“Depression is often an inflammation-driven condition, not a neurochemical deficiency disease.”
“The most powerful path to our brain-and peace of mind-is through our gut.”
-Kelly Brogan, Holistic Psychiatrist
I kind of have an obsession with gut health, digestion, and let’s face it, Kelly Brogan. If you’re reading this Dr. Brogan and need a Holistic Psych Nurse assistant, oh and how cute we have the same name, I’m your girl. Now I wait, manifest, eat some sauerkraut, drink some bone broth, and wait some more.
Okay okay, I’m guilty, I have posted this blog before. But I have a pretty new website and didn’t transfer over all of my super so if you are an avid fan then rest assured there is some new content mixed in. I didn’t transfer all of my old blogs over to my new website so fortunately you get to re-live my sarcastic humour with a side of nutrition knowledge. And if you’re sipping on a bulletproof and feeling extra sharp you might even understand half of what I am trying to say. This week’s blog: Gut Health.
I figure, the more I preach, the more I educate, and the more I banter about the importance of loving your guts, maybe you guys actually will? (And maybe the doctors will start prescribing probiotics and hospitals will serve kimchi), a girl can dream right? I figure to get my point across I will just continue to voice my frustration, despite a somewhat controversial topic, and follow my gut (see what I did there?)
But actually though, I literally just gave a patient lactobacillus acidophilus for the first time in hospital the other day and was ecstatic! I mean, they were also taking an antibiotic as well, so ordering a probiotic should have been mandatory and the common sense thing to do, but I was happy to see that it is finally being prescribed along with antibiotics. In my 5 years of nursing, I have given a fair share amount of antibiotics, and this week I was privileged to dole out my first ever probiotic, ordered by the hospitalist himself. Can you believe it? Finally a step in the right direction. They didn't build Rome in one day now, did they?
Fortunately, you can actually start taking steps towards building up your gut flora in a day. Just keep listening to my ramblings, follow the recommendations at the end of this post, and you'll be well on your way to achieving optimal gut health and even flawless skin if you’re brave enough to drink bone broth.
Let’s start at the beginning. Why are our "guts" so important? And why is all of this information coming to surface just recently? Where was all this "support your gut" health information in nursing school?! Or any nutritional information in that regard. I digress. Back to the importance of establishing and maintaining optimal gut health. Well basically, your gut is made up of a billions and billions of bacteria, both good and bad, that reside all along your gastrointestinal tract. Likely, your gut flora is "imbalanced", meaning way too many bad bacteria (let's call them Oscar the Grouch) and less good bacteria (the Fonzy's). Fonzy was not a part of my time or anything but on the show Friends, Fonzy was clearly portrayed to be an overly happy, obsessively smiling, joyful human, and someone who clearly irritated Phoebe while she was getting ready to birth triplets. So yeah, we want less Oscar the Grouch's snacking on cookies (how fitting) and we want more Fonzy's in our guts.
If that made any sense to you, congratulations, you get me. So in order to establish a healthy balance of these two fictional characters, we need to add probiotics into our diet to begin repopulating our likely washed out gut flora (studies show a single course of antibiotics can wipe all of the bacteria in your gut and take up to 5 years to replenish), feed the good guys with prebiotics, and stop feeding the bad guys with sugar, aka cookies. Have you guys heard of the new fad where everyone is eating more keto and decreasing carbs and sugars from their diets? Yeah, that’s because for people suffering from inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, mood issues, and digestion issues/poor gut health, the keto diet actually works and begins to heal the body. In summary, fad diet=RAD diet.
Probiotics need to eat prebiotics in order to stay alive and thrive, and keep your gut healthy and happy. So what foods contain prebiotics? Well, mainly foods high in fibre (such as flax seed and wheat if tolerated), and more specifically, foods high in inulin. Inulin is a soluble dietary fibre that is non-digestible. It passes through the small intestine and begins the fermentation process in the large intestine, where it turns into that Fonzy character mentioned above (good bacteria). Foods high in inulin contain onions, garlic, asparagus, and leeks-all great soup ingredients if you ask me! Dandelion root and chicory root are also great sources of prebiotics if you are a nutrivore like me and drink dandelion tea for fun.
