Gut Health – What It Is & How To Improve it
Join an exercise and cardiac physiologist, Erin Harris & myself as we chat about all things gut health. Learn what gut health is and more about its role in inflammation as well as crucial steps you need to take in order to improve your gut health and boost your immune system.
- Natural Skincare (1:08)
- How I Came To Focus On Gut Health (1:45)
- )Meet Erin & Her Struggle With Infertility (3:00
- Using Gut Health To Lose Weight (8:10)
- What Can Hinder Our Gut Health (14:20)
- Gut Healing Bone Broth (17:31)
- Reducing Toxins In Skincare (18:52)
- Daily Practices to Improve Gut Health (21:09)
- What Kind Of Probiotics are Best (23:35)
- How To Use Fermented Foods (26:05)
- What Foods You Should Eliminate To Heal Your Gut (30:47)
- Aloe Juice For Gut Health (31:32)
- Summing Up Gut Health (35:03)
- Mentioned In The Podcast
- Connect With Erin
Welcome to the Fitasamamabear podcast. I’m Shelby certified strength coach, nutrition coach mama to two and all-around health. This show is about a little bit of everything healthy, fit and natural related.
So, if you’re starving to smash goals, eat better, feel better, and enjoy the occasional mom rant. This is the place for you.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few years, I’m sure you’ve heard the term gut health. But like everything else in the health world, the term gut health can mean so many things.
We know our gut is involved in our immune system, but ho? With so many random references, it’s no wonder that most of us are confused about the best way to improve our health and wellness naturally.
But I want to fix that.
Today, I want you to take control of your health. To learn what’s possible when you delve into gut health and nutrient-dense system repair. I want you to know that you can heal, improve, and excel when it comes to your health.
You’re listening to episode 23 today where I’m bringing on Erin Harris. A mom of two-year-old twins and an exercise in cardiac physiologist. Aaron has a huge passion for health and helping others flourish in their lives and is a big believer that food is medicine.
So, let’s do it
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Welcome to today’s episode everyone.
So, thank you so much for letting you pop into your ear today and I won’t disappoint. I’m excited about today’s episode because it’s about a little bit of a passion of mine, which is gut health. And if you are new to the podcast, hit that subscribe button so that you don’t miss the next episode.
I started learning more and more about how we can heal when I started researching the link between cancer and nutrition.
It sounds morbid, but it was also fascinating to me. One of my favorite books is actually “How Not to Die”.
In the course of that research more and more came off about the gut. How it’s its own entity, how it has its own command center and how so much of disease comes from an unhealthy gut.
However, each person’s gut health is individualized. Like anything else.
The biggest thing to remember is that there is a lot of trial and error in healing one’s gut and making it all work.
So, while I adore that health, reading about it, chatting about it, and working on my own health system, I am absolutely terrible when it comes to explaining anything related to science or delving into scientific explanations of analysis. Which is why I brought Erin on the show!
Erin has a background in exercise and cardiac physiology and is a mama of two. She’s struggled immensely through earlier years of hormone control and was advised to begin multiple medications.
However, Erin took a different route and that’s what I want to chat about today. Welcome to the podcast Erin, I’m excited to have you here.
Thank you so much, Shelby. I’m so excited to be here. This is like my favorite thing to talk about and I think just so fitting for what’s going on in the world today.
As you said, I have struggled with hormonal imbalances my whole life and really unknowingly. I didn’t realize that anything was wrong until I tried to get pregnant.
My whole life I had been and struggle with weight and hair loss and acne. I saw multiple doctors who just kept telling me to get my thyroid checked. Or they’d say, “you just have acne because you’re going through puberty”. It was kind of left like a topic that was not going to be discussed.
But all of the tests always came back normal. So, then the advice would switch that I needed to exercise more and eat better.
And my mum would sit there and say, “look, if this girl exercises anymore or eats any better, she’s going to end up going crazy”.
It was so frustrating. And I went to get pregnant, we struggled. I ended up running into a friend who was pregnant and she kind told me her story and I was like, “I feel like you’re telling me about my life”.
She convinced me to see a fertility specialist.
I walked into the door of this fertility specialist and he looked at me and he said, you have PCOS. I had no idea what that was. In order to properly diagnose you need to have three of the physical symptoms which I did:
- Loss of head hair
- Excessive male growth patterns
- Hair on your face and body
- Acne and/or cystic acne
- Difficulty losing weight the traditional way
I definitