Gut Check: Confessions of a Burnt-out Blogger

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t been holding up my end of the wellbeing bargain. For the last year and a half or so, things in my corner of the world have been BANANAS, and I’ve let all the frenzy and urgency inch out some of what’s most important to me.

Simply put, I haven’t been taking care of myself in the ways I know I should — in the ways I want YOU to take care of YOURSELF. And I can feel it. I can feel it in my energy levels and in my digestion. I can see it on my face and in my midsection. I can feel it in my tight shoulders and clenched jaw. And it was all confirmed when I went to get a routine teeth cleaning and my dentist discovered my first cavity in like 15 years. I was shocked.

So today, I’m delving back into my long-lost love here at Cultivated Wellbeing — gut health. This first long post in quite a while will be part confessional, part educational, and part excitement to share what’s helped me get out of my rut. 

Consider it a life lesson in listening to your gut — or a gut check, in the literal and figurative sense. 

gut check ultimate gut health super bundle

Confessions

Because I know myself and my body pretty well, I’ve known for a good 6 months or so that something needed to change. But for some reason, until these last few weeks, I just couldn’t get myself to make even the smallest adjustments to get back on track.

Whether it was the winter blues, this election cycle, the full-on burnout I was feeling from work, or all the rain we’ve been getting, I just couldn’t motivate. And every day I’d wake up and tell myself that today would be the day I’d turn it all around — and then it wouldn’t happen.

Here are some of the things I’d been battling:

  • Craving sweets after every. single. meal. and giving in to the cravings 90% of the time
  • Skipping work outs regularly
  • Hitting snooze 4 and 5 times every morning before rolling out of bed exhausted
  • Getting to work late every day and still managing to work way too much
  • Finding myself constantly distracted and on edge
  • Making frequent concessions to food rules I’d had firmly in place for myself for years — too much dairy, too many fried foods, too many white, processed carbohydrates, meals with no vegetables (or not enough), and lots of dessert

And on top of all of that, I hadn’t been keeping up with the things I love to do. I hadn’t been blogging. I hadn’t been making kombucha or bone broth consistently. I hadn’t been feeling inventive in the kitchen or cooking as often. I wasn’t writing much of anything. I was down to climbing only a few times a month, whereas before I was going a few times a week. And even my succulent obsession was on hold — something I almost never stop doing, regardless of how busy I get. (I’ll blame that at least partially on the incessant rain, but it was all adding up to misery.)

This doesn’t sound like me, does it? Something had to give.

Gut Check: Literally

Because some of what I’ve been feeling has danced on the edge of actual depression, I’ve taken two steps to ease myself back into the groove of self-care:

  1. I made an appointment to talk to a therapist (more on that in another post)
  2. I decided to relaunch my crusade to spread the word about gut health (and include myself in the audience — I need to revisit all this info too!)

If you follow me on social media, you’ve already seen some of the second step in action. I shared the multi-part series I created on gut health. My “Why Gut Health Matters” series draws connections between gut health and other systems and functions of our bodies and offer suggestions for how you can take charge of your health by sealing your gut and fortifying it with healthy bacteria. 

The key to addressing the whole mashup of symptoms — from IBS to acne, from depression to auto-immune diseases — is in finding and stopping chronic inflammation. If you followed along in that series the first time, you might remember this infographic:

Why Gut Health Matters

Chronic inflammation manifests in so many bodily and emotionally felt symptoms, as you can see from the illustration. And cooling it down can feel impossible if you’re stuck in a rut (as I’ve been). I revisited this series because I needed to jump-start the healing process for myself after going on a “health hiatus.” But I also found another comprehensive resource that I’m pumped to share with you right now.

The Gut Health Super Bundle

If you’d like to ensure that The little note in my inbox from the folks at Ultimate Bundle sharing this amazing collection of eBooks, classes, tutorials, guides, and freebies couldn’t have come at a better time. It was actually exactly what I needed to see. It offered a gentle reminder of what I’d been neglecting and provided the tools I needed to get myself back on track.

I’ve had the opportunity to comb through everything in this bundle already, and it’s definitely safe to say that there’s something for everyone, no matter where you are on your health journey. And I really mean that. I say that because sometimes you see these types of bundled products online, and they’re either so basic that a simple google search could get you there for free, or they’re so esoteric that they’re not useful unless you have a PhD in the topic. This bundle hits that “Goldilocks” sweet spot — it’s just right.

What’s Inside?

If you’re a gut health newbie (or you want a refresher), you can start with the Foundations of Gut Health and Getting Started sections, where you’ll have access to 4 eCourses and 2 eBooks.

If you have (or suspect you have) a gut-related health condition, such as hormonal imbalance (like me), IBS, candida problems, or gluten sensitivity (also like me), you can learn about how to address your concerns with the help of 6 eBooks and 3 eCourses. 

If you’re already on-board and ready to dive in and start making changes in your life and yummies in your kitchen, the Gut-Healing Foods and More Recipes sections of this bundle are right up your alley. There you’ll find 8 eBooks and 2 eCourses to help you get started making bone broth, fermenting your veggies, making kombucha, learning about cooking for special diets, and much, much more.

And then there are the bonuses, which I’ll be telling you about next week! I hope you’re on the edge of your seat, because the bonuses happen to be my favorite part of the whole bundle!

The bundle isn’t quite for sale YET, but it will be really, REALLY soon. I can’t tell you enough how much these resources have helped me dig myself out of the rut I’ve been in. I know they’ll help you too. 

Set a reminder for yourself now by clicking the button below so that you’ll get a little note when it’s time to buy. And stay tuned, because I’ll be telling you all about those bonuses really soon. 

Note: This offer is no longer available. If you’d like to make sure you don’t miss out on the next offer like this, join my newsletter here.


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.

Heal Your Gut with a Free bottle of Get Kombucha PRO

Here’s the thing. I’ve harped about gut health a lot. Maybe even too much, but it’s only because I count it among the most important things you can do for your overall health. At the top of this page, you see a whole section of that main menu dedicated to a series I wrote called “Why Gut Health Matters.” It’s a 6-part series in which I take various health challenges, talk about them from the perspective of gut health, and offer various solutions including probiotics (of which kombucha is a great option), bone broth, and dietary changes, just to name a few.

I actually made a pretty awesome infographic for that series. Here it is again, just in case you forgot (pretty proud of myself) 🙂 If you want to check out the full series after you’re done reading this post, just click the image and a new page will open up and be waiting for you:

Get Kombucha Pro

Heal Your Gut and the Rest Will Follow

Anyway, to put it mildly, I happen to think that gut health is the pretty-much the end-all, be-all of health and wellbeing — fix your gut, and you’re about 90% the way there. Whether you’re talking about diabetes, heart disease, immune system support, allergies, stress, anxiety, depression, skin issues, insomnia, weight loss, bloating, food sensitivities, and/or quite possibly even dementia (research is still being done), by reducing inflammation, healing your gut lining, and balancing your gut flora, you’re sure to improve your physical (and very likely mental/emotional) state. 

I’ve shared with you my unbelievable acne story (I’d never have believed it if it had happened to anyone else), and 100% of my success is attributed to healing my gut. How I did that was a multi-step process, with the final step being a daily practice of consuming warm bone broth. I did that for two weeks straight, and twenty years of acne nearly vanished. 

The Good Bugs (Probiotics like those found in Get Kombucha PRO)

One thing I do pretty consistently in conjunction with my daily bone broth is include probiotics in my diet. Probiotics are the “good bugs” that live in your large intestine. They help ward off excessive inflammation and sugar cravings (both caused by the bad bugs), they aid in the assimilation of key nutrients from our food that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to absorb, they regulate our mood and our cravings, and can even have an effect on our sleep. To put it as simply as possible, the good bugs keep us healthy.

