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Metabolites and your brain

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Metabolites are the byproducts of metabolism in your body.

These metabolites come from a few different places. Your cells produce metabolites through their internal processes to stay alive. Also, the trillions of bacteria, virus, and fungi that call our bodies home also create their own metabolites that can have profound effects on the health of the brain and body.

A newer branch of research called Metabolomics is revealing some fascinating insights about the molecules left over by the metabolic process of our cells and microbiomes. In this article we’re going to take a look at a few studies with interesting results from this emerging field of science.


A diet rich in plant-based products reduces the risk of cognitive impairment in the elderly

* Link to study * This study focused on a population in the Bordeaux (yum!) and Dijon (double yum!) regions of France. It spanned 12 years with 842 participants over the age of 65. The study looked at the relationship between the metabolism of diet, microbiome, and endogenous metabolism (cell metabolism), and the connection to cognitive impairment. The results revealed the protective components of some foods, and the damaging role of others when it came to the metabolites that ended up in the body post metabolism.

The direct metabolites derived from cocoa, coffee, mushrooms and red wine, and the microbial metabolism of polyphenol-rich foods like apple, cocoa, green tea, blueberries, oranges or pomegranates seemed to have a protective effect on cognition. On the other side, the metabolites from artificial sweeteners seemed to have a detrimental affect.

Need to Know: No surprise here, but a diet rich in colorful fruits, veggies, and nutrient rich plant foods leave metabolites in the body associated with better cognition in old age.


The Role of Gut Bacterial Metabolites in Brain Development, Aging and Disease

* Link to study *A very in depth article from the National Library of Medicine, this contains a wealth of information on one of the most important metabolites your gut produces: short chain fatty acids. These critical acids are created in response to undigestible fiber in the gut. The fiber itself can’t be utilized as a tool in your body, but the metabolites your microbiome creates in response to this fiber is one of the most important tools you have for your health.

The linked to article addresses autism, depression, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative disease, psychiatric disorders, and Alzheimer’s. The one caveat with this article is that the majority of information reported is in mouse models. But it’s not hard to imagine that the results being created in mice could potentially be mirrored in humans.

Need to Know: Metabolites, specifically produced by gut microbes, profoundly affect brain health.


A gut-derived metabolite alters brain activity and anxiety behavior in mice

* Link to study *Another mouse study, this one showing that mice with atypical neurodevelopment have higher levels of 4EPS, a bacterial metabolite that is toxic in high amounts. Mice were intentionally colonized with 4-EP producing bacteria, resulting in changed brain activity and anxiety.

Need to Know: Studies on this in humans could result in targeted microbiome therapeutics that change negative levels of metabolites that affect brain health.


Tryptophan Metabolism by Gut Microbiome and Gut-Brain-Axis: An in silico Analysis

* Link to study * FYI, “in silico” means computer analysis. This was an analysis made by collecting a lot of data, and then using a computer program to compare and contrast different metabolites of tryptophan (an amino acid) . The fascinating thing here is that the increase of pathways (transportation channels) for various metabolites (which are referred to as TRYP-6) of tryptophan can result in negative effects on the brain.

Need to Know: What this analysis seems to indicate is an imbalance of certain gut bacteria can lead to increased pathways for tryptophan metabolites that result neurological dysfunction and disease.


The Bottom Line

Metabolites, the molecules left over from cellular and microbial metabolism, have profound effects on health. The intricate relationship between the gut and brain seem to indicate that these metabolites can act as messengers that can improve or disrupt healthy functioning. As more studies, and therefor more nuances, are understood about this intricate relationship, therapeutics targeting microbiome balance and health will become more prevalent. In the mean time, making common sense decisions about the food you ingest can have lasting and profound effects.


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Photo by Kai Dahms on Unsplash