Gut Health 101

Your Roadmap to a Flourishing Digestive System

Welcome to another episode of the Empower Nutrition Podcast! I’m so excited to delve into today’s topic with you: gut health 101. 

It’s not just about avoiding bloating or discomfort – a healthy gut is essential for overall well-being. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast, please take a moment to leave us a positive review. It really helps us spread the word to those seeking nutritional solutions for chronic challenges related to digestion, metabolism, and hormones.

Today, we’re going to explore why gut health is so crucial. While most people understand the connection between gut health and digestion, there’s a lot more to it. The gut is often referred to as the “second brain” due to its wide-ranging influence on various bodily systems. It produces neurotransmitters and plays a vital role in mental health, immune function, hormonal balance, and even metabolic health.

Mental health is closely tied to gut health, and there’s well-documented evidence supporting this connection. Additionally, the gut’s impact on the immune system is significant, contributing to autoimmune conditions, allergies, asthma, and skin reactivity like eczema and psoriasis. Hormone imbalances also stem from gut health, particularly the estrobolome which affects estrogen levels. Unhealthy gut health can lead to hormone-related symptoms such as PMS, fertility issues, and mood swings.

Furthermore, gut health is intricately linked to metabolic health. Many individuals in the modern world suffer from metabolic endotoxemia, where inflammatory elements from the gut enter the bloodstream due to a compromised gut lining. This leads to systemic inflammation affecting insulin sensitivity and hormone signaling, contributing to obesity and metabolic syndrome.

The implications of poor gut health don’t stop there. It’s closely tied to the two main causes of death in Western societies: cardiovascular disease and cancer. Inflammation triggered by gut health issues plays a significant role in the development of arterial plaque and cancer. Even dementia is connected to gut health through the release of inflammatory compounds into the bloodstream, increasing the risk of cognitive decline.

Considering these dire consequences, it’s clear that prioritizing gut health is vital. While genetics, nutrition, and lifestyle also contribute to health challenges, the gut is a primary driver behind many chronic conditions. Here are some actionable steps you can take to improve your gut health:

  1. Fermented Foods: Incorporate fermented foods like live yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha into your diet. These foods not only provide live bacteria but also essential postbiotic compounds that support a healthy gut.
  2. Fiber Intake: Consume a sufficient amount of fiber through non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits. Fiber feeds your gut bacteria and supports a balanced microbiome.
  3. Prebiotics: Include prebiotic-rich foods such as asparagus, artichokes, berries, and nuts. These special fibers selectively nourish beneficial gut bacteria.
  4. Protein Intake: Ensure you’re getting an adequate amount of protein, as it supports the turnover of gut lining cells and maintains a healthy gut barrier.
  5. Fat-Soluble Vitamins: Incorporate nutrient-dense foods like liver, fatty fish, eggs, and nuts to provide essential fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) that are crucial for immune and gut health.
  6. Omega-3 Fats: Consume omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish or supplements. Omega-3s support immune health, cell integrity, and the production of short-chain fatty acids by healthy gut bacteria.

While working on these positive changes, it’s also important to minimize factors that harm gut health. Antibiotics, certain medications, alcohol, refined flour, sugar, and excessive use of NSAIDs can negatively impact gut health.

Remember, gut health is a multifaceted endeavor, and addressing it requires a holistic approach. By incorporating fermented foods, prioritizing fiber, consuming nutrient-dense foods, and making informed choices about medications and lifestyle, you can significantly improve your gut health and overall well-being.

Thank you for joining us on the Empower Nutrition Podcast. If you have questions or challenges related to your gut health, metabolism, hormones, or more, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact us at podcast@empowernutrition.health. If you’re looking for expert support, our practice at Empower Nutrition is here to help you achieve your health goals. Visit our website, empowernutrition.health, to learn more. Have a fantastic day and take care!