Whether it’s with my homemade kombucha recipe, kim chee at my favorite Korean restaurants, raw sauerkraut, or some of my awesome wild pickles, I like to incorporate some beneficial bacteria into my diet every day. But sometimes it’s just not feasible, which is when a supplement comes in. It’s also nice just to mix it up every once in a while.

Get Kombucha PRO

Because when it comes to creating a healthy colony of good bacteria in the belly, variety and quantity are your two best friends, I like to take a supplement from time to time. I will often take different ones to ensure that I’m getting a good variety, and I recently added another super cool product to my probiotic arsenal. Get Kombucha PRO is a pretty remarkable product. It takes all the good stuff from kombucha and concentrates it down into an intensely potent tincture supplement. They do it through a cold-pressing process that presses 5 lbs of the actual SCOBY, not the brewed kombucha, into one tincture. Pretty neat technology if you ask me — especially if you’re one of those people who doesn’t like the taste of kombucha but still wants all the health benefits.

How to Get a FREE bottle of Get Kombucha PRO

So why am I telling you about this product? Besides it being AWESOME, it’s also a FREE GIFT in this, the very last day of the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle Flash Sale. Now is your very last chance to get in on this amazing opportunity to get $1900 worth of eBooks and resources from the best health bloggers in the blogosphere (including me!) at a steep 97% discount.

The collection is really something, and it covers just about anything you could possibly imagine in the way of healthy living, homesteading, parenting, natural remedies, essential oils, whole food diets, homemade body care and cleaning products … and the list goes on and on. I used this eBook as the inspiration to some of my homemade Christmas crafts this year, and I’ve checked out quite a few more too, for guidance in a personal health challenge, recipe ideas, and chemical-free cleaning products. Here’s the full picture of what you get in this bundle. It’s pretty mind-blowing!

Get Kombucha Pro

We as authors and bloggers offer our products at such a deep discount for a tiny amount of time because we know that, when packaged together, our collective knowledge will spread farther and reach more people than we could ever reach alone. And we want to help as many people as possible!

I’m really proud to be a part of this bundle (you can see my Nine Easy Steps to Delicious Gluten-Free Living tucked in there on the second row!), and I’m eager for you to check it out and benefit from the priceless resources inside. 

Bonuses!

So about that bonus thing. Not only is the Get Kombucha PRO offered to you absolutely free (a $39.99 value — you just have to pay shipping), but you also get bonuses from five other UHLB partners, totaling a $175 value!

  • ePantry – FREE hand soap + $8 credit on one shipment, FREE dish soap + $8 credit on the next shipment, AND 60-day VIP access with FREE shipping ($30 value)
  • Bloom Naturals – FREE SPOT treatment for acne & eczema OR a $15 gift certificate toward Bloom Naturals products ($15 value)
  • Perfect Supplements – $15 gift certificate toward any Perfect Brand product ($15 value)
  • Strawesome – $15 gift certificate toward the straws and accessories of your choice ($15 value)
  • TriLight Health – FREE 2-oz liquid herbal formula or $15 off larger bottles ($15 value)
  • Craftsy – 1 FREE online class ($44.99 value)

Get Kombucha Pro

Don’t miss your chance to get in on this amazing deal. It goes until 11:59pm TONIGHT, that’s 12/29/15. And of course, there’s a 100% satisfaction guarantee, so there’s zero risk to try out this amazing bundle. Once the sale is over, this bundle is gone forever. 

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FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. All opinions are my own.

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Skin

Ahh acne. We meet again, my nemesis! But this time, I’ve cracked the code, and I’m ready to share it with the world. In this next segment of Why Gut Health Matters, I’m going to address the link between gut health and skin disorders. My personal skin issue has always been acne, but that’s not the only one affected by poor gut health. There’s also rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and many, many more. While those last two have an auto-immune component (which we briefly covered in this segment of the series), all can be traced back to gut health — or lack thereof — even if they diverge in physical expression. 

Myopia in Specialized Medicine

Unfortunately, most dermatologists aren’t trained to ask their patients about their digestion or even consider the possibility of a link between gut health and skin disorders (a connection first scientifically documented in the early 18th century!). I know from personal experience that in my 20 years of battling acne, never once did any physician or aesthetician I saw for my skin troubles ask me about my digestion or my diet. Nor did any of them see a problem with prescribing me round after round of antibiotics along with a Diflucan prescription, knowing that yeast infections would result from the constant antibiotic assault. This was normal — a standard course of dermatological treatment. 

Today, if you walked into a psychiatrist’s office presenting with anxiety, you likely wouldn’t mention your constant gas and bloating or your eczema — nor would your doctor ask. You wouldn’t mention your psoriasis or depression to your GI specialist either. But the fact is, most if not all patients with skin disorders also have digestive disorders and mental health challenges. Specialized medicine has cordoned off our bodies into separate parts, ignoring the very real and very documented relationship between certain conditions. Conventional medicine no longer sees us as a complete system, much to the detriment of the whole-person patient.

gut health and skin disorders

Bugs Bugs and More Bugs

As I’ve mentioned in all of the previous segments of this series (especially the one addressing the gut as gate keeper), the living bacteria in the gut are integral to our overall health, and that includes skin health. When we take round after round of antibiotics, we aren’t just killing the “bad” bacteria — we’re killing nearly all the bacteria, giving fungi like candida a chance to run rampant in the system. Candida overgrowth results in a whole host of symptoms I don’t have time to go into today, but check out this extensive list to find out if they apply to you. I’ll give you a hint: skin problems is on the list.

Not only is gut bacteria crucial to maintaining healthy skin, so is the bacteria living right on the surface of our bodies. Like those found in the gut, the bugs on our skin protect us from the outside world of potential invaders, and when we kill them all off, it’s open season for everything else in the environment. When skin disorders are treated with antibiotics, the problem might seem to temporarily subside, but at best, it’s a band-aid solution. The cumulative effects of antibiotic use is a net negative, with gut dysbiosis as a common consequence.  

Where They Don’t Belong: SIBO and Leaky Gut

SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth) occurs when the bugs that belong in our large intestine start migrating up into our small intestine. It can also result when bugs from our food don’t get neutralized by the hydrochloric acid (HCl) in our stomachs — inadequate HCl is a major factor in SIBO.

While a very small number of bacteria naturally (and healthily) live in the small intestine, it’s supposed to be a nearly sterile environment. These microscopic interlopers can cause some major problems, one of which is gas. Lots of gas. Most patients with SIBO feel bloated and gassy after meals, especially meals rich in carbohydrates, because those bugs that don’t belong are breaking down their dinner before it gets where it’s supposed to be going. Other symptoms of SIBO include diarrhea, constipation, malabsorption of nutrients, and fatigue. Want to know another type of patient that often has SIBO? Patients with rosacea. 

You might be asking what causes low stomach acid. A major cause of low stomach acid will be the topic of the last segment in this series: STRESS.

