New Insight into how Foods and Intestinal Flora Influence Brain Cell Activity

At PAINWeek® 2015 our Complementary and Alternative Medicine track included a course presentation on educating patients on the role and importance of nutrition in preventing pain and enhancing pain treatment outcomes. New research published online last week in the journal Nature Medicine provides further corroboration of this connection. A research team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital reports that dietary and gut bacteria changes appear to affect the activity of brain cells that modulate inflammation and neurodegeneration.  Study author Francisco Quintana, PhD, an investigator in the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, commented “For the first time, we've been able to identify that food has some sort of remote control over central nervous system inflammation."

The researchers found that in laboratory mice, gut bacteria produce molecules that influence cells in the brain and spinal cord called astrocytes. These astrocytes assist in limiting inflammation.  The molecules are derived from an amino acid, tryptophan that is present in turkey and other high-protein foods such as chicken, beef, nuts and cheese. Blood samples taken from patients with multiple sclerosis found reduced levels of tryptophan derived molecules. In related research, reported recently in The Daily Dose, New York University scientists outlined the beneficial role of intestinal parasites and bacteria in controlling inflammatory bowel diseases. Dr Quintana observed "Deficits in the gut flora, deficits in the diet or deficits in the ability to uptake these products… any of these may lead to deficits that contribute to disease progression." A news story about the findings may be read here. The journal abstract may be read here.

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