Anyone who has been paying attention to politics in the United States has probably seen, if not heard about the rather amusing and yet gut-wrenchingly painful performances by Governor Rick Perry over the last few weeks.  His latest (and perhaps greatest) “Oops” moment came this week when he unfortunately forgot one of his primary objectives should he become President.  You can watch the video here:

Rick Perry “Oops” Moment

As I watched the unfortunate moment, I had really only one thought:

“Now there’s a man who isn’t taking his probiotics”

It may seem strange at first to think that bacteria that are supposed to help keep our movements solid would also help to solidify out thinking processes.  But looking at the information that we now have on the benefits of probiotics on the mind, it becomes entirely clear that not only is your gut the second brain, but it also is the driver of the first brain.

The Brain Freeze Phenomenon

Before I get to the solution, I do have to mention that the extensive news efforts to explain the concept of the ‘brain freeze’ as it is being called have been rather good.  It’s true that when the body is under severe stress, the brain does have a tendency to alter its function and one of those consequences is the apparent loss of memory, such as what Rick Perry experienced.  Having experienced it myself, it’s not all that pleasurable and you feel horrible afterwards.

Yet, despite all the reports behind why it happened, there has been little on how we can all work to prevent this in the future or even, perhaps, how to predict its appearance.

Prevent with Probiotics

Earlier this year, an interesting commentary was published in the Journal, Gut, entitled:
The microbiota-gut-brain axis: learning from intestinal bacteria? The focus was on how the gastrointestinal system acts as a driving force of our mental state and that if the gut is not healthy, neither is our mind.

The primary focus of the commentary was a study, called Bacterial infection causes stress-induced memory dysfunction in mice, and the authors were from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada.  The paper demonstrated that

  1. Communication exists between the microbiological flora in the gut and the brain
  2. A healthy gut tends to allow for a more functional brain in the face of stress
  3. An unhealthy gut tends to cause mental problems in stressed individuals including memory loss

But the commentary doesn’t stop there.  Using other examples from the scientific literature, it becomes clear that an unhealthy gut can lead to other problems including:

  1. Increased anxiety
  2. Cognitive dysfunction
  3. Increased appetite
  4. Depression.

What’s even more amazing though is that the commentary suggests that many symptoms can be reversed through the supplementation of probiotics.  By ingesting billions of these tiny germs, mental function can be normalized.

Of course, if you would rather listen to your own body than the scientific papers, let me make a suggestion that will prove (or disprove) this hypothesis.  On a particularly stressful day, take somewhere in the range of 6-12 billion “Acidophilus” or “Bifidobacterium” probiotic bacteria sometime in the mid afternoon.  Then, at the end of the day and into the evening, take a measure of yourself and determine whether you generally feel as stressed as before or if you’ve somehow calmed down.

Predict with Cytokines

So, let’s say that you have an important event, meeting or, well, debate coming up and you want to be sure that your brain function is going to be top notch.  You’re feeling fine now but history shows that you tend to have mental problems when you are actually there. Tired of the gaffes and the consequences, you just want to find a way to predict whether you are going to be fine or if you need to consider some kind of lifestyle change, if only in the short term.

You need to predict your future mental circumstances though you’re not sure how to do it.

Well, Mr. Perry (and others), you’re in luck.

With as little as a a few drops of blood, much like diabetes, you can predict whether or not you are going to be great or whether you are heading towards another “Top Ten” appearance on Letterman.

The test, which we do in the labs at the University of Ottawa, essentially tests for a number of different molecules, known as cytokines, which help to regulate the immune system as well as many other functions in the body.

Several of these cytokines are specific to brain and cognitive function and many are directly associated with anxiety, even in the absence of clinical symptoms.  The paper, Broad spectrum of cytokine abnormalities in panic disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder, discusses how several cytokines are known to be involved with these conditions and offer a direction for both diagnosis and study.  It’s an eye-opener as to how the immune system plays a significant role in our brain and mind health.

But association alone isn’t the real reason why the cytokine test works.  It’s due to the fact that the test can be used to identify a reduction in stress and thus the lowering of the potential of any problems in the future.  This comes in part due to the paper, Counter-stress effects of relaxation on proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, which actually investigates which cytokines can be decreased by following relaxation techniques.

Essentially, from a purely non-scientific perspective, the cytokine test is an insurance policy against stress and anxiety related blunders.

Predict, Prevent, Prevail!

From the two solutions above, it’s pretty clear that the problems associated with brain freeze and other mental faux pas do have a link to a lack of a healthy gut and immune system.  Through a combination of regular day to day prevention using probiotics and through monitoring of cytokines over time, one can be sure that at least when it comes to mental and emotional function, they will be on the best track towards success.

But I understand if people are less than convinced.  So, let me just say that when it comes to both the prevention and the prediction, I’ve done it and it works.  When the stress levels are present, probiotics brings me back to a reasonable sense of normal.  And when I feel that I’m getting close to burnout, the test can show me just where I am in the grand immunological scheme and how much time I may have left before I have to simply bow out to burnout and admit that it’s time to take a vacation.

My Suggestion: Call me, Rick!

I’ll end this by asking Rick Perry himself to give me a call.  If there’s any reason to believe that the tide can be turned around with a solution as easy as taking a pill and having a little blood drawn about once a month, I think you would be interested in hearing more about it. Send me a note, Email or even call at the lab.  I’m sure we could come up with something that would be within your budget and might just save your candidacy.  I’m sure we could also have some fun in the process.

If you want to learn more, feel free to send me a comment below.