Let’s connect the dots:
Stress => Low Stomach Acid => SIBO => Rosacea

I’ll delve more deeply into how stress affects the gut next week, but this note from a recent paper should paint the picture for you nicely:

“Experimental studies show that psychological stress stagnates normal small intestinal transit time, encourages overgrowth of bacteria, and compromises the intestinal barrier.” (source)

… which leads me to …

Leaky Gut, which we’ve discussed extensively throughout this series. Leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability) is both the chicken and the egg when it comes to systemic inflammation in the body. A leaky gut allows partially digested food particles into the system, setting off an inflammatory immune response, and the resulting inflammation causes further leaky gut — a destructive cycle that can lead to autoimmune disease if gone unmitigated. (And as I mentioned at the top of the page, psoriasis and eczema are increasingly being seen and treated as autoimmune disease.) As we talked about in the segment on gut health and mood disorders, a leaky gut => a leaky brain => depression. But what I didn’t mention in that segment was this:

Stress => Leaky gut => ACNE

As many as 40% of acne patients also complain of constipation (or other digestive distress). A growing body of research is showing that acne patients have a larger variety of “bad” bacteria in their stool, a greater sensitivity to “bad bugs” (like e. coli) and a higher level of systemic inflammation resulting from leaky gut. If you’ve been following along with this series, you know we’ve come full circle to Your Gut as Your Gate Keeper. Fix the leaks, fix the skin. 

gut health and skin disorders

Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times.
Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley, both of USDA, ARS, EMU.
Image released by the Agricultural Research Service, ID K11077-1

Fix it! 

How to fix a leaky gut? How to clear up SIBO? It turns out, the answer is the same: reduce systemic inflammation by healing the gut wall and increasing the good guys. Stokes and Pillsbury, the pioneering researchers who discovered the gut-brain-skin connection in the early 1900’s, suggested probiotics and cod liver oil to do just that. 

Sorry, did you read that whole sentence? IN THE EARLY 1900’S RESEARCHERS WERE RECOMMENDING PROBIOTICS AND COD LIVER OIL FOR SKIN DISORDERS. I’m not one for all caps, but I felt that deserved the emphasis. Imagine me yelling when you read that. WHY don’t conventional medical doctors use this and the subsequent studies supporting this work to inform how they treat their patients?

Probiotics help restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut, thereby booting out the bad guys that create inflammation and toxins that harm the gut wall.

Cod liver oil is not only rich in Omega 3’s with potent anti-inflammatory and healing properties, it’s also rich in vitamin A, an important nutrient for healthy skin (which you know if you ever took Accutane for your acne). 

Enteric-coated peppermint oil, an herbal remedy scientifically proven to relieve symptoms of IBS, is also being explored with promising findings for mitigating SIBO. 

And while the research from Stokes and Pillsbury doesn’t cover this last ancient gut-healing solution, I’m going to cite my own anecdotal evidence and add bone broth to the list of tools to heal your gut. Rich in minerals, collagen (aka gelatin), and cartilage, bone broth is the ultimate gut- and skin-healing superfood. You’ve probably seen cosmetics products that boast collagen as a topical ingredient to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and create healthier looking skin. When ingested in the form of bone broth, collagen does a lot more than that.

  • It promotes a healthy level of stomach acid
  • It aids in digestion of problematic foods like dairy, legumes, meats, and grains
  • It coats the lining of the gut to reduce permeability, reduce inflammation, and fill the leaks
  • It supports a healthy immune system, including white blood cell production
  • It provides amino acids — the building blocks of muscle in our bodies
  • It promotes the absorption of minerals, including those already present in the broth, for skeletal support and bone health (source)

My personal success story with bone broth has reached more readers than anything else I’ve posted in a year of writing this blog. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to about bone broth, encouraging them to try it and celebrating with them when they’ve seen results. In combination with a diet rich in probiotic foods and eliminating the trigger foods that create inflammation (for me that was mainly gluten), bone broth changed my life. I’ve recently experimented with adding this fermented cod liver oil and this enteric-coated peppermint oil into my diet out of curiosity (affiliate link).  (I like to use myself as a guinea pig from time to time.)

gut health and skin disorders

“My worst” didn’t just mean my skin. I was more depressed and heavier than I’d ever been before or since.

What’s Next?

Next week is the last segment of this series on Why Gut Health Matters, where I’ll not only wrap up this discussion but also challenge you to get started in healing your own gut. The end of this series doesn’t have to mean the end of the discussion for you — I’m happy to answer any questions you might have on the topic — just send me a note and we can keep the ball rolling to get your gut health where it needs to be.  


FTC DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. I only link to products that I USE and LOVE. All opinions are my own.


Sources for this segment of the series include a 6-credit continuing education seminar presented by Merrily Kuhn, RN, CCRN (r), PhD, ND, PhD and the Institute of Brain Potential (bibliography and references can be viewed here), and information from the following articles, journals, and experts:

Stokes JH, Pillsbury DH (1930) The effect on the skin of emotional and nervous states: theoretical and practical consideration of a gastrointestinal mechanism. Arch Dermatol Syphilol 1930, 22:962-93

Ketron LW, King JH: Gastrointestinal findings in acne vulgaris. JAMA 1916, 60:671-75 

http://www.consultantnutritionist.com/General-Health-Nutrition/Traditional-Bone-Broth-in-Modern-Health-and-Disease.html

http://chriskresser.com/naturally-get-rid-of-acne-by-fixing-your-gut

http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1757-4749-3-1.pdf

http://wageningenacademic.metapress.com/content/0u3x16807123w358/#.VNq_SrB4qXw

http://healthandstyle.com/health/gut-may-causing-bad-skin/

http://docsdrive.com/pdfs/ansinet/jms/0000/57615-57615.pdf

http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/7/5/410.pdf

http://journals.lww.com/jcge/Abstract/2014/11001/Skin_Microbiome_and_Skin_Disease__The_Example_of.23.aspx

http://www.thecandidadiet.com/candidasymptoms.htm

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Weight

Ok, I feel like I need to preface this post with my distaste for our culture’s tendency to equate weight with beauty. It’s all too easy to get bogged down constantly worrying about our appearance and comparing ourselves to other people. (I’m not immune to this, by the way.) But being healthy and happy is so much more than a number on a scale, and we’re trained — even at insanely young ages, and especially as women — to tie our self-worth to how we look and how much we weigh.

Not only is this culture-wide obsession psychologically damaging, it’s also misguided. Being thin can be a sign of good health, but it’s not always the case. It’s possible to carry some extra weight without any negative health implications, and it’s possible to be “skinny-fat” — skinny on the outside and fat on the inside, damaging your organs with visceral fat. Weight isn’t everything. It’s something, but it’s not everything. 

I could fill an entire post with a rant about our misguided emphasis on weight and how damaging “fat shaming” is to folks who struggle, but that’s not what today’s post is about. We’re still continuing the conversation on gut health, so I’m going to put our weight struggles into perspective and give you some tips to help flatten out that seemingly constant uphill battle.

gut health and weight loss

original image sourced from mojzagrebinfo through Creative Commons

Gut Health and Weight Loss

I recognize that this is a sensitive topic, but it’s important to discuss for that very reason. That number on the scale, the muffin top at your side, your pants or dress size … for better or for worse, these things can dictate how we feel — physically and psychologically — and those feelings have can have tremendous effects on how we walk through the world.

Our weight can limit our ability to do even basic things — play with our children, walk up a hill, climb stairs — and as such, it can have a major effect on our self-esteem. Of course I’m not saying that extra weight affects every person’s self-image or every person in general in the same way. I wouldn’t presume to step into anyone else’s shoes. But I will say from experience that carrying even a little bit of extra weight can sometimes cause dramatic shifts in how I feel about myself, and that it’s always so much easier to put it on than it is to take it back off. 

So today, we’re going to talk about why our bodies hang onto those extra pounds, what’s happening in our guts when we gain and lose weight, and how healing the gut can make maintaining and losing weight easier and more long-lasting. 

Let’s Get Started: Good Bugs

gut health and weight loss

image sourced from OpenClips through Creative Commons

Last week we covered Mood and Gut Health, and I explained how an inflamed gut = an inflamed brain. I talked about the physiological and chemical changes that happen when we have an inflamed gut and how that can lead to mood issues like anxiety and depression.

