I’m absolutely thrilled and deeply honored to feature David Perlmutter, MD on Gratitude Speaks! Dr. Perlmutter is not only a board-certified neurologist, Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, and recipient of the Linus Pauling Award, he’s actively integrating cutting-edge science and food to protect, restore, and maintain people’s health. You might be familiar with Dr. Perlmutter’s #1 New York Times bestseller Grain Brain, which has caused a ruckus and given a strong voice to the fact that modern-day carbs instigate inflammation and can interfere with neurological function and brain health.
Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain — for Life takes the practice of vibrant health further, a lot further. In addition to the guidance outlined in Grain Brain (nourish your brain with good fats to enhance cognitive function, keep memory sharp, lift mood, and increase energy), Brain Maker illuminates the genius of the gut and how it’s vitally connected to optimal brain power. You’ll want to hug your good bacteria.
Dr. Perlmutter’s been interviewed on many nationally syndicated television programs including Oprah, Larry King Live, The Dr. Oz Show, CNN, Fox News and Friends, The CBS Early Show, and The Today Show; it’s my supreme pleasure to share his approach to health here on Colors of Gratitude. Before presenting Dr. Perlmutter’s interview, I’d like to set the stage by highlighting key points from Brain Maker in order for you to get a good grasp of the beauty of the gut, and how to create vibrant health in your own life. Do enjoy the whole book, though; it truly charts new territory on the path to excellent health and wellbeing. It’s a wonderful read, very relatable through inspiring patients’ stories, and a beacon of bold, beautiful health care. And the cover design is fabulous.
Key Take-Aways from Brain Maker
- Open up to wisdom: “This book is dedicated to you. Just as the multitude of organisms residing within your body sustains you, so too does each and every individual influence the well-being of our planet. In a very real sense, you are an active member of the earth’s microbiome.”
- “No man is an island, / entire of itself…” — John Donne
- Your gut’s the ultimate social network: meet your hundred trillion friends.
- As Elie Mechnikov noted back in the 19th century: “Death begins in the colon.” In other words, vibrant health begins in the gut!
- Brain health and, on the flip side, brain diseases, are dictated by what goes on in the gut.
- Internal ecology: “And perhaps the most important aspect of the gut that has everything to do with your general wellness and mental health is its internal ecology — the various microorganisms that live within it, especially the bacteria.”
- Microbiome: “We call this complex internal ecology that thrives within us and its genetic fingerprint the microbiome (micro for ‘small’ or ‘microscopic,’ biome referring to a naturally occurring community of flora occupying a large habitat — in this case, the human body).”
- Your new organ: “Research at the leading edge of medicine is now acknowledging that the state of the microbiome is so key to human health — with a sweeping say in whether or not you live robustly to a ripe old age — that it should be considered an organ in and of itself.”
- Mind-Body Biome: “Put simply, everything about our health — how we feel both emotionally and physically — hinges on the state of our microbiome.”
- Food: “Hands down, the most significant factor related to the health and diversity of the microbiome is the food we eat.”
- Epic Epigenetics: “This science examines how lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management influence the expression of our DNA and play directly and indirectly into brain health.” Your lifestyle impacts your gut bacteria, and “changes in the ratio of these bacteria can change the actual expression of your DNA!” Read this again. The bugs in your belly have the power to impact your DNA — I certainly want to make sure the good guys are in charge!
- Blue Zone Health: If you only read the first couple pages of Chapter 1 you’ll be impressed for life (pp. 21-23). Do it for yourself, your loved ones, and Mother Earth — it’s all connected anyway. “I’ll prove to you that it [your gut microbiome] is as vital to your well-being as oxygen and water. What do your belly’s bugs have to do with the brain and related diseases? More than you ever imagined.”
- The Weight of Your Brain in Bacteria (it’s worth its weight in gold when healthy): “Collected together, the bacteria in your gut would weigh about three to four pounds, about the same weight as your brain.”
- Immunity: “The gut is your biggest immune system organ.” It represents “70-80 percent of your body’s total immunity.”
- Gut Feeling: A whopping “80-90 percent of the amount of serotonin in your body is manufactured by the nerve cells in your gut.” Now you know why gut health is crucial to happiness.
- Benefits of Natural Birth & Breast-Feeding: “One way to think about the birthing process is to understand that it’s like giving a newborn a set of instructions for a healthy life. It’s the last major transmission a baby receives from its mother after being in utero… Transmission of microbes from one generation to the next is a fundamental process of life.”
- Inflammation — Belly & Brain on Fire: “It’s time that we take a new road and champion preventive medicine, especially for brain health.”
- Gluten: “Not only is there increased gut permeability when the gut is exposed to gliadin, a protein found in gluten, but in fact the blood-brain barrier also becomes more permeable in response to gliadin exposure. It’s as if one door mistakenly opened leads to the opening of another door. Intruders galore.”
- Test for Leaky Gut: “Every day I perform simple blood tests on patients to help me get a sense of their gut lining’s integrity. I use what’s called the Cyrex Array 2, which offers the most sophisticated screening tests on the market today. The array … measures antibodies produced by the immune system when it is confronted by a molecule called LPS, short for lipopolysaccharide. No conversation about the microbiome, inflammation, and brain health can exclude the impact of this molecule.”
- Brain Health Begins in the Gut: “We really have to pay attention to how our gutsy tribes are fed and nurtured.”
- Mighty Mitochondria: “It wasn’t until 1949 that the role of mitochondria as cellular powerhouse was fully explained… The radical discovery was that mitochondria control the fate of the cell: they determine whether a cell shall live or die.”
- Madame Mitochondria: “All of the mitochondrial DNA is inherited solely from the female lineage. During reproduction, while the nuclear DNA of the sperm joins with that of the egg, the male’s mitochondria are excluded. Think of it. Mitochondria, the source of energy to sustain our lives, are the embodiment of a purely feminine genetic code.”
- Depression & Your Gut: “All of the antidepressant medications currently on the market are designed to artificially alter neurotransmitter activity in the brain. Yet, when we consider the fact that these same chemicals found in the brain are also produced in the gut, and that their availability to the brain is largely governed by the activity of gut bacteria, we are forced to realize that ground zero for all things mood-related is the gut.” Change your thoughts, change your life. Change your gut, change your mood. You are in charge.
- Stress & Relaxation Response: When your microbiome is healthy, you can handle stress better than when your gut is in dysbiosis. Aside from proper nutrition, good sleep, meditation, exercise, and time spent in nature support good gut health. It’s that simple. Your great-grandparents were on to something.
- The Big Picture: The environment you live in, the water you drink, the clothes you wear, and the cosmetics you use all play a part in the shaping of your microbiome. Learn more about the pitfalls of the fashion industry here; glorious green beauty is here and here. A good water filter is mandatory. And make sure you live in a home and county/country that’s as clean and green as possible (and do your part to make/keep it healthy).
Guts & Glory: Personal Experience
I’ve been optimizing my gut for about 9 months now, which on the nutrition side of things obviously entails massively cutting down on one’s sugar intake. For me, it’s all or nothing so I also stayed away from fruit for a while (‘cuz yes, fruit is sugar too. Hello, fructose!). Wheat, gluten, dairy, and soy haven’t touched my cells in years so that part was very easy for me. While you’re eliminating what’s not working, you want to be adding in what should supercharge your body with the highest-possible nutrition:
- Healthy fats (coconut; cacao butter; hemp; olives; chia seeds; pumpkin seeds; krill oil; wild-caught fish; organic, pasture-raised eggs).
- Probiotic, fermented foods (ever-popular kim chee and sauerkraut but really all kinds of fermented veggies such as beets, red cabbage, carrots). I have yet to taste fermented eggs or fish. It’s helpful to supplement with a good probiotic; this only makes sense, though, if you’ve cleaned out the bad bacteria first.
- Prebiotics (onion, garlic, asparagus, sunchokes, leeks, chicory root, dandelion). So important for a happy gut, and so simple to do through food!
- Vegetables, tons of ‘em (I like them steamed or sautéed because the digestion process is smoother + you’ll absorb nutrients such as beta-carotene better through the combination of heat & good fat).
- Top-quality protein (if you eat meat, make sure it’s grass-fed/grass-finished or wild game; wild-caught-fish; organic, pasture-raised eggs (maybe your neighbor has happy hens?); green, leafy veggies such as kale, collards, chard, bok choy; supreme, organic protein powder that works with your body rather than against it).
- It’s a given to avoid GMOs.
- While it’s optimal to grow your own organic food I realize that this isn’t viable for some people at this point (hey, fellow New Yorkers!). But you can start with a pot of herbs, or grow sprouts, or join a CSA, or shop at your local farmers’ market, or move somewhere else.
- Do what makes you feel good.
Did you know that the amount of nutrition you extract from your food depends on the microbial makeup of your gut? I cannot emphasize enough how vital a healthy gut microbiome is to peak performance, boundless joy, and magnetic beauty. I'm happy to share more on a gutsy lifestyle some other time, but now it’s my pleasure to give the mic to Dr. Perlmutter. He’s shared so much practical wisdom on the physical dimensions of optimal health that I’m excited for him to branch out into art, gratitude, and awe for life. Enjoy!
1) How do you define gratitude, and what are you grateful for?
I define gratitude as a visceral experience of appreciation. I am grateful for the love and kindness I feel from those around me, for this incredible machine defined by my human body and for the fact that my level of cognitive function allows me to solve problems experienced by others.
2) What is art to you?
Art is the manifestation of wisdom.
3) When did you experience significant personal growth, and how did it impact your perspective on life?
While it would be poetic to identify an epiphany in my life, my personal growth has been analog and not saltatory. I am fully aware that every moment of every day informs and directs my destiny.
4) What other gems of joy & wisdom would you like to share with us?
Recognize and ultimately embrace the emotional influence of our more primitive brain centers that provide motivation for our most basic behaviors like feeding, fear, fighting and reproduction. Taking a step back and appreciating these influences for their role in survival paves the way for utilizing the higher brain centers that define us as a species to make better decisions.