Food Pharmacy, Soki Choi

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Psychiatric drugs or psychobiotics?

Today we’re giving the floor to our new guest writer Soki Choi. Soki, PhD, MD, has researched complex systems at both the Karolinska Institutet and Harvard. After working for ten years within the realm of healthcare, Soki’s mission today is to spread revolutionary knowledge that could help people to protect their crown jewel (before it’s too late): our brain. That’s why she wrote the book (currently only available in Swedish) “Kimchi and Kombucha – The New Research on How the Gut Bacteria Strengthens Your Brain” The book has peaked the Swedish sales listings since it came out this fall. Soki, take it away!

How fascinating isn’t it that researchers have recently “discovered” a new super organ in our intestines? The intestinal flora weighs as much as the brain and is in combination with the intestine considered to compete with the brain in several functions. Just take the lucky molecule serotonin for example, which 90% of is produced in the intestine while only 10% in the brain. Or the reward molecule dopamine, which up to 50% is made in the intestine. The list can continue …

Did you know by the way, that you are currently walking around with almost two milk cartons (2 liters) filled with billions of non-human creatures that make everything from vitamins to hormones to the neurotransmitters in your gut. I mean, it wasn’t very long ago that all bacteria were considered evil and were to be exterminated at all costs. Perhaps not so strange considering that bacteria like Yersinia Pestis, i.e., the plague, killed nearly half of Europe’s population (200 million deaths) in the 1300’s. So bacteria have gone from being viewed as creatures that cause disease and other unpleasantries, to becoming the great superstar within our bodies – an impressive status flip!

The late discovery of microbiomics (fancy word for intestinal flora genes) crucial role for our health has created a rarely seen race among researchers. Just last year, more than 10,000 scientific articles were published, this equivalates to more than one article per hour. And this year has heated up even more!

Currently, in the ever growing multitude of studies, the headlines have focused on “The Gut-Brain-Axis”, i.e., the connection between intestinal bacteria, the intestines and the brain. Pioneering studies now show that everything from stress, anxiety, depression, alzheimer, parkinsons, autism and adhd can be related to a poorly composed intestinal flora. When I read all relevant research before writing my book, I had to read some studies over and over and over again. Though the results were exciting, even I, myself, sometimes had difficulty believing in them. Who would have thought that fibers and bacteria found in plant-based and fermented foods like Kimchi could be as effective as strong antidepressants and anxiety suppressing drugs like Prozac and Valium, not to mention no nasty side effects? Or that fecal transplantation (fancy word for poop transfering) can improve the symptoms of people with autism? Although these studies need to be repeated, there is a mountain of animal studies pointing towards that certain fibers and bacteria de facto actually have medical treatment potential, or at the least could complement today’s psychiatric pharmaceuticals. In medical terminology they are called psychobiotics. So put that in your memory bank. The term “psychobiotics” was coined in 2013 by researchers Ted Dinan and John Cryan, as a way to distinguish the bacteria that have strong effects on the brain and our psyche. Nowadays, the fibers that stimulate bacteria’s production of serotonin, dopamine, butyric acid and other neuroactive substances are also included.

And while tempting to stop eating medication or perform a fecal transplant in the kitchen, I advise you not to do it, especially if you have a diagnosis. Even if fecal transplants are an effective way of replacing intestinal flora, it is still a research protocol only used in laboratory environments. A significantly safer and certainly tastier way is to eat your way to a stronger brain, also a good form of prevention. 

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