This is the last topic of three in our series on Psychoneuroimmunology and Neuropsychology. This current topic will be on the effects of the human gut microbiome (gastrointestinal system) upon thinking abilities, and behavioral functioning.
This series will be expanded into an article that will be submitted to the Journal of Psychoneuroimmunology by the authors.
In recent years there has been rapid growth in the discipline of Psychoneuroimmunology. A more recent area of research is investigating how the gastrointestinal and immune systems interact with the brain and affect brain function in cognition (thinking) and/or emotional behavior. The close connection between the microbiome (gut), nervous, endocrine, and immune systems has become a major challenge for interdisciplinary research. Newly developed methods in neuropsychology, immunology, and imaging have allowed deeper insights and understanding into the mechanisms of neuroimmune interactions.
Additionally, the role of neuroinflammation on cognition and neuropsychology, basics of psychoneuroimmunology, and neuropsychology, including neuropsychological examinations of cognition are providing a greater understanding of the complex relationship between the gut and our thinking. Besides the relationship between the gut, brain, and cognitive problems, emotional disturbance, behavioral abnormalities, and psychiatric systems are starting to become better understood with adults and in children.
Your gut includes the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine which includes the colon, liver, and gallbladder. The gut is responsible for ensuring that you absorb the nutrients of the food you eat, properly expel waste and toxins, and maintain a strong immune system.
Emerging research suggests that the human gut microbiome provides an avenue to improve cognition/thinking. Two design methods understanding the relationship between the gut and the brain (cognition) are correlational and have documented pre/post interventions. These methods have demonstrated that microbiome environment affects cognitive flexibility of thinking and executive functioning, in the form of planning, organization, and efficient daily functioning. The gut/microbiome environment is now clearly establishing a strong relationship between gut health and improved cognition, and behavioral/emotional brain functions. Results have shown improved cognition observed in visuospatial memory, verbal learning, memory, and attention.
The adherence of a proper diet and supplements is also gaining greater importance. Probiotics have recently become extremely popular. What the term really translates to is eating certain fruits and vegetables that feed the productive bacteria in the gut. The truth is every fruit and vegetable that you eat raw feeds good bacteria.
There are also significant supplemental regimens that aid in the gut that affect our thinking and cognition. There are a number of biotics in the form of probiotics, prebiotics, paraprobiotics, and symbiotics. Without diving into the complexity of the variations of probiotics, suffice it to say, that significant relationships between microbiome diversity and its enhancing cognitive flexibility, executive functioning, and memory have now become clearly established. The findings linking the gut microbiome and its relationship to our immune and neurological systems are becoming fact based. The most positive effects are linked to interventions containing probiotic, prebiotic, and a combination of the two (symbiotic).
Finally, new research is investigating the connection between autism and gut health. Comprehensive studies are identifying patterns in gut bacteria profiles to autism, pointing to new advancements. Researchers have identified microbial signatures for autism spectrum disorder, a critical finding that offers information about how the gut microbiome influences our neurological syndrome. Hence, there is hope to focus on improving diet and incorporating supplements that will favorably impact and improve cognition and behavior.
Should you have any questions regarding this new and exciting field in terms of how neuropsychology is affecting our health, please give us a call for a consultation.
Julianna R. Greco
Academy of Allied Health and Science
Robert B. Sica, Ph.D., ABN, FACPN
Board-Certified in Neuropsychology Director, Neuropsychological Rehabilitation Services|LifeSpan