Andy’s Quick Hits (81): The Gut Bacteria that Improve Cognition in Boys

Andy Hab
3 min readSep 7, 2021

Girls are better than boys. We all know that, right? Or more specifically it is well known, and documented, that girls score higher at earlier ages in cognition and language.

This could be for many reasons, maturing earlier, for example. However, a recent piece of research has highlighted another potential reason related to neurological processes. Specifically the number of a certain gut bacteria correlates strongly with cognition in boys and girls — but boys tend to have less, on average.

Did you say gut bacteria influences cognitive ability?!

Yes, and not just any old gut bacteria but a class know as Bacteroidetes. The researchers at the University of Alberta around Sukhpreet Tamana followed more than 400 infants from the CHILD Cohort Study (CHILD) and found interesting correlations.

What did they find?

They found that boys with a gut bacterial composition that was high in the Bacteroidetes at one year of age were found to have more advanced cognition and language skills one year later. This finding was specific to male children only. Girls are more likely to have more of these Bacteroidetes and so perhaps they have enough to enable the higher cognition measured and why this finding only applies to boys.

But why Bacteroidetes?

Well, the answer is pretty simple. They are one of the only bacteria that produce metabolites called sphingolipids, which are instrumental in the formation and structuring of neurons in the brain.

“It makes sense that if you have more of these microbes and they produce more sphingolipids, then you should see some improvement in terms of the formation of neuron connections in our brain and improved scores in cognition and language,” — Anita Kozyrskyj.

Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!