Are you an anxious eater? Do you “drown your sorrows” in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s when you’re feeling down? Do you have an extra beer or 4 when you’ve had a bad week? Stress (which we’ll get into in another part of this series) has an effect on our gut flora, and the type of gut flora we have affects our mood and our resiliency. But did you know that some gut bacteria can actually make our bodies hold onto fat?

That’s right; if we nurture the wrong types of bacteria in our gut through a poor diet and high-stress lifestyle, they will sabotage our efforts to lose weight by squeezing every last nutrient out of the food we eat and storing it all as fat. It’s also been shown in recent studies that certain gut microbes can dictate our cravings. So maybe it’s not YOU craving that cheesecake at all! It’s the BUGS in your gut telling your brain they want some dinner! Those jerks!

As far as weight gain is concerned, getting the proper mix of bacteria is as important as eating veggies and exercising (and it just so happens that those two things are great for the good bugs!).

We’re Outnumbered!

Did you know we have 10 times more bacterial DNA living in and on our bodies than we do human DNA?

We’re like one giant walking bacteria frat house.

If your house were a 24-hour party, with people coming and going constantly, wouldn’t you want to create an environment that welcomes considerate people who bring delicious appetizers and help you with the dishes instead of jerks who park on your lawn, eat your food, and leave cup rings on your nice wood furniture?? I think so. 

By now it should be clear that our gut bacteria affects our bodies in profound ways. But before I go any further, let me back up and talk about the way our bodies work to store and release fat. 

Gremlins and Leprechauns

Wait, I think I meant to say ghrelin and leptin. Look, I never said I wasn’t gonna be cheesy in explaining this stuff to you. After the unicorns and dragons from the Gate Keeper post, I figured I might as well throw some more mythical creatures into the mix.

Ghrelin and leptin both control appetite. The former makes you hungry while the latter makes you full. More specifically, ghrelin tells your brain to eat and promotes fat storage, while leptin tells your brain you’ve had enough and encourages fat release.

image sourced from Pimkie through Creative Common

image sourced from Pimkie through Creative Common

Ghrelin is released from the stomach and pancreas and is activated by the GOAT enzyme high up in the stomach. If you’ve ever looked into bariatric surgery, you might already know that the restriction in the stomach reduces the production of the GOAT enzyme, which reduces or eliminates ghrelin production, allowing patients to feel full with a dramatically reduced amount of food. 

Unfortunately, our brains evolved to protect us from starvation at a time when food was a lot harder to come by, so if there isn’t an artificial restriction turning off ghrelin while we’re trying to lose weight, those hunger pangs can be pretty brutal. And if the body thinks we’re starving, it will store every ounce of food we eat as fat — just in case. Adding to that, if we’re already obese, our ghrelin levels are higher than those of our lean buddies, causing greater hunger and a harder time resisting temptations. 

Recent findings have also shown that high-fat foods activate the GOAT enzyme, which means that high-fat foods could be making us hungrier and telling our brain to store more of what we’re eating as body fat.

Oh, and one more thing. Sleep deprivation increases ghrelin. Do you find yourself snacking all day long after a terrible night’s sleep? I always thought it was because my body was trying to keep me awake. Now I know it’s that gremlin ghrelin!

It’s not all bad. Ghrelin is also responsible for controlling insulin levels (another hormone that causes weight gain) and stimulating a hormone in the pituitary gland that mobilizes fat tissue and promotes muscle growth. We need ghrelin. It’s not just there to mess with us.

gut health and weight loss

image sourced from SatyrTN through Creative Commons

Leptin is produced in white fat cells and communicates to the brain, “Ok, there’s enough here, get up and move around.” Interestingly, like ghrelin, the more body fat you have, the more leptin you have — counterintuitive isn’t it?

I’ll explain. Have you ever heard the term insulin resistance? It’s a metabolic disorder that leads to type-2 diabetes. Insulin regulates the delivery of glucose into the cells, but when the cell walls no longer properly respond to insulin due to excessive exposure, they resist allowing glucose into the cell. This results in excess glucose in the blood, which then gets stored as fat, in addition to being associated with  a number of health problems.

The same thing happens with leptin resistance in brain cells — the cell walls in neurons become resistant to leptin when there’s too much of it floating around. In fact the two hormones leptin and insulin go hand in hand, both intimately linked to inflammation. If you have insulin resistance, you likely have leptin resistance, and vice versa. 

The effects of leptin resistance are multi-fold.

  1. Leptin is proinflammatory, which means that when there’s too much of it floating around in the body, it can set off that inflammatory cascade that leads to leaky gut and bad bacteria in the gut.
  2. Leptin inhibits serotonin, so if there’s too much leptin, guess what there’s not enough of … (should I link the mood/gut post again? sure, why not?)
  3. Leptin tells your brain to stop eating, but if the neurons in the brain have closed their doors due to leptin resistance, guess what message isn’t getting received? And then we eat and eat and eat, never feeling satisfied. 

What to do? What to do?

This post is about weight loss, not weight gain, right? So how do we set all these bugs and hormones straight? How do we prevent our bodies from sabotaging our efforts to lose body fat?

Chill Out

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that reducing stress is a great place to start. I briefly touched on the negative effects of stress on gut bacteria at the beginning of this post, but reducing stress also helps prevent leptin resistance. And I don’t just mean “OMG deadline!” stress. I mean physical stress caused by things like a Big Mac and fries or a super sized Coke too, which means we need to … 

Skip the Junk

Foods high in inflammatory fats (omega 6, trans-fats, and saturated fats from conventionally raised animals) and processed carbs (from white flour and white sugar) not only cause leaky gut and promote the growth of bad bacteria in the gut, they also raise ghrelin and create leptin resistance.

Fed Up

The Right Stuff

Fill your belly with healthy fats from eggs and raw nuts and fiber-rich foods. I’m not talking about Metamucil or some gross processed saw dusty thing to add to your water. I’m talking about whole fruits (not juice), veggies, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and (occasional) whole grains and legumes. (If you need to lose weight, I’d stick to the first 4 for now.) These fiber-rich foods will prevent or inhibit leptin resistance and make losing weight that much easier. 

Small and Often

To prevent the starvation response, don’t skip breakfast, and eat smaller, low-glycemic meals throughout the day. Everyone is different in this regard — some people find that eating 3 times a day works for them. Some people find they’re much happier eating 4 to 6 times a day. Either way, don’t let any one meal get too huge — it’s not just the content but the size of the meal that triggers ghrelin. 

Get Some Rest

Are my lists in this series starting to seem redundant? Last week we learned that getting a good, consistent sleep pattern going helps promote beneficial bacteria in the gut. This week, I’m telling you that it keeps ghrelin, and therefore hunger, in check during the day. 

Step into those Sneakers

And again with the exercise. Isn’t it more motivating to know that exercise is about so much more than just the calories you burn while you’re doing it? Exercise not only increases good gut flora, but it also prevents leptin resistance by converting white fat to brown fat. (I didn’t have enough room to go into these two types of fat, but check out what WebMD has to say about it for the difference between Fit Fat (brown) and Fatal Fat (white).) Those calories you’re burning barely amount to half of all the great things you’re doing for your health just by breaking a sweat.

gut health and weight loss

image sourced from Jmyreen through Creative Commons

What’s Next?

I just threw a lot of information at you. How do you feel about it? Are you ready to start making some changes? Pick something from this list of 6 that you can start working on today — just ONE, no more — and commit to yourself that you’ll keep it going all week. Just start with this week and then reassess next week. You might find that you’re already noticing a difference and are ready to incorporate something else from this list. Maybe you want to stick to the one thing for another week. Either way, that’s ok! It’s just about getting started and making small changes that will last for the long haul! There are still at least two more Why Gut Health Matters posts coming your way, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’m here to answer any questions you might have. Shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to help. 

