Is the Gut Really Our Second Brain?
Insights with Dr Pran Yoganathan (Gastroenterologist)
This is for anybody that has ever put food in their mouth and wondered what goes on and why.
Dr Ron spoke to Dr Pran Yoganathan about the role diet can play in combating co-morbidities, asked how much protein you actually need for your age, discussed leaky gut syndrome, liver health, and more.
Dr Pran Yoganathan shares his insights below...
The Role of Diet in Combating Co-Morbidities
With COVID-19 we have all become aware of co-morbidities. They are chronic, preventable diseases. I asked Pran for his opinion on what we have been told to eat may have caused the co-morbidities we live with.
Unlike many people, Pran does not level the blame entirely on the food pyramid. He says if people followed the advice from the food pyramid closely, they would more than likely be healthy. He is concerned, though, about the low levels of a protein recommended.
The issue of obesity comes from the vast amount of energy-dense foods we find all around us - the chocolates, the sweetened beverages, and energy drinks to name a few. Combine this with the low satiety value of the low protein content of the diet recommended by the food pyramid and we have a recipe for disaster.
Dr Ron found it interesting Pran mentioned the lack of protein being an issue when it comes to satiety, asking him how he views the demonisation of fats.
Pran feels fat comes with protein. He says:
So by consuming a protein, generally an animal-sourced protein, especially if you're going for something that is not excessively lean like lamb or beef or salmon, the fat generally will accompany it and I think it is very difficult to over-consume fat that is not refined from these animals or marine life when you combine it with protein.
He feels quite differently about what he calls "refined fat". He says fat in the likes of butter and cheese is very easy to over consume. He has never understood the concept of adding cream or butter to your coffee. By focusing on quality protein, you will most likely be eating good quality fat. Although protein can be used by the body for energy, it is actually a building block.
When looking at obesity, Pran views the condition as an "energy toxicity". The energy coming from the other two macronutrients - carbohydrates and fats - can be converted to and stored as adipose tissue. It is very difficult to convert to fat.
Low Carb vs Eating Adequate Protein
Dr Pran also provides clarity on what it means to be eating adequate amounts of protein and what low carb means to him.
The dietary guidelines recommend a protein intake of 0.6g to 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight. For a younger person who'e sex hormones are pumping out, that is sufficient protein to maintain muscle.
For an older person, though, this amount is putting them in a grave. Pran has been looking at recommendations stating the amount of protein we need as we age, if we have healthy kidneys, is 1.2g to 1.6g per kilogram of body weight.
If you're looking at 1.6g of protein per kilogram per day, that's a lot of protein. So good luck fitting in any carbohydrate when you've got that much protein.
Pran says the sarcopenia (loss of muscle) starts to happen at the age of 30 years. We can lose about 0.8% of our muscle per year. This number climbs if you are eating a low protein diet or if you have a chronic illness. We need to start looking at protein at all stages of life. The requirements are dynamic.
The Gut is the Second Brain Debate
Pran believes the gut is not the second brain.
He believes it came first, before the brain. Therefore it is the first brain.
He uses evolution to explain his opinion. Looking back to when there was no life as we know it on earth, there existed hydra-like creatures in the ocean. They did not have a brain.
But as life became more complex, there was a migration of these cells from the anterior plexus into a separate compartment, which eventually became the brain of these creatures. So really, the human brain is not the first brain. It is the second brain, the initial, the original brain remains our gut.
It is a fascinating topic of evolutionary history. There are still some very complex pathways that connect the gut with the brain. 90% of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, are made in the gut.
So the neurotransmitters running the brain are the same ones running run the gut.
Practical Advice From Dr Pran Yoganathan
As a gastroenterologist with a very real interest in nutrition and how it affects our health, Dr Pran Yoganathan shared some very relevant information, including: