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Do You Have the Guts to Keep Your Brain Healthy?

One of the more challenging parts of health and medical writing—at least for me—is deciding which facts to include in a story, and which ones to omit.

Almost always, I end up with more material than I can possibly squeeze into the word count I’ve been assigned. What’s essential to the story, and what isn’t? 

This means I end up omitting all kinds of fascinating facts—each of which might form the basis of an entire article.

That was certainly the case with the health feature I wrote about the microbiome for Mind Over Matter magazine. (If you’re not familiar with that publication, it’s published by the Women’s Brain Health Initiative.)

The rainforest of organisms each of us carries around in our gut has evolved alongside us since our first human-like ancestors appeared—and probably even earlier.

Our microbiome, our immune system, and our brain are all intertwined. Each of these entities is incredibly complicated in itself, even before you try to grasp how any two of them interact. 

Researching and writing this story nearly broke my brain. Then again, that kind of mental challenge is thought to help keep one’s ‘little grey cells’ healthy and functional for as long as possible.

If you’re interested in learning more about how what’s going on in our gut may influence our risk of eventually developing dementia, check out my story: ‘Trust Your Gut’.

I highly recommend checking out the entire issue (volume 17)—here.

A couple of things I learned that I wasn’t able to squeeze into the piece:

  • The medications we take can affect the composition of our gut microbiome. 
  • The success or failure of certain types of immunotherapy as treatments for cancer seems to be related to which organisms are present in the patient’s gut. Studies are underway looking at whether fecal transplant can increase the percentage of patients who respond to these immunotherapies. One of the scientists I interviewed for the piece—Dr. Jeremy Burton—is one of the researchers who is exploring that question.
  • Researchers like Dr. Siobhain O’Mahony are exploring the relationship between the gut microbiome and chronic pain. A percentage of women who undergo breast cancer surgery end up living with long-term pain. In a study conducted by Dr. O’Mahony and her colleagues, specific gut bacteria seemed predict which women would still be experiencing pain three months after surgery.

Thank-you to editor-in-chief Lynn Posluns for giving me the opportunity to write this piece. Thank-you, too, to managing editor Alex Mlynek, who is wonderful to work with and always makes my stories better than they would have been otherwise.

My heartfelt thanks to the interviewees who so kindly shared their time and expertise:

  • Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe, a professor and Canada Research Chair in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ont. Dr. Allen-Vercoe is also a CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research) funded researcher.
  • Dr. Jeremy Burton, a microbiologist and scientist at the Lawson Health Research Institute, and St. Joseph’s Health Care London. Dr. Burton is also Research Chair of Human Microbiome and Probiotics, and an associate professor in the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry in London, Ont.
  • Katharine Gorjup of Toronto, Ont.
  • Dr. Natasha Haskey, a registered dietitian and postdoctoral fellow in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science | Biology, at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus in Kelowna, BC.
  • Dr. Siobhain O’Mahony, principal investigator, Neurogastroenterology Core, at APC Microbiome Ireland, and a senior lecturer in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, at the University College Cork.

Image by LJNovaScotia from Pixabay