Did you miss the first three parts of this series? Check them out here!

Why Gut Health matters: A Series on You

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Gate Keeper

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Mood


Sources for this segment of the series include a 6-credit continuing education seminar presented by Merrily Kuhn, RN, CCRN (r), PhD, ND, PhD and the Institute of Brain Potential (bibliography and references can be viewed here), and information from the following articles, journals, and experts:

http://www.science20.com/news_articles/ghrelin_hunger_hormone_activated_fatty_foods_not_your_empty_stomach

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-fat

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bies.201400146/full

Dr. Mark Hyman: http://drhyman.com/

Chris Kresser: http://chriskresser.com/

 

Pickles Gone Wild: Wild Fermentation and the Good Bugs

wild picklesI’m excited to share this super simple wild pickles recipe with you! And I’ll say up front that although my recipe calls for green tomatoes, this formula works with cucumbers, peppers, cauliflower, and just about anything else you might be curious to try pickling. The fermentation time will vary based on what you’re pickling and whether or not you cut it up or pickle it whole, but start with this framework and you’ll have yourself some effervescently sour pickled veggies in no time. Eat a few bites at every meal to encourage healthy digestion.

What are Wild Pickles?

wild picklesWhat we’re making here is not the homemade version of what you can find in the grocery store aisles. These pickles are usually sterilized and, for lack of a better word, dead. While the internet is teeming with “refrigerator” pickle recipes that include vinegar as part of the pickling liquid, these are not true pickles in the purest sense of the word. True pickles are done with a wild ferment. They are a live food packed with living bacteria that do the souring instead of all that vinegar. And they’re awesome for your digestion and your wellbeing.

How do the bacteria get into the jar?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Bacteria are in the empty jar in your cabinet right now. And they’re on the cucumbers growing in your garden. and they’re on the dill weed, the jalapeno, in your spice  rack … you get the point. Give the bacteria that live among us the proper environment to turn something good into something great, and they’ll be up for the task. All you need is some salt water, something to pickle, and some spices to make them delicious, and let the wild bacteria do the rest!

What’s the Difference? Why Wild?

On Tuesday in part 1 of my Why Gut Health Matters series, we talked about your gut as your body’s Gate Keeper. We covered quite a bit in that post, but one of the things we touched on was the important role gut bacteria play in the integrity of the gut lining, and therefore our health in general. Ensuring that we have a healthy ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria in the gut is an integral step toward having a healthy gut lining and preventing leaky gut.  

Before we go further though, a little vocabulary speed round is in order.

All of these words refer to the microscopic bugs that live in your intestinal tract, primarily in the colon. I’ll use them interchangeably for the most part:

  • gut bacteria
  • microbiota
  • probiotic (refers to the good ones only)
  • microbiome (refers to the whole ecosystem)

So what else do probiotics do?

  1. Probiotics play a vital role in strengthening our immune system. In fact, anywhere from 65 to 90% of our immune system lives in our gut in the form of epithelial cells (villi), which are fed by … drumroll please … probiotics. These bugs keep us well!
  2. Probiotics protect us from harmful bacteria. They take up space in our bowel that might otherwise be filled with harmful bacteria, which cause disease, create gas and bloating, promote inflammation, make us crave sugar and junk food, and can even negatively affect our mood, resilience, and cognition. They also release substances (including lactic acid) that inhibit the growth of the bad guys, preventing them from taking over and wreaking havoc on our health. 
  3. Probiotics produce bioavailable vitamins from the foods we eat. Without beneficial bacteria in our gut, we would have no access to the B Complex (biotin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folic acid, and B12). We would also be deficient in vitamin K, because the bugs down there actually synthesize it from our food.
  4. Probiotics reduce cortisol, (a stress hormone) and increase GABA (a relaxing chemical), therefore positively affecting mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and reducing stress. Reducing cortisol also improves insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for folks at risk of developing type 2 diabetes or other metabolic disorders.

Let’s get to the Pickles

wild picklesThe instructions included in this recipe are for the green cherry tomatoes I pulled from my garden when the weather was cooling down but the vines were still full. They were very fresh when they were pickled. 

I recognize that green cherry tomatoes might not be the easiest thing to find on a whim, so if you make your pickles using larger tomatoes or cucumbers and you plan to slice them up, make sure they’re SUPER FRESH, and start checking them after 24 hours. One tip I’ve read but haven’t tried is to give your cucumbers an ice water bath before starting the process. Leave them in ice water for an hour or so before getting them into the jars to freshen them up and ensure crisp and crunch in the final product. (Adding grape or blackberry leaves will do that too, but why not do both just to make sure? Who wants a mushy pickle? No one.)

If you plan to keep your cucumbers, green tomatoes, or peppers whole, wait to check them until day 6 or 7. It takes the whole veggies a while longer to pickle all the way through than the slices. I’ve seen some recipes recommend that you leave whole pickles to ferment for up to two weeks; but again — check them. No one wants a mushy pickle.  In the meantime, check out this cool video on how to chop a bunch of cherry tomatoes super quickly!

 

http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/pickles1-e1422486542112-150x142.jpg)">
Wild Pickled Green Tomatoes
This recipe works with all sorts of veggies, so be creative!
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http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/pickles1-e1422486542112-150x142.jpg)">
Ingredients
  1. One 1500 mL (6 cup) jar
  2. 2 lbs green cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
  3. 2 tbs sea salt
  4. 4 cups water
  5. 1 jalapeno (I used 1/2 the seeds, but how spicy is up to you)
  6. 10 sprigs fresh dill
  7. 5 cloves garlic sliced in half
  8. 1 tbs black pepper corns
  9. 1/2 tbs whole coriander seeds
  10. 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  11. 1 tbs mustard seeds
  12. OPTIONAL: grape leaves or blackberry leaves (this ingredient is as source of tannins, which is intended to promote crispness -- more useful when pickling cucumbers)
Instructions
  1. Slice the green tomatoes in half (for full-sized tomatoes, quarter them instead of halving them)
  2. Pack the jar tightly with all the tomatoes leaving at least two inches of space at the top of the jar
  3. Add all other ingredients on top of tomatoes
  4. Dissolve salt in 2 cups warm water in a separate container
  5. Pour salt water over all ingredients into the jar
  6. Fill the jar with the remaining 4 cups of water leaving no less than 1 inch at the top for gas and ensuring that the veggies are completely submerged in the liquid -- this is important. If you need to put something heavy on top to weigh down the veggies waiting to be pickled, do it.
  7. Seal tightly and leave on the counter at room temperature for 3 to 5 days (check at 24 hours for sliced cucumbers)
  8. You want the tomatoes to be firm but pickled all the way through (not mushy). When they are to your liking, refrigerate them and they will keep indefinitely
Notes
  1. BE CAREFUL when you open the jar for the first time. Gas can build up and create some effervescence as the bacteria do their thing.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Gate Keeper

In researching and writing this series, I recognize the challenge I face in cleanly separating the interrelated subtopics I laid out last week. So I’m taking one step back to explain the role of the gut as “Gate Keeper” before jumping into the rest. Giving you this visual aid will help you understand the interconnectivity of everything that happens inside our digestive tract with respect to our health, and it will also impress upon you the importance of keeping the gut lining intact.

Because gut health is the cornerstone of overall wellbeing and vitality, what happens in the gut can beget a cascade of symptoms and ailments throughout the body and mind. All the subtopics I laid out for you last week overlap with each other because the source for all of them is arguably the same: leaky gut and the resulting inflammation. So to start, let me explain what those mean and why they matter.

