Investigating how our gut microbiome could be causing dementia

10 Mar 2023
Investigating how our gut microbiome could be causing dementia

SAHMRI’s BRIGHT Accelerator and neurobiologist, Dr Andrew Shoubridge is leading a new project to find out how gut health can impact our risk of dementia and exacerbate the symptoms.

Previous studies have shown the microorganisms in our gut, also known as the gut microbiome, may be to blame for cognitive decline later in life.

Dr Shoubridge is profiling common risks that compromise the gut microbiome and are common to senior Australians.

“Our microbiome is directly affected by many factors, including what we eat, drink and medications we take,” Dr Shoubridge said.

"We've evolved with bacteria in our gut and there are various pathways these bacteria use to communicate with our brain. Through the release of specific compounds and our immune system, they can change how the neurons in our body function, from our gut all the way to our brain," Dr Shoubridge said.

Some medications, especially antibiotics, are known to have detrimental effects on the microbiome. Dr Shoubridge says this can lead to inflammation in the brain, potentially increasing the risk of developing dementia later in life.

“Our gut is a complex environment. There are millions and millions of bacteria, good and bad living in there. If we look after our internal environment, it’s a healthy place where everything works together, but if we pollute it with things like poor diet and drugs, that can create a lot of problems,” Dr Shoubridge said.

“Our gut isn’t isolated, and in fact has a lot of influence over other environments within our body, especially the brain. When our gut health is compromised, our brain is too.”

Dr Shoubridge is harnessing the power of national databases containing automatically collected healthcare data to analyse the medication regimes of hundreds of thousands of Australians and chart the impact on their mental health over time.

The project will provide a better understanding of the gut-brain connection and find strategies to prevent dementia onset in Australians who are at risk. It’s a significant step towards improving the health and wellbeing of all people along the entire dementia timeline.

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