The notion that bacteria in our mouth might mediate neurodegeration, stresses the importance of attending to what we we eat and the pollutants in our environment.
Gut well soon originally started life as a cheerleader for traditional fermented products such as kefir and sauerkraut. Simple fermented foods, easy to make at home, with a long association to health and wellbeing. Over time we have edged a lot closer to the wider discussion about the human microbiome more generally. Exactly why do fermented foods, containing large amounts of helpful bacteria, appear to boost human health quite so dramatically?
As part of this growing understanding, I want to highlight and link to a new scientific study that suggests a potential relationship between gum disease and Alzheimer’s dementia. There is not yet sufficient evidence to claim that the oral microbiome has a causal role in dementia1, but this paper offers more support for the notion that our bacterial populations (good and bad) have a crucial role in our physical and mental health.
The general idea that many of our most challenging health problems can be mediated by the bacteria we carry in and on our bodies is still highly controversial. Not least because our healthcare systems are often based on a treatment rather than prevention paradigm. If some of these treatments, such as antibiotics, can cause other problems in the short and long term what then? It is estimated that lifestyle choices (including diet), are connected to 80% of health problems seen by GPs in the NHS. And yet UK medical schools offer almost no nutritional education to their students. It can be argued that our doctors have been taught for decades, to engage with treatment opportunities rather than prevention strategies.
Returning to the cited study discussed in New Scientist. It has been hypothesised that a gum disease bacterium (Porphyromonas gingivalis), may get into the brain and cause inflammation which could be a factor in neurodegeneration. People with Alzheimer’s dementia tend to have higher levels of this bacterium in their brains. A company has created an oral medicine that is intended to block the activity of the toxins established by the bacterium. An initial small trial has seen some positive preliminary results.
A second question arising from this new approach to Alzheimer’s dementia is what lifestyle and dietary choices are likely to improve the mouth microbiome and reduce harmful bacteria that attack the gums?
Polyphenols found in red wine may support oral bacteria able to inhibit tooth decay and gum disease
Moderate red wine consumption has been associated with a range of health benefits. Many of the claims made historically have not been supported by the latest evidence. In any case, increasing alcohol consumption per se could have a negative health impact that outweighs any positive outcome. However research featured by the BBC this week is linking red wine to improved oral health by acting as a probiotic for mouth bacteria.
Recent research into red wine has highlighted the benefits of polyphenols, these are antioxidant compounds present in red wine, thought to fight harmful free radicals in humans. A recent study from Spain indicates that red wine may be able to exert a beneficial influence over damaging oral bacteria. The effect of polyphenols (caffeic and p-coumaric acids) were tested on the bacteria that can harm teeth and causes gum disease. Caffeic and p-coumaric acids were found to be more successful than grape seed and red wine oenological extracts at limiting the ability of bacteria to stick to cells. But when combined with an oral probiotics (streptococcus dentisani), the polyphenols ability to limit the growth of harmful bacteria (streptococcus mutans) was enhanced.
This is an initial study carried out on cells in a lab, not on actual people, it reflects a simplified or reduced approach. Results will need to be replicated in other studies and ultimately with humans. However the important point to take at this stage is that there is some evidence that wine appears to offer probiotic qualities to both mouth and gut bacteria. This isn’t a charter for people to increase wine consumption, the overall effect of drinking wine hasn’t been clearly established and it is likely to be different for each person. However this study offers yet more evidence of the important role of probiotics in human health.
Polyphenols are abundant micronutrients present in a wide range of foods and drinks, not just red wine. The extent to which any individual substance is able to deliver the health benefits of the polyphenols contained within it is still being researched. The ability of our body to digest and make available the polyphenols we consume is a key issue. Other foodstuffs rich in polyphenols include, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, green tea, black tea and coffee.