When What’s Outside Comes Inside

The digestive tract (along with our skin) is our main interface with our environment. It acts as a vital barrier to unwelcome invaders and breaks food down into absorbable nutrients that pass through the gut walls and into the blood stream. It’s essential that what we introduce from the outside world that travels inside the gut does not pass through the gut lining until it’s been properly broken down. This is why I call the gut lining your body’s “Gate Keeper.”

gut permeability leaky gut

free image sourced through Creative Commons

When the Gate Isn’t Locked

The barrier function of the gut is one of the most critical aspects of our health. The gate should remain locked and impenetrable until the food inside has been adequately broken down into parts that the rest of our body recognizes as friendly. When that lock is broken, partially digested food particles can enter the blood stream and set off a cascade of negative physiological reactions; the first of which is inflammation. 

Inflammation is a healthy, normal part of our immune response. When we have a fever, that’s our immune system ramping up the heat to kill off a foreign invader (a cold or flu). When we eat something that wasn’t cooked properly, we expel it rapidly and experience burning pains in the abdomen — that’s our body keeping us safe from a food-born pathogen. When we scrape our ankle, the area around the cut becomes red, inflamed, as the white blood cells come to clean up the mess and bring in the platelets to scab over the opening. This type of inflammation is part of our Adaptive Immune System — it targets specific invaders and wipes them out, and when it’s working properly it keeps us healthy and alive. Indeed, inflammation is meant to protect us, but when it’s chronic — when our immune system is always turned on and we’re constantly fighting, inflammation can cause serious health problems.

How Chronic Inflammation becomes Chronic Disease

The food particles allowed into the blood stream as a result of an inflamed, leaky gut are made up of partially broken down proteins (short amino acid sequences).

What else is made up of short sequences of amino acids? Pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi). These microorganisms actually share some characteristics with partially digested food particles.
So what happens? Our immune system attacks the food — food sensitivities and allergies in the making. Because our immune system creates antibodies that will view this food as a threat going forward, we will now become inflamed when we eat it. 

gut permeability leaky gut

This unicorn is frolicking freely because she just pooped a rainbow with the help of her magical microbes. (free image sourced from imgarcade.com through Creative Commons)

What else is made up of these amino acids? For one, the cells in our own bodies. What about our myelin sheath (the protective coating around the axons of our nerves)? Our joints? Our skin? What if our immune system is so overactive and chronically inflamed that, not only does it start to see the cells of our own bodies as invaders, but the safety levers we have in place to block this auto-immunity are too hot and fatigued to notice? What if our Adaptive Immune System begins to see us as harmful to ourselves?? 

Answer: Autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s, MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis, and  Lupus. Find me a person with an autoimmune disease without digestive issues, and I will find you a live unicorn with a rainbow mane.

Having a leaky gut will most definitely create chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation begets chronic disease.

What Causes a Leaky Gut?

We don’t know the extent to which genetics are involved in creating a greater susceptibility for a leaky gut, but we do know that environmental factors play a huge role, and that the effects are reversible if you catch it and address it early. We also know that children who were born of a C-section and not breast-fed are more vulnerable than those born of vaginal birth and breast-fed (source). The list below represents the most significant reasons your gut can become inflamed:

1. Gut dysbiosis — an overgrowth of bad bacteria and/or fungus in the gut.

There will always be a percentage of “bad” bacteria in the gut, but they are (or should be) kept in check by the probiotic population — the beneficial bacteria that aid in nutrient breakdown and absorption, mood regulation, and immune response. Taking antibiotics kills both the good and the bad bacteria in the gut, and it can take up to 8 weeks to recolonize after a course. It can take just as long to recover from a food-born illness. If you’ve ever experienced a yeast infection after a round of antibiotics it’s because the good bacteria that were keeping the candida at bay were all killed off by your prescription. You can restore your probiotic colony by eating a diet rich in fermented food and low in sugar, choosing organic, and exercising regularly. And of course these are important to do on a regular basis. We’ll dive more deeply into probiotics in the coming weeks. 

gut permeability leaky gut

image source: Gaspirtz through Creative Commons

2. Food Sensitivity or Allergies

Our body begins to see certain foods as pathogens and creates cytokines (antibodies) to protect us from them, setting off an inflammatory response every time they enter the body. This particular one is a bit confusing, because it’s a chicken/egg problem. Did the leaky gut come before the allergy or did the allergy cause the leaky gut? It’s a commonly identified pattern that patients with one food sensitivity will develop others down the line if measures aren’t taken to throw water on the fire. What causes the initial sensitivity could be genetics or an exposure early in life that excited the immune system before it was strong enough to recognize friend from foe. Children who are born of C-section and not breast-fed are more likely to have both food and environmental sensitivities/allergies than those born through the vaginal canal and fed breast milk. We’ll go more in-depth about why that is and how to take steps for better outcomes later in this series.

3. Stress

Were you waiting for this to come up? Stress, whether it’s emotional or physical, causes leaky gut. I’m going to dedicate a whole post to this one, but suffice it to say that the physiological stress response itself weakens our immune system, promotes inflammation, and creates a hostile environment for beneficial bugs in the gut, which brings us back to the first thing on this list.

What does Chronic Inflammation Look Like?

What should we look for to indicate that we might be struggling with a gut problem that has led to chronic inflammation? How can we prevent it from sending us into full-blown auto-immune disease? I had some readers ask questions about bloat and puffiness, distended belly after eating certain foods, foggy-headedness, and general weight gain. I also had a few people ask me about eczema and acne, chronic yeast infections, middle body weight, and IBS. Yes, these are all signs of chronic inflammation and leaky gut.

gut permeability leaky gut

free image from Pixababy through creative commons

But something no one asked about was mood. If you have been diagnosed with a mood disorder like anxiety, depression, bipolar, or OCD, you are experiencing a symptom of leaky gut and chronic inflammation. Find me a person with anxiety and no digestive problems, and I’ll find you a fire-breathing dragon with tiny purple wings at your local pet store. In a future post, I will show you why a leaky gut = a leaky brain, but for now I’ll share that 80% of total serotonin in the body is located in enterochromaffin cells in the gut lining, which means that if we don’t have gut integrity, we are likely short on serotonin. 

What’s Next?

Wondering what you can do about some of these symptoms right now? Check out my kombucha recipe to get started adding fermented foods into your diet, and stay tuned for Friday’s post to learn how to make another probiotic-rich food. I’ll also explain a little bit more about why that matters. In the meantime, I’d love to know what you’d like to learn about next in this series. I’m deciding between stress and mood — the two are obviously intimately linked. Let me know your thoughts and questions below, and I’ll get the final touches on the next installment of Why Gut Health Matters.


Sources for this segment of this series include a 6-credit continuing education seminar presented by Merrily Kuhn, RN, CCRN (r), PhD, ND, PhD and the Institute of Brain Potential (bibliography and references can be viewed here), and information from the following journals and experts:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15911167

http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v13/n10/abs/nrn3346.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3228987/

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016508509003461

http://physiologyonline.physiology.org/content/13/4/189

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/180/2/99.full

Dr. Tom O’Brian: http://thedr.com/ 

Dr. Mark Hyman: http://drhyman.com/

Chris Kresser: http://chriskresser.com/

Dr. Sara Gottfried: http://www.saragottfriedmd.com/

Jordan and Steve from the SCD Lifestyle: http://scdlifestyle.com/

Why Gut Health Matters: A Series on You

As you probably know, gut health is one of my pet topics. I truly believe that it’s the cornerstone for whole-body and whole-mind health, not just because I had a radical change in my skin after healing my gut, but because volumes of research on this topic have shown that gut health is linked to everything from mood to the immune system; from stress to weight gain; from endocrine disruption to vitamin absorption; and the list goes on. Gut health will determine not only how our bodies function inside our skin, but how we interface with the world around us. In no uncertain terms, it has the power to determine the course of our lives.

why gut health matters - heal your gut

photo sourced through Creative Commons (Pixabay – 214522)

A Series on Gut Health

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to dedicate at least one post per week to this series. I’m going to write until I run out of things to say, and in doing so, I’m going to propose some actions steps for you to take if you suspect that your gut health isn’t quite in order. To that end, I don’t know how many I’ll end up writing, but here’s what I have in mind right now, in no particular order.

