Do You Have the Guts?

Our bodies are in a state of constant contact with our external environment. Our skin, which happens to be our largest organ, provides a barrier to the outside world and regulates our exposure to things like moisture, temperature, and UV rays. It also protects us from germs, toxic substances, and ubiquitous objects that can pierce, puncture and penetrate. It keeps us safe and alive.  

While our skin may be the largest organ that serves as a protector to the outside environment, it isn’t the only one. Each time you eat food or take a drink, you are taking something from the outside world and bringing it into your body. And food isn’t the only thing that makes its way in. There are the medications and supplements that we take along with all of the viruses, bacteria, and chemicals that we inadvertently consume. While we know the effect of environmental exposure to things on our skin whether through visible damage or uncomfortable sensations, what happens to our internal environment, namely our gastrointestinal tract when it is exposed to the outside?  

Just as our skin acts as a protective barrier, so does our gastrointestinal tract. There are critical functions that occur in each step of the digestive process that allows for the foods that we eat to be processed into usable components. The GI tract is a selective membrane that should only let it what is good for us, but what happens when there is dysfunction in the way that this is occurring?  

This month, we are going to focus on one aspect of our digestive health that influences the overall health of our GI tract – our gut bacteria.  Also known as our gut microbiome, there are trillions of bacteria in our digestive tract. It’s fascinating to think that our bodies are actually comprised of a greater number of bacterial cells versus human cells. One ounce of human poop has more bacteria in it than there are stars in the known universe. That’s how many there are!  What’s important to know is that the diversity and ratios of these bacteria are significant to the expression of our health.  

Our bodies are constantly striving to maintain balance and the population of bacteria in our GI tract is no different. Ideally, around 85% of those bacteria should be beneficial strains that do things like protect our GI barrier, contribute to the production of vital enzymes, and aid in the breakdown of food as it’s passing through our intestinal tract. But sometimes, because of foods we eat or other catalysts such as stress, medications, infections, or other environmental input, we end up with less of what we need and more of what we don’t.  

These changes to our microbiome can show up as a variety of different symptoms such as (adapted from bepure.co.nz):  

DIGESTIVE ISSUES LIKE BLOATING, GAS OR DIARRHEA – These are the hallmark symptoms of gut dysfunction. The number and diversity of the bacteria living inside your gut, intestines, stomach, and colon contribute to your digestive processes. Gas, in particular, is a sign that food is fermenting in your gut as you have insufficient stomach acid or an imbalance of bacteria to break down the food you’ve eaten.  

SUGAR CRAVINGS – Gut bacteria are capable of trying to get you to eat foods that they thrive on (sugar and carbs) by secreting special proteins that are similar to two hunger-regulating hormones, leptin and ghrelin. These proteins affect both our food cravings and mood. If you eat a lot of sugar you feed the unhelpful bacteria that love it and they secrete the proteins to make you crave sugar more. It’s a vicious cycle. 

BAD BREATH –   The bacteria you have in your gut influences what is happening in your mouth. Bad breath, also called halitosis, stems from odor-inducing microbes that reside in between your teeth and gums, and on your tongue. It can also be caused by bacteria linked to gum disease. A healthy digestive system is crucial for optimal overall health, including oral health.  

FOOD ALLERGIES OR SENSITIVITIES – The gut barrier is your gatekeeper that decides what gets in and what stays out. When the intestinal barrier becomes permeable (leaky gut syndrome), large protein molecules from the foods that we eat escape into the bloodstream. Since these proteins don’t belong outside of the gut, the body mounts an immune response and attacks them. This immune response can show up as food intolerances or sensitivity.  

MOODINESS, ANXIETY, AND DEPRESSION – When one thinks of mental health, we think of the brain and neurotransmitters – not the gut.  But part of the reason micronutrient deficiencies affect mental health is because of compromised gut function. A compromised gut will affect your ability to use serotonin and dopamine (your happiness regulating hormones) and vitamin D within your body. The majority of serotonin and about half of your dopamine is made in your gut. If you have leaky gut, your body could lose much of the serotonin and dopamine it produces. The inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food but can also guide your emotions.

SKIN PROBLEMS LIKE ECZEMA AND DERMATITIS – A common sign of food intolerance is eczema and skin sensitivities. If your intestinal tract becomes permeable (again – leaky gut), your immune system may be over-responding to food proteins that have passed through the GI tract into the bloodstream. This can cause an upswing in activity in dermal irritations.   

AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE AND SUPPRESSED IMMUNITY – The link between leaky gut and autoimmune conditions is huge. Many of our clients that have autoimmune concerns, such as thyroid disease, also have symptoms of a leaky gut.  Removing food culprits and working on healing and restoring the gut is often one of the first steps taken in creating a treatment plan. Additionally, if someone suffers from frequent illness or infections, the reason could be a suppressed immune system that is impacted by poor gut health.

 So, what can you do to learn more about the state of your gut? There are some pretty great tests out there that can tell you what type of bacteria you have you your gut through testing – you guessed it – your poop! A microbiology test can provide us with a breakdown of the different strains of bacteria that are found in your GI tract including population estimates of the “good guys” and an indicator of the presence of other strains of bacteria that aren’t as good.  

Once you know more about the health of your gut, there are some things that you can do to improve upon it – if need be. We’re always fans of reducing carbohydrates and sugar, for numerous reasons, and gut health is one of them.  Another, more intensive step, is to complete a gut restoration program like the one described in this Metagenic’s blog.

 Probiotics, such as UltraFlora Balance, can also contribute to reestablishing a healthy balance of bacteria whether they are incorporated as a part of a restoration program, taken acutely, or recommended as part of a maintenance program. With probiotics, quality counts. From a Metagenics blog: 

 “Many probiotic formulas on the market are nonspecific about their applications. And that’s no surprise—considering many of these formulas contain organisms that are not strain-identified. This makes it even more difficult to choose the right formula. In fact, only a handful of probiotic strains have been researched extensively.  Make sure you pay attention to the product label and look for a genus, species, and strain (e.g., Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM). This should appear as two long Latin words (genus first and species second) followed by a series of capitalized letters and/or numbers (the strain). Keep this tip in mind when you shop for a probiotic formula.” 

In addition to probiotics, you want to consider your PREbiotics. The reality is that almost everything you consume is prebiotic. By clinical definition, a prebiotic is a substrate that is selectively utilized by a host microorganism conferring a health benefit. Thanks to research and clinical studies, we know that certain types of fats, fibers, starches, and phytochemicals that positively stimulate intestinal bacteria. This information has now been applied to advance the formulation of medical foods such as Ultra GI Replenish. This product is formulated with specialized ingredients that encourage repair of the mucosal lining of the GI tract and that that selectively nourish beneficial bacteria.  

As we learn more about the digestive system, and more specifically about the types of bacteria that are present along with their unique roles, the inner workings of our health will continue to unfold. In the interim, if you’re curious about your digestive health, check in with us and let us know what’s happening. Through an appointment, we can make recommendations for testing, diet, and supplements that can help get your guts back on track.

The Role of Naturopathic Medicine in Weight-Loss

“I feel congested like things are just stagnant in my body. And even though my eating habits really haven’t changed much, my weight is up about 8 pounds and it’s not budging.” 

That was me on Monday morning.  

It was time for me to be on the patient-side of the desk. My body was tapping me on the shoulder and letting me know it was time to check in with the doctor.  

Over the last few weeks, I could feel that my gallbladder was acting up a bit. My lower abdomen was bloated. Bowels were sluggish. Water made me burp a bit – almost like indigestion. The skin on my back was flaring a bit, kind of like a breakout but not really. These were all signs that were pointing to stagnation.  

In a short meeting with Dr. Paulson, I described my symptoms. One of the things that I love about working with her as a patient is her ability to make sense out of the puzzle pieces presented to her. I mentioned that I had been looking at traditional Chinese medicine concepts around my experiences because it didn’t feel like a gut bacteria issue, it didn’t feel like an over-eating issue – things just felt stuck. 

As expected, she listened and I could see the light bulb go off. She explained how these things were connected and offered a new twist on old issues for me. Albeit, while I may have a solid foundation in understanding my body, outside perspective is always helpful. 

She wrote up a new treatment plan that I started that afternoon.

The next day I was down 3 pounds. And then this morning, I was down a total of 5. Before getting too excited, please know that I know (and so should you) that this pattern won’t be typical or lasting. What it does show me is that my suspicion about needing more than dietary changes was spot on. My weight wasn’t necessarily being driven by the quantity of foods I was consuming but rather a disruption in my digestive system. Addressing that was a needed key to the health puzzle.  