As noted earlier, it is very important to limit the number of sugars you are eating. By consuming sugar, you are feeding the bad bacteria, causing these microbes to proliferate. This may contribute to indigestion, bloating, and cravings as well as increase the risk for chronic illnesses connected to the immune system such as allergies and autoimmune conditions. Um, that doesn't sound too great to me! Now I do realise completely changing your eating habits to snacking on veggies and hummus instead of whatever Costco's cute little Italian food tester lady sold you is not going to happen overnight. Of course I realise this, if I didn't, I wouldn't need to do what I do now, do I? But this blog posts exists in efforts to provide education and create awareness of your current food choices and empower you to change your habits, leading to healthier and thus happier lives. Bold right? That's how confident I am.
Okay so we've talked about establishing good gut flora, and I didn't even have to mention feces transplants, so you're welcome. The next thing important for maintaining a healthy gut is ensuring the gut is sealed. Closed, glued, nothin's getting through, etc. Your digestive system is essentially a long pipe beginning at your mouth, stretching downwards and winding around in the tummy, and out through the shoot into the toilet. I may be a nurse and a nutritionist but there are still some words I feel uncomfortable saying, yes anus is one of them.
I remember in holistic nutrition school, my instructor described your digestion system as essentially a system "outside" of your body, because other than a few nutrients and vitamins here and there, nothing should actually go inside of your body. Which is not the case these days, as many people are experiencing symptoms of systemic inflammation and food intolerances. This is where the term "leaky gut" comes from.
Let me tell you a quick story here. I recently developed an allergy to eggs. Now, if you’ve read my bio, you’ll know that I grew up with an extremely unhealthy diet (sugar, cheese, and refined carbs only). McDonalds and Twix bars for this kid only. I have spent years working on healing my own gut issues. But after a completing a body building competition in 2014 (yes I fell prey to the glittery bikinis, “dream body” and orange tans and the sacrifices that went with it) I most definitely developed an allergy to eggs. More specifically eggs whites, because I had about 15 per day. It took me a while to figure out the cause, but after seeing a Naturopath and getting testing done, we concluded I was allergic to eggs, both the whites and the yolks. Once I removed eggs from my diet, I know longer felt like absolute hell. My headaches disappeared, my energy levels came back, and I wasn’t having any digestive difficulties. GREAT NEWS. Oh, except I can no longer eat eggs again. That was years ago. I have experimented on and off, but within 12-24 hours I felt extreme fatigue and the headaches returned. I would always pin point it back to that omelette at De Dutch or baked goods containing eggs. But, after a recent trip to Europe and South Africa, I was able to tolerate eggs again! Between taking collagen and glutamine regularly, drinking bone broth daily, and flooding my body with superfood capsules complete with probiotics and digestive enzymes, I really think I finally healed my gut. You could say my digestion is eggcelent.
Basically, if your gut is perforated, undigested food particles, and bad bacteria can actually slip through the cracks, set off the immune system, create hormonal disturbances and blood sugar imbalances, and ultimately wreak havoc throughout the body. Which was what happened to me, and it only took me a few years to figure out what was happening and begin to reverse the damage. This is why I am so passionate about gut health, because everyone could benefit from a little holistic love in their guts, even if they don’t have any digestive issues. Seems like a good enough reason why they should be replacing sugar packets with collagen packets (hello vital proteins) in the hospital and even Starbucks, but who am I to suggest such a thing?
In other words, we have this pipe, and anything that goes into your mouth, good or bad, will interact with the rest of your body. It's that simple. If you have a leaky gut, these interactions will be far more intimate. Enough that some undigested particles get through the walls of the intestinal lining, interact with your bloodstream, setting off aforementioned immune response. Ladies and gents, systemic inflammation is born!