Why Gut Health Matters: Your Gate Keeper
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Mood
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Weight
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Skin
Why Gut Health Matters: Your Stress

Under each of these posts should be a subheading that reads: How Inflammation in the Gut Affects Your ________. I’ve spent the last week or so taking a virtual class put together by the Institute for Brain Potential for continuing education credit called Understanding the Gut Brain: Stress, Appetite, Digestion, and Mood. This class, along with hours and hours of research of my own will inform the posts to come.

why gut health matters - heal your gut

free image sourced through Creative Commons

We’ll cover good bugs and bad bugs in the gut (aka: microbiota, gut flora, probiotics) and what they might be doing to your health. And we’ll also cover how to get the good bug to bad bug ratio back to ideal. We’ll talk about how the body becomes inflamed from within and how that affects the brain and our autoimmunity, and we’ll also cover how to throw ice on the flames. We’ll talk about just how much control we have over our own appetites and how physical changes inside our bodies can send our weight skyrocketing — and we’ll talk about ways to get that under control too. Overall, this series is going to draw lines connecting gut health (or the absence of it) to a number of ailments I know some of you are living with every day. 

It’s too often that I hear about people my age and younger suffering with debilitating autoimmune disease, painful cystic acne or skin problems, a laundry list of allergies, mild or severe mood disorders, and digestive distress that keeps them from venturing too far from the bathroom.  I’m certainly not saying that older folks should be suffering from these things any more than those my age and younger, but just as Type 2 Diabetes and fatty liver (both conditions historically referred to as “adult-onset” or reserved for an aging population) are creeping into the lives of younger and younger people, so too are these ailments I’ve listed commonly experienced by the elderly or infirm. 

Your Action Required

Either on Facebook or right here in the Comments Section, I’d like to hear from you which topic you’d like me to cover first. I’m sort of working on all of these at once because they’re so interrelated, but if there’s a burning question you have about one of the subtopics I listed above, please let me know that you’d like me to prioritize that one. It’s my goal to give you as much information as I can to motivate you to take action on behalf of your own health — and your own quality of life. 

For a sneak peek and general overview of some of the topics into which I’m going to deeply dive, check out Your Single Most Important Health Advice – Heal Your Gut. At the bottom of that post, you’ll find some simple tips to get you started in the process of healing your gut. Pick one to try next week, and I’ll be sure to give you good reason to stick with it over the course of this series.

Why I’m Not Getting The Flu Shot: Natural Flu Prevention

This could be a controversial post, considering I work at a hospital and they very strongly encourage all the employees to get a flu shot every year. In fact, we have to proactively opt-out of it and agree to wear a mask in patient care areas should we decline the shot. (I’m almost never in patient-care areas as a member of HR and am fine with wearing a mask if I need to.)

I have never received a flu vaccination and if I’ve ever had the flu, it hasn’t been in the last 6 years. In fact, in the last year or so, I’ve managed to avoid getting sick almost entirely, with the exception of two horrific bouts of  food poisoning and one head cold. One of those horrific bouts was this week, so this might be a short post because I just want to drink my bone broth and go back to sleep … 

flu shot

recipe linked! just click through

Disclaimer and Warning:

This is not a generalized anti-vaccine post. I do not in any way support the anti-vaccine movement that’s going on in certain parts of this country (especially one just north of where I live). There is no evidence that routine vaccinations cause autism. I do not consider the flu vaccine to be in the same category of necessity as any of the standard vaccines recommended for the safety of our collective society, including MMR, hepatitis, pertussis, etc. Feel free to disagree with me on that opinion, but I’m just stating right now, for the record I am not an anti-vaccine advocate. 

Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s continue.

Why I don’t want to get the flu shot

The CDC recommends the flu shot for high risk groups, including the very young and very old, those with compromised immune systems, asthmatics, diabetics, and heart disease patients. I do not fall under any of those categories and I take very good care of myself. That being said, the reputable websites I’ve scoured (including Harvard Health and WebMD) in my quest to justify my desire not to get the vaccine still insist that even healthy adults should get the shot, and they claim that it’s a myth that healthy adults don’t need it.

Why? 

  • If you have young children in your home (especially infants too young to be vaccinated), you should get the shot. (not me)
  • If you have elderly folks in your home, you should get the shot. (not me)
  • If you regularly come into contact with either of those two categories of people or very sick people, you should get the shot. (not me)
  • The flu is miserable, and getting the shot will save you the trouble of potentially getting the virus. (…ok)

I agree that ensuring the safety of at-risk folks around you is a great reason to get the vaccine, and I’d get it if I worked directly with patients or interacted with them regularly. But I don’t. I also agree that actually getting the flu is horrible, and it’s a great idea to avoid it if possible.

I just don’t agree that getting the vaccine is the only way (or the most holistic and beneficial way) to avoid it. 

flu shot

imaged sourced from Creative Commons: Rueters 2012

Thimerosal in the Flu Shot

Most flu vaccines use thimerosal as a preservative, which contains mercury, a known and documented neurotoxin that bioaccumulates in our bodies over time and is difficult to clear from our systems. The FDA acknowledges the potential ill-effect of thimerosal in vaccines and has been working with vaccine manufactures to reduce or eliminate its use, but the work is not complete by any stretch. In order to get a flu vaccine free of thimerosal, you have to specifically request it, and there’s a limited supply made each year.

Question: Why not just make them all without it if the technology is there to do it successfully?

Answer: $$.

This bothers me a lot.

A Holistic Health Expert’s Take

Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I love the work of Dr. Mark Hyman. He’s a functional medicine doctor who takes a systems-approach to human health and illness. Functional Medicine doesn’t just focus on the symptoms of illness, it treats the dysfunction in the body that’s allowing these symptoms to occur — a whole-body approach to healing.

“As a Functional Medicine physician, I approach the flu like all imbalances in the body, which is to say I don’t assume the human body is subject to illness when the proper diet and lifestyle precautions are taken.  When a patient is sick, some detective work is necessary to find out what missing pieces are interfering with the efficacy of their immune system.”

Check out this video for Dr. Hyman’s take on the flu shot and make your own decision. 

—-> More details on the safety and efficacy of the flu vaccine from a Functional Medicine perspective <—-

 

7 Ways to Prevent the Flu

Recommendations for preventing flu infection are predictably similar to recommendations for general good health. The bottom line: take good care of your health and your immune system will be ready to fight for you when invaders come your way.