And that’s what I came here to say. We do use that number on the scale as a barometer for health but what it tells us isn’t always about what’s happening around food and physical activity. Naturopathic medicine looks at the totality of our experiences and informs us of dysfunctions in our health that are treated at the root. Just another reason why I love what I do and what we provide to others.  

Knowledge is power.  

Discipline, Integrity, and Discomfort

I set my alarm for 5:15 AM as I glanced over at my dresser to make sure that I had everything that I needed in the morning.  

Check! It was all there.  

My pants, socks, sports bra, long-sleeve shirt and quarter-zip pullover were neatly folded waiting to be put on for my morning run. I crawled into bed a bit earlier than normal, pulling the covers up and checking the alarm just one more time.  

I had a running date.   

A friend had been inquiring on Facebook to see if anyone was interested in joining her on morning runs a few days per week. The distance, pace, and frequency aligned with what I was looking for and so with that, I sent a message. “I’m in.”  (more…)

Picking the Big Things First

“How important is it that I eat only organic vegetables? And what about chia seeds? I’ve heard that those are good for you. Oh, and what about bone broth?”

These represent the types of questions that I hear while visiting with my inquisitive clients.

I love these types of questions; I really do. It is a privilege to support such an engaged group of people seeking answers among the information that is swirling around out there in the world of nutrition science. While the questions themselves will vary from client to client, the aim remains the same – to seek better health by obtaining the newest and best information out there so that life can be lived full of vitality and energy, free from distress and disease.

Like many of my clients, I have spent many hours pouring over health publications and journals looking for the “real” answers to some of these same types of questions. There is always is something new to learn whether from a colleague, another health professional, or a vetted publication. A word-to-the-wise – information may always have some bias, even if it’s from a very well credentialed source. Always stay curious.

While one perspective could be that access to all this information is great, it can cause a persistent case of analysis paralysis. That means not doing anything because you’re uncertain of what information to adhere too. But don’t be dismayed! There is some consistency in all of the opinions and studies out there that anyone can implement at any time to begin working towards better health.

Here is some general consensus about what you can do to live a healthier life. Remember, these are the BIG things to do that will go a long way towards improved health. (more…)

The Place of In-between

The month of August has always felt a bit melancholy to me. Always a fan of school and the fall,  I relish the cooler days and the rhythm of life that September brings. But this year, after a major health scare, every day feels a bit more poignant if it isn’t well spent.

Being present to life in the moment is a gift that we can all too often take for granted. Instead of focusing on what we have, we look to the “someday.” The truth is we may not get that someday, especially if we’re not taking full advantage of the moments that we have to make changes NOW.

When it comes to eating well and moving more, many clients create timelines around upcoming events and dates that they’re anticipating -certainly understandable as we are a very social and food-oriented culture. If you’ve got a big vacation coming up, you wait until you return. If you have a busy social month, you may wait until it’s over.  But, if you’re always waiting for time to pass to fit health into your life, it may not happen. You have to make it work.

So, this August, while summer is still in full effect and you’re in the in-between – wait no more! Seize the day and do some stuff that’ll have you feeling better mentally and physically before September starts. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1) Check out a local farmers’ market and grab some fresh, organic produce. There is truly something special about locally grown vegetables – from the way that they taste to knowing that they were grown by people that really care about what they’re doing.
2) Try a new-to-you outdoor activity. Have you been wanting to try paddleboarding? How about blowing off some dust on that bicycle of yours? Find a trail you’ve never been on before for a hike or kayak down a local river. There are so many options!
3) NOW is the time get some vitamin D and boy does it feel good when you do. Head outside in short-sleeves and shorts to get some sun on that skin. 10 minutes will help to boost your vitamin D and give you that happy, summer feeling!
4) Eat outdoors. Have you ever noticed that when your body is a bit warmer, you feel a little less like eating a lot of food? If you’re feeling a bit warm, vegetables and lighter fare may feel like exactly what you need.
5) Don’t wait to get started. Sometimes, we may treat the entirety of summer as one big vacation. While I can appreciate the idea of wanting to go with the flow and relax, we may be a bit too disconnected from healthy eating as cookouts and camping reign supreme. Be sure to stay focused on lean and clean proteins along with fresh vegetables all summer long. And with all of the sweet fruits in season, swap out sugar-laden treats with “nature’s candy.”

As I say quite often, our health is the ultimate expression of all of the choices that we make. And the best time to make those choices is now.