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Hey, so happy to have you here on the Empower Nutrition Podcast. My name is Erin Skinner, your host, and really thrilled to jump into this episode with you about gut health, what you can actually do on a daily basis to make your gut nice and healthy. And if you’re a listener of the podcast, you hopefully know why that’s important. But we’ll go into a little bit of an overview of why it’s important in a second. But real quickly, before I do, I have to make sure to ask you to please, if you are enjoying the podcast, leave us a positive review. Wherever you listen, take two seconds and it would help us out a ton just to get the word out more to people who want help with root cause, help with their chronic challenges around digestion, metabolism, and hormones, especially from a nutritional perspective.
So with that, let’s go ahead and jump into it. So why does gut health matter? Again, I think people generally are in tune to this concept of gut health being important these days, but I still see where people typically seem to think that it’s important, primarily just for digestion. So not having a lot of bloating, not having diarrhea or constipation, not having a lot of abdominal pain, but there’s so much more to gut health. The gut has really been called by many as the body’s second brain because it has a lot of function and signaling to systems all over the body, even by ways of, it makes neurotransmitters that that act across the body the way that your brain does. So even differently than your brain, your brain doesn’t send neurotransmitters around the body. So maybe it’s even even next level brain, but point being the gut plays a role in almost every aspect of your health.
So certainly mental health, there’s a huge connection between the gut and the brain and that’s well documented. And then if you listen to the last episode, we talked a lot about how the gut impacts immune health. So autoimmune diseases and atopic conditions like allergies and asthma and skin reactivity like eczema and psoriasis all have as primary root cause drivers problems with gut health hormone imbalances. There’s something called the estrobolome, which basically refers to the part of the gut microbiome that modulates your estrogen levels. And when you have an unhealthy gut, you have unhealthy estrogen clearance and metabolism. And it can be either too fast or too slow. But then you have downstream effects involving potentially P M S P M D D symptoms before your period. You can have a more rocky perimenopause, you can have infertility, you can have symptoms post-menopausal with hormone imbalance obviously, and, and of course it can impact your mood as well.
And then another big category of how gut health connects to general health is your metabolic health. So we know that most people in the western world have some level of something called metabolic endotoxemia. And what that basically means is that they’re having too much inflammatory elements from inside the gut pass through into the bloodstream because of the dis health of the gut lining. And that causes this systemic low grade inflammation throughout the body that then in turn impacts your insulin sensitivity, your hormone signaling around your appetite. So like leptin specifically, which disregulates your appetite and your cravings and your hunger, which causes obesity and metabolic syndrome. And again, this is not crazy weird like crystals and tarot cards, there’s like tons of studies and PubMed on this. So it’s hard to really think of a chronic condition that gut health isn’t related to. When you have that systemic inflammation that is caused by problems with gut health, you then in turn have the main co causes of death in the western world are inflammatory related.
So specifically I’m talking about cardiovascular disease that is a combination of not just lipid particles in your blood, but in the context of inflammation and nutritional factors. So when you have that metabolic endotoxemia, that low grade systemic inflammation for years, that precipitates arterial plaque from cholesterol. So it’s like Cho cholesterol doesn’t dance alone, you guys, it needs inflammation to tango and make that plaque. So you have increased cardiovascular risk. And then again, we know that cancer is, has root causes in inflammation and also in blood sugar dysregulation in many cases as well. And so, and then again, of course cancer is a leading cause of death. So, oh, and then finally what I’ll touch on is dementia. I talked a little bit about mental health and how the gut impacts mental health. So anxiety and depression directly, but it’s also tied to dementia. But this time by way of that dis health of the gut microbiome that leads to this crossover into the bloodstream of these lipopolysaccharides or these inflammatory gut pieces, gut bacterial pieces that cause the systemic inflammation.
And that then in turn increases dementia risk. So if you think about the top causes of death, the top most expensive conditions and the top most like problematic health challenges that people have, it always comes back to gut health. It’s gut health isn’t usually the only driver. There’s usually an element of genetics, there’s usually an element of nutritional factors in terms of like nutrient insufficiencies or excess of something. There’s usually a little bit of like lifestyle element to it. So it’s not that gut literally is gonna be the only driver in these things, but it’s a, it’s a primary driver. And so hopefully that kind of inspires you, that man, yeah, I should really make my gut health a priority. And so I’m just gonna today kind of go through the top things that we do in practice to help people with their gut health.