  1. Stay hydrated. Typical recommendations for hydration are to shoot for half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 100 lbs, drink 50 oz of water throughout the day.
  2. Eat the rainbow: Proper diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables every single day. Try to fill at least half your plate with both raw and cooked vegetables in order to ensure you’re getting enough micronutrients and fiber to feed that healthy bacteria in your gut. 
  3. Load up on herb and spices: Herbs and spices are the closest things to wild foods we have in our diets these days, which means they haven’t been stripped of their natural phytonutrients that help us fight off disease. Garlic, onions, ginger, turmeric, cilantro, oregano, and parsley are all great herbs and spices to add to your daily meals. Garlic and onions even have antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties! Check out this post on how to boost your intake of phytonutrients.
  4. Get some sun or take vitamin D: Vitamin D is a major component to a health immune system, so adequate amounts in the system are vital during flu season. Of course, in the winter months it’s hard to get enough sun for most people not living on the equator. I’m not big on making a broad recommendation for supplements, so I won’t say that every single person should supplement with vitamin D in the winter months, but it’s not a bad idea to find out your numbers to know for sure if you need a little boost. 
  5. SLEEP! I can’t express enough how vital sleep is to the health of your immune system. I’ve written two recent posts on the importance of sleep and how to get more of it here and here. Check them out to get your sleep routine under control.
  6. Steer clear of processed sugars and flours: White sugars and flours are pro-inflammatory foods that weaken the immune system by their very nature. They also wreak havoc on your gut (the next item on the list.) This can be problematic considering flu season and holiday season overlap considerably. Just be smart about your treats this time of year and try to balance them out with numbers 2 and 3 above!
  7. Take care of your gut: Sing it with me now! I will beat this dead horse into the ground and keep beating forever. Gut health is number one for your immune system. Heal your gut and the rest will follow. What goes into your mouth determines so much of how we interact with the world around us, including how often we get sick. Drink bone broth, take a probiotic, maybe even make your own kombucha!  

Your Single Most Important Health Advice – Heal Your Gut

Editor’s Note: For a full series dedicated to gut health entitled “Why Gut Health Matters,” click here.


Recently I was asked a tricky question:

“If you had one single piece of health advice to share for living a healthy lifestyle, what would it be?”

This is a tricky question for a number of reasons, the first and most obvious one being that every individual is different and everyone needs their own tailored solution for achieving a healthy lifestyle. Yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean this question can’t be answered.

I see a question like this one as a personal challenge; how far can I zoom out to accurately answer a question like this one and truly address nearly every single health concern that plagues modern man? Is that even possible? I’d venture to say that yes, it’s possible.

The single most important piece of advice for healthy living is to HEAL YOUR GUT.

gut health healthy gut heat adviceHeal your gut and the rest will follow.

That’s the advice. It’s that simple. You might be thinking that we’re right back where we started, that ways to “heal your gut” are as varied as the individual, or that surely there are tons of diseases that have nothing to do with gut health.

You might be mistaken.

If the gut isn’t working properly, nothing is working properly.

Vitality starts in the gut where we assimilate input from the outside world into resources for inside our bodies. Gut health is crucial for the health of every other system in our bodies. It affects our skin, our immune response, our hormones, our weight, or energy level, our bowel movements (obviously), even our MOOD and PERSONALITY. That’s right, there are studies taking place now that attempt to isolate certain bacteria in the gut responsible for depression and anxiety. That level of detail hasn’t been worked out in the lab yet, but rest assured that altering the human biosphere to address any number of mental health problems is in the not-too-distant future. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself.

5 Facts About Gut Health that Might Surprise You

1. The microbiome in the gut comprises more than 60% of our immune function (some say as much as 75%)?

We have more cells of bacteria in our bodies, and especially in our gut, than we do human cells. 10 times more, in fact. Certain bacteria in our gut represent the body’s ability to fight off invaders, and they actually communicate with those neurons I just mentioned above. When the right bacteria are overtaken by the wrong ones, we start to see both acute and chronic malfunction in our bodies, often accompanied by inflammation and pain.

A healthy gut means a healthy immune system.

2. 95% of serotonin is found in the Enteric Nervous System.

It makes sense that medications aimed at addressing depression through SRIs (serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) would disrupt bowel function, considering that so much of it resides in the bowel. Surely it would follow that ensuring the healthy functioning of our second brains would some day enter the scope of practice in mental health care. That day could come very soon indeed!

A healthy gut means a healthy mood.

gut health leaky gut

3. Gut permeability (aka “leaky gut”) is the culprit for a large number of autoimmune diseases and possibly allergies too.

In fact, leaky gut is arguably to blame for the sharp rise of food allergies (gluten, corn, dairy, soy to name the most common).

Debunking PCOS

click my image to learn how I finally cleared my skin!

If your intestinal lining is compromised, you could suffer from something called gut permeability. In layman’s terms, what should stay inside your intestines leaks out into the rest of your body through tiny holes that shouldn’t really be there. The partially digested food that leaks into the gut is seen by the body as a foreign invader, so an immune response occurs– an allergy. 

The causes of gut permeability definitely vary from person to person, but a major factor is inflammation. Inflammation can occur for a number of reasons and is actually implicated in the chronic diseases of the western world – heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. Inflammation in the gut can occur due to over-consumption of inflammatory foods, gut dysbiosis (too much of the wrong kinds of bacteria wreaking havoc in the gut), and too much sugar in the diet (can be a cause of gut dysbiosis). That’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a good start.

A healthy gut means less allergies and inflammation (often resulting in healthy skin).

4. The gut is often called our “second brain” due to the more than 500 million neurons that reside in the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).

In fact, communication between the gut and the brain is a two-way street, with information going from gut to brain far more often than we ever thought was the case in the past. The term “gut feeling” is a lot less metaphorical and a lot more literal than you might think.

A healthy gut means proper communication between the systems of the body.

gut health leaky gut

5. The bacteria in your gut might determine your cravings AND your ability to gain/lose weight.

Scientific studies are being done to test this hypothesis, and very interesting findings are coming about. We’re learning so much about the communication between the bacteria in our gut and our brains, and while major conclusions haven’t yet been drawn as it relates to common medical practice, this field of research could revolutionize the way we address obesity in medicine.

“…the capacity of bacteria to adapt is such that if it is to their advantage to influence their host preferences for food, they will.” (source)

It’s been shown that “bad” bacteria such as candida thrive on sugar and foods that quickly turn to sugar. When there’s an overgrowth of candida, the bacteria actually cause you to crave those foods that they like to eat! Likewise, when you have “good” bacteria at healthy levels in your gut, you’re more likely to crave a diet that they want to eat – one rich in fiber.

Studies have also shown that when certain bacteria are placed into the intestines of mice, and the mice are fed the same exact diet, those implanted with “bad” bacteria gained weight and those implanted with “good” bacteria lost or stayed the same.

A healthy gut means a healthy weight.

Heal Your Gut, Change Your Life

You might be surprised at some of the easy changes you can make to start improving your gut health today. Of the listed suggestions, for me personally eliminating sugar is by far the most challenging to stick with consistently. It might be a different story for you, but considering how much sugar we as a country consume every day, I’m guessing we might have this in common.

If you truly want to see positive results in your health, this is one of the only times I suggest going cold turkey.

If you completely eliminate sugar for at least 2 weeks, it will have a synergistic effect with the rest of the suggestions on this list. If you do all the things below but remain on a high-sugar diet, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Sugar is a highly inflammatory food. After your two weeks of cold turkey, test the waters with fresh berries or a small amount of dark chocolate, but pull back for another week or so of you see negative side-effects.

5 Ways to Heal Your Gut:

  1. Eliminate sugar from your diet for two weeks to a month (depending on the severity of your problem) and then slowly reincorporate natural sugars only and very sparingly.
  2. Take a probiotic and eat foods rich in live cultures (kim chee, kefir, sauer kraut, yogurt, kombucha).
  3. Heal the gut lining and reduce/eliminate permeability by drinking bone broth and/or supplementing with l-glutamine.
  4. Eat foods that support the propagation a healthy gut biome – fiber-rich foods that represent every color of the rainbow.
  5. Explore the possibility of food sensitivities through an elimination diet (start with the ones I listed above). By identifying trigger foods, you can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Once your gut is healed, you can attempt to reintroduce the trigger foods watching closely to see if any old symptoms return.

Want to buy pre-made bone broth to jump-start your way to a healthy gut? Check out my very favorite product! 

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