.htm
- “How Low Carb and Ketogenic Diets Boost Brain Health” Franziska Spritzler, Jillian Kuala, MS, RD Nutrition, Healthline, July 13, 2021. Retrieved on February 13, 2023 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/low-carb-ketogenic-diet-brain
- Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(8), 789–796. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2013.116
- Pérez-Guisado, J., & Muñoz-Serrano, A. (2011). A pilot study of the Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet: an effective therapy for the metabolic syndrome. Journal of medicinal food, 14(7-8), 681–687. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2010.0137