And it’s not that you can’t get more fancy with this. So I mean I’m so fortunate in our practice we get to see people literally who no longer have I B s who no longer have anxiety, who no longer have infertility, and it’s all through working on their gut. But a lot of times we are bringing in more of an additional layer of professional work on top of what I’m gonna talk about today. So I’m talking about like customized supplement protocols and specifically specialized gut testing that helps to drive those protocols and maybe some more targeted supplements around the categories I’m gonna describe today. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything about your gut health. You can do a lot. In fact, a lot of the stuff that I’m gonna talk about today are the things that we literally do with our everyday clients that have goals that relate to gut health.
So I’m just gonna kind of hit through them quick ’cause this is meant to be a short episode. So we’re to go in short casual episodes so I won’t spend too much time, but in the end I’m gonna tell you how you can send more questions, which would be great. First category, fermented food. So long story short, there’s a top one of the world top microbiome labs is in at Stanford University in California. And basically they did this study where the leading researchers said, okay, we’re gonna research how much fiber improves the microbiome. And so they plan to do this whole study and then they had this postdoc in their lab that said, you know what, would you let me add an additional arm to this study where instead of testing fiber, I wanna test fermented foods and see if that improves the microbiome. And according to the leader of the lab, basically they didn’t think that it would do anything, but they allowed probably just for the sake of, Hey, you need to publish something or you need to do some research, go ahead and run your fermented foods arm.
So they did. And then they were astounded by the results because it turned out that the arm of the study, the group that ate more fermented foods had dramatically improved microbiome results than the group that ate more fiber. So that’s just, maybe sit with that for a second. That’s pretty awesome. And so, and and I think what’s kind of fascinating about that is if you look at traditional cultures and traditional food cult practices almost everywhere in the world, any, most of the traditional diets have some type of fermented food that they eat routinely. And I strongly believe that that’s not a coincidence. That is the wisdom of time. Like they didn’t use to have microbiome D N A sequencing, they didn’t use to have randomized controlled trials and N I H study grants, but they had lived in experience for many, many centuries of human eating and they figured out that these fermented foods were important for health.
They didn’t know why, but they knew it mattered. And so like that just kind of underscores how, how powerful fermented foods are in my opinion. But basically what I’m talking about are foods that have a live culture in them. So it could be a dairy culture, so like a live yogurt or a kefi for example. Or it can be a LA what are called a lacto fermented or fermented vegetable. So like a live sauerkraut, a live kimchi, you can make fermented pickles, fermented cucumbers, you can make almost anything fermented that’s a vegetable or even a fruit, just do it with you know, guidance. But fermented plants basically are another category of this. And then if you take this out into the supplement realm, you’re talking more about probiotics are are a high dose like bacterial supplement obviously. But what’s cool about fermented foods is that they don’t only have the prebiotic itself, the live bacteria, they have what’s called the postbiotics.
So a lot of the benefit of these bacteria is not the bacteria itself, it’s the product that it makes that’s still sitting in that yogurt or that’s still sitting in that, oh, you know, category I didn’t mentioned is kombucha, so fermented beverage. But basically getting that post biotic is, is a big part of what makes a fermented food healthy basically because that post biotic is really what, what benefit you’re getting from a healthy gut bacteria that’s in your microbiome. It helps to feed the gut lining basically. And it helps to regulate the acidity in a more favorable way in the gut as well. So in this study they ate about six servings a day of fermented foods. And I don’t know if I’ve ever had a client achieve that. A serving is not a lot though think of them kind of like condiments. You could put a couple tablespoons of sauerkraut next to your dinner, you could have a couple ounces of kombucha, you could have a little spoonful of yogurt on top of something and that all counts.
So fermented foods are huge for gut health. Next thing is fiber. We do know, even though the fiber group and that one study didn’t do as well as the fermented group, we still know that fiber is essential for gut health. And again, looping in traditional cultures, there are many traditional tribes of like ancestral humans that their natural diet contains over a hundred grams of fiber. So, and they have their microbiome is awesome. That’s more probably what the human microbiome is, is designed for or meant to have. Unfortunately in the modern world we get much less so the the R D A or the recommended amount of fiber for men is 38 grams and for women it’s 25 grams. And this is, if you think of fibers and nutrient, it’s actually the most common nutrient deficiency really there. The on average, the Amer, the on average Americans get about half of their needs.
So for women, 12 to 13 grams out of the 25 that they need. And for men around the same, they’re getting around like less than 20 when they need 38 grams a day. So we severely under consume fiber. And why this matters for gut health is that fiber feeds the gut bacteria. So it’s like if you got a pet and you brought it home and then you never fed it, it probably wouldn’t do very well. So fiber is really feeding our microbiome and we’re, we’re severely coming in low on this. If you’re not sure what your fiber intake looks like, I suggest that you use some type of app, like a chronometer for example, is a free app where you can plug your food in for a day and see how much fiber you’re eating. I wish I had a dollar for every client that thought they were doing great on fiber that was not, so it’s not as easy as you think.
So I definitely recommend checking in on how much you’re getting, focus on those foods that have, so like basically fiber sources are gonna be non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains if you tolerate ’em, even a gluten-free whole grain. And then berries, fruits, other fruit depending on the fruit, some of ’em have more fiber than others, but basically nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits. And then one thing I didn’t mention is avocado. Avocado is technically a fruit. So I guess I did mention it, but it de it is people don’t think of it as a fruit, but avocado is quite high in fiber as well. If you can’t achieve your fiber needs with food, you’ll need to start looking for a supplement. So a lot of times people who are really under consuming in fiber, some people who have digestive symptoms, ironically enough, you’re in this catch 22 where you have bad gut health.
So you have digestive problems. So you can’t tolerate high fiber foods so you don’t eat enough fiber. So you get worse gut problems. The way you kind of get around that is what I call stealth fiber. So you can supplement with these fibers that don’t tend to cause symptoms as much. So I’m talking about things like partially hydrogen gugu or sun fiber, things like acacia fiber, sometimes cilium husk, but cilium husk is a little bit more in between. So those types of fiber supplements can help to round out, round out your intake. The next category we talked about fermented foods, we talked about fiber. Within the world of carbohydrate you also have what are called prebiotics. Prebiotics you can think of as like a special team of fibers that really have evidence to document and show that they really preferentially feed healthy gut bacteria and strongly favor the microbiome health.
So bring talking back to that study we talked about where the fiber group, it wasn’t like super amazing in terms of their outcomes in the short term if you used prebiotics, there’s actually a lot of studies on that. They do see immediate change in the short term, whereas fiber is more of like a lifelong thing that needs to really build a healthy gut and sustain it. Prebiotics are gonna come in more like a targeted boost to your microbiome. So those are things like inulin and then goss, zoss and phos or the acronyms for it. But those are all short chain carbohydrates that are like fast food for healthy gut bacteria and make them grow and and increase in abundance, which which is what you want. There are some foods that were, that are more high in these. So for example, almonds, asparagus, artichoke apples, berries are very high in prebiotics, but those are just high fiber foods.
If you eat a lot of fiber, you’ll eat a lot of prebiotic. You don’t generally have to make a special thing about it. And aside from these short chain carbohydrates, the actual chemicals that give color to plants have prebiotic properties as well. So the color in a berry for example, the color in cranberry feeds an important keystone bacteria species called akkermansia. So just getting more plants is really the key to feeding these healthy gut bacteria. And then of course there is the world of supplement prebiotics and we will use those in cases where the healthy gut bacteria are very low or someone can’t tolerate fiber in their diet, but start definitely by at least meeting your fiber needs and trying to get a lot of plants. All right, now those are the more obvious things. And then I’m gonna quickly hit on some things that are, I would say just as critical in my clinical experience, but less obvious.
So one of them is protein intake. So many people have low protein intake and when when it’s low they’ll usually have pretty severe gut problems. And my experience, and it’s usually a breakdown of the gut lining. And the reason for that is the gut lining is this high turnover tissue where basically these cells that line the gut get replaced about every three days. And so if you’re low on bricks, you’re not gonna be able to build a lot of houses if you build brick houses. So you, if you don’t have the protein to have that healthy robust cell turnover that lines the gut, it’s not gonna be healthy. And so that’s, that’s huge. And so with,
You know, it depends on the clinical situation, but I would say check in on your protein intake. Again, use a free tool like chronometer, see what you’re getting if you’re unaware for women, definitely get at least 70 grams a day. That’s like an absolute floor minimum. Probably not the ideal level, but a lot of women don’t even get 70. And for men definitely try to get at least 90. Again, that’s a very bottom floor. But again, it’s not uncommon for me to see people come in at 20 or 30 grams a day. So hey that in that situation it’s a win just to get to that 70 for women or 90 for men. Next category, again, not super obvious but fat-soluble vitamins. So vitamins A, D, E, and K are usually low in most people and that’s because they come from nutrient dense foods that people are scared of.