Why there is zero nutritional education given in the hospital (I am saying that verryy lightly) is truly mind boggling. People experiencing symptoms directly related to nutritional inadequacies are often treated with medications (nothing wrong with that especially during an acute phase) but what about education? There isn't much information provided (and the information provided is shit anyways and yes let's keep feeding diabetics with sugar, okay here's an oatmeal cookie made out of margarine and an Ensure loaded with refined sugar to ensure you get your nutrients). Rant over. But that is seriously how we treat diabetics, cue eye roll. I must sound like an idiot because the recent documentary "What the Health" actually states that sugar is in NO WAY related to diabetes, so just throw me a donut and shut me up.
But seriously, imagine if our patients received vitamin infusions and nutrient dense foods that don’t irritate the gut? I must look weird sitting here in Starbucks smiling and fantasizing about my own little holistic hospital! If you suffer from any mood related issues, digestive difficulties, autoimmune disorders, fatigue, poor energy, or obesity (+ many more) here are just a few supplements and food products you can start taking to support your gut, like today.
Take a Probiotic. The more strains the better, ensure it has Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Ultimate Flora, Align, and Natural Factors are great brands to start out with. I usually switch brands everytime I finish a bottle.
Consume Probiotics Foods. Saurkraut, kimchi, kombucha, gut shots, kefir, yogurt. There are many to choose from and they are everywhere. Thank you to mainstream media and millennials there is no shortage of kombucha companies starting up. Head into your local health food store and stock up!
Have some Collagen. Collagen is also becoming popular, (Hallelujah) and should be easy to find in your community. Vital Proteins, Organika, and Sproos are my favourite companies. Collagen helps repair the intestinal lining and heals gut inflammation. You can add collagen to your morning coffee or tea, or add into a smoothie! Costco actually carries a Costco size supply of Organika so no excuses! Collagen has truly been a gamechanger for me.
Drink Bone Broth. Seriously it's like the Universe is trying to make it easy for us to heal our guts. Companies are popping up everywhere to make this easy for you, so you don't have to boil bones in your kitchen for 48 hours, (although I prefer to). Bone broth is rich in collagen and the amino acids glutamine, glycine, and proline, all which help seal the gut and reduce intestinal inflammation. If you don't like the taste of bone broth, try steaming your veggies in it or adding it to stirfrys to enhance flavour. Vegan options are also available (but not as beneficial).
Supplement with L-Glutamine. As mentioned above, glutamine is an amino acid important for growth and repair of your intestinal lining. Supplementing with L-glutamine powder is recommended for healing the gut and also can help repair ulcers. A normal dose is 5-10 g but I have gone much higher (up to 40 g) during a gut healing protocol.
Take Digestive Enzymes. These guys help digest your proteins, fats, and carbs so there is less irritation along the intestinal tract, and your body can continue healing. You don't need to supplement with enzymes forever, but they are important during the gut healing process.
I would also recommend getting Vitamin Infusions! These have been the ultimate gamechanger. Okay oops, I said that about Collagen but they all play such an important role, it’s hard to choose! By infusing vitamins right into the bloodstream, you are guaranteed to absorb the nutrients 100%, which will make a huge impact in your health if you suffer from any gut issues, meaning you ideally aren’t absorbing your nutrients adequately. Check out your local Naturopath today and check if they offer vitamin infusions. I often go with a friend to kick back, drip, and catch up with each other over coffee.
So that is that! If you made it this far and actually learned a thing or two, horray. I don't have any special discount code for probiotics at Nature's Fare or some of that yummy kraut I mentioned, but hopefully you will be motivated enough by the fact that just a few of these changes can make a major impact on your mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. If that doesn't motivate you, then disregard all above content and have a lovely, lovely day.
You can also contact me for a full nutritional assessment, complete with nutrition and supplement recommendations, and a sample meal plan to get your started on the path to optimal health. I’ll ask you questions, create an individualized plan, tell you to take supplements, and then stalk you every week to make sure you follow through! It’s a great experience.
Cheers *holds up a beet flavoured gut shot*