David Perlmutter, Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain–for Life (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2015)
What do depression, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and autism have in common? Author Dr. David Perlmutter posits that they are really diseases of the brain and they are all preventable to some extent. In his 2015 book Brain Maker, loaned to me by my nutritionist, Dr. Perlmutter agues compellingly and convincingly. Replete with citations to clinical research, including studies done at Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it’s a book you’ve got to read to believe!
The basic premise is this: Inflammation leads to illness. As Perlmutter explained in his earlier book, Brain Grain (p. 33):
Researchers have known for some time now that the cornerstone of all degenerative conditions, including brain disorders, is inflammation. But what they didn’t have documented until now are the instigators of that inflammation—the first missteps that prompt this deadly reaction. And what they are finding is that gluten, and a high-carbohydrate diet for that matter, are among the most prominent stimulators of inflammatory pathways that reach the brain [even for individuals who do not think they are gluten-sensitive]. What’s most disturbing about this discovery, however, is that we often don’t know when our brains are being negatively affected. … It could be enduring assaults at a molecular level without your feeling it. Unless you’re nursing a headache or managing a neurological problem that’s clearly evident, it can be hard to know what’s going on in the brain until it’s too late.
Brain Maker details how the right probiotic combination, in connection with a wholesome, allergen-free diet (which incidentally starves bad bacteria!), can prevent and reverse inflammation in the brain, and consequently, prevent many neurological disorders.
The Important Question
So, if the relationship between balanced gut-flora and the prevention of brain-disease is valid, how do individuals prevent inflammation, loss of healthy bacteria, and neurological demise?
Dr. Perlmutter offers the following suggestions:
- Eat a diet rich in naturally probiotic foods, such as yogurt, fermented veggies, and kambucha.
- Eat a diet low in grains and carbohydrates, while embracing wholesome fat, such as tallow, butter, coconut oil, and olive oil. Healthy fats are essential for cholesterol in the body, which is required for brain function and repair of tissues.
- Freely enjoy foods that support probiotic growth, such as wine, chocolate, and prebiotics.
- Avoid unnecessary antibiotics.
- Drink filtered water. (This makes sense when you realize that chlorine is added to municipal water supplies in order to kill bacteria. It kills the good bacteria in your gut that you’ve worked so hard to repopulate, too!)
- Practice seasonal fasting. “One critical mechanism of the human body is its ability to convert fat into vital fuel during times of starvation” (p. 198). When this happens, ketones are released. This ends up creating a domino effect of chain-reactions in the body, opening up a gene pathway which gives antioxidant protection, helps the body detox, and decreases inflammation.
I love this book. Really! It has brought together many different pieces from health books I’ve read over the years and synthesized them into one coherent picture. It’s very accessible to the lay reader, too. However, there are a few things missing.
The author mentions many good foods to incorporate into one’s diet, especially since he recommends nixing so many. But Perlmutter doesn’t give much attention to preparing these wholesome foods in traditional ways, so that the body can extract the most possible nutrients from them. For instance, the nuts and non-gluten grains used in this diet should be soaked with sea salt overnight, or for a minimum of seven hours. This deactivates the phytates in them, which otherwise would bind to vitamins and minerals, locking away their bioavailability. Also, while the author sings the praises of homemade yogurt and kefir, he says nothing about the benefits of local raw milk.
While I agree with the list of healthful fats found on page 189, consumers should be cautious. Not all of these fats are safe for heating and can lead to oxidation (trans fats) when cooked. Stick to heating coconut oil, ghee, and traditional animal fats.
Because of the healing properties of bone broth, many leaky gut patients are able to turn around their symptoms quickly with the addition of bone broth to their diet. While the recipe section is not meant to be all-inclusive, it lacks any mention of broth and stock, or any recipes from them.
The author writes from an atheistic and non-Christian worldview, with incorrect assumptions about the origins of man. That being said, he treats his science (a good gift from God) fairly. A Young-Earth Creationist can still appreciate the natural-law approach to nourishing our bodies and being good stewards of our health. Just substitute “Since man’s beginning (at Creation)” for “Two million years ago”!
While no one book can cover every health topic, I was surprised that very little was mentioned about cancer in regard to the gut microbiome. I’m left wondering if the Brain Maker approach will help prevent any kind of cancer. A few pages go into detail about the correlation between antibiotic usage and increase of breast cancer, but very little attention is given to the topic in the book.
One might be shocked to learn that the prevention of so many diseases is possible, but new research is pointing in that direction every day. However duped we might feel for not knowing in the past, Dr. Perlmutter sees these revelations as hopeful: when we know better, we can make positive choices in hopes of a better in the future.
While caring for our bodies here and now is seeking after natural law and practicing good stewardship, we as Christians know that our life and times are in God’s hands. We can do (and eat!) everything “right” and still find ourselves fighting disease. Thanks be to God, our eternal future is sure—including the resurrection of our perfected bodies.
Mrs. Marie K. MacPherson, vice president of Into Your Hands LLC, lives in Casper, Wyoming, with her husband Ryan and their children, whom she homeschools. She is a certified Classical Lutheran Educator (Consortium for Classical Lutheran Educators), author of Meditations on the Vocation of Motherhood (Old Testament vol., 2018; New Testament vol., 2023), and editor of Mothering Many: Sanity-Saving Strategies from Moms of Four or More (2016).