So vitamin A comes from liver, it comes from red meat. Vitamin D comes from fatty fish, eggs, whole milk and vitamin E comes from nuts and seeds. Some people are less scared of that, but they still don’t need enough of ’em. And then vitamin K, there’s two types of vitamin K, but vitamin K two is an important part of it, again comes from animal proteins that people are scared of typically unless you eat a lot of nato. So people are low on vitamin fat-soluble vitamins. Unfortunately fat soluble vitamins are critical for immune function. And so what you have happen is that the immune system, 70% of the immune system, those 70% of those cells are actually in the gut lining. And so if your immune system isn’t, is undernourished, guess what your gut lining is undernourished, specifically the immune system in the gut lining and that immune system and the gut lining impairs the integrity of the gut wall, the gut lining and causes it to be less robust and more permeable.
And that ties into all those, those pro, those conditions we talked about at the beginning related to gut health. So making sure you’re getting those fat soluble vitamins is critical. You can take an adek supplement for sure, but also if you’re, if you’re not eating those nutrient dense foods, that’s an important place to start as well. And then finally, omega three fats. 95% of Americans are low on their omega three levels. We do a home finger stick of omega threes in clinic. And I’m a believer like that statistic doesn’t come from me, it comes from the research. But in clinical experience, I mean I’ve seen it play out. It’s very rare for me to have a patient come back with normal omega three levels. So it’s like, man, I wish I could like bet 20 bucks each time that they’re gonna be low and I would be so rich.
I’m just kidding. But basically omega three fats are critical for immune health and critical for just the health and integrity of cells in general. And so keeping in mind that you have not only high turnover of those cells that line the gut, but that they have to literally, they have these cross linkages between them that is the gut barrier where like the cells they’re playing like Red rover, red rover send gluten right over and they’re all holding each other and things are not supposed to be able to get through very easily. But when they’re not healthy, those connections are weak or non-existent or the cells might even be dead. So omega three fats cause that robust healthy cell and the connections between them. And we also see numbers of healthy cells like bacteria oddities increase with omega three supplementation. We see an increase of short chain fatty acids, which is again that healthy byproduct, that post biotic from healthy gut bacteria.
We see that increase with omega three fat supplementation as well. So that was a kind of quick, quick down and dirty summary of a lot of things. But think about the fermented foods, how are you doing? Think about the fiber and within that, the prebiotics, how’s that going? Think about your protein intake. Think about those nutrient dense, fat soluble vitamins and omega three fats. Guess what? Omega three fats, you are really only getting your levels to a healthy goal of 8% on your omega three index from fatty fish or from supplementing with fish oil. There’s no flax or like chia seeds that’s gonna do that. So the last two are definitely animal proteins involved. So this is definitely not a suggestion that anybody should be on a vegan diet. It really takes two to tango. You’ve gotta have a lot of plants, but you’ve gotta have those animal proteins, those eggs, those fatty fish, the meat as well to really maintain a healthy gut.
And then on the down kind of opposite side of the coin, things that can harm gut health that aren’t always avoidable but that are important to try to minimize when you can are antibiotics. Sometimes you have to take ’em, but if you can avoid ’em, that’s really important. Other meds that can harm your gut include metformin and nsaid. So like Tylenol for example. So if you’re taking a lot of NSAIDs, watch out, refined flour and sugar are associated with worse gut health. We don’t know that it directly harms the gut. It’s more probably that that’s displacing those, those plants and animal proteins that could have helped the gut. So if you’re eating a lot of those foods, kind of keep in mind are you crowding out the good stuff.

And then finally, alcohol. Alcohol’s an antiseptic. So that kind of says it all, but alcohol is associated with worse gut health you think would go without saying, but it, it’s true. And so kind of keep that in mind if you, if you’re drinking alcohol very often, there’s definitely for some people they can just step it back. But if you can’t step it back, there’s, well, you can, but there’s definitely different levels of support like that. If you are struggling, check out something called this Naked mind, it’s a great way of kind of learning more about alcohol and the effects of it so that you can make a more well-informed decision. So that’s one suggestion I have for y’all. All right, well hopefully that was an interesting little overview of how to optimize your gut health and why it even matters. And we love answering, answering your all questions. So if you have any more questions for the podcast, please feel free to email them into us. At the email is podcast at Empowered Nutrition Health and we’d also love to help if you have a challenge related to your digestion, your metabolism, or your hormones. We take insurance at our practice here in North Carolina and we love to help you to get healthy using your your healthcare benefits. If you can, you can learn more about us@empowernutrition.health. I hope you enjoyed it and have a great rest of your day. Take care.

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