I am so delighted that one of my favourite people is part of our extended family as – Scientific Advisor to the School. Dr Miguel is an expert in the gut microbiome and its connection with brain / mental health. He is also an incredibly knowledgeable nutritionist and a neuroscientist.
Aside from his professional credentials, Dr Miguel is the most authentic, amazing and warm human beings I know. I adore him and he inspires me. For all these reasons, I feel so fortunate to have had Dr Miguel as our Director of research here for 3 years and he has remained, as one of the academic advisors for my doctoral research at Middlesex University, and regular support for the gut health Topic.
Dr Miguel is a multifaceted professional working to bridge the gap between research and practice. His professional experience spans the fields of nutrition, biotechnology, microbiology, and neuroscience. He has been able to bring these together in his academic, industry work including his transdisciplinary doctoral research at Middlesex University and his position as Research Fellow at the School of Applied Sciences of London South Bank University, where Dr Miguel has been the lead investigator in clinical trials looking to further develop our understanding of the relationship between food, gut bacteria and mental well-being. Dr Miguel is well known as an international public speaker, popular for his depth of knowledge, and his uniquely engaging and jovial presentation style that gives him the ability to reach a wide audience. Dr Miguel is currently the Head of R&D for microbiome health company Chuckling Goat.
“Giving back to the community is really important for me”, Dr Miguel tells us. And of course we love that! He has been contributing to various activities by the Body and Soul Charity for a few years now. More recently, he has been a contributor to the You Are Not Alone (YANA) dialectical behaviour therapy programme, dedicated to 16–30-year-olds who have attempted suicide, delivering practical science on the connection between gut health, trauma and mental wellbeing.
How The Sourdough School met Dr Miguel
Dr Miguel and Vanessa first connected through Professor Tim Spector in 2016 as I was referred to Miguel to help analyse the gut test results. We then met in person through Lisa and Alana Macfarlane (The Mac Twins), co-founders of “The Gut Stuff” in 2018. Professionally it was “love at first sight,” says Miguel. This was for a number of reasons, but he thinks perhaps the most important one was the fact that Vanessa sees the microbiome as a complex system that is influenced by a number of factors which are sometimes difficult to quantify. “Like the experience of pleasure breaking bread together at the table, the joy of cooking whilst talking to family or friends and sharing an extended meal with those you love.”
Both Dr Miguel and Vanessa are neurodiverse, and that may also be the reason why they see the complexity of the gut microbiome in creative ways, not as threats, but as an opportunities.
A new approach to mental health
“For decades mental health research has focused on what goes on in the head, with mental disorders being labelled as brain disorders,” says Dr Miguel. Research into how communication between the gut and the brain (known as the gut-brain axis) affects mood and behaviour is suggesting that mental health is much more complex, and not simply a problem with brain chemistry and wiring. Dr Miguel is excited by this research, particularly studies investigating how food and lifestyle-based approaches can help improve a person’s mental well-being. “I am lucky enough to be immersed in research and development on that very front”. “Asking people how they feel is also paramount. We need to know about their stress and anxiety levels, but also about whether they are happy with their life or not. We also need to learn more about their experience of health and disease. In clinical trials we rely too much on what a person’s microbial composition looks like and what molecules their gut bacteria may or may not produce. That’s all fabulous, but if we don’t incorporate first-person insights from participants we lose sight of what really is important for the individual, and that’s sad because it provides us with science that is only partly accurate and ignores the role of lived experience in our physical and emotional health”, Dr Miguel tells us.
For anyone wanting to explore Dr Miguel’s thinking further, we recommends visiting Dr Miguel’s publications page (https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6549-8087). It contains links to all his papers. We particularly love his review of the microbiome-gut-brain axis, published in the journal Microorganisms in 2018 and that is still absolutely relevant today. Titled “Harnessing the Power of Microbiome Assessment Tools as Part of Neuroprotective Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine Interventions”. This is a fantastic piece of work that brings together research from nearly 300 papers on gut-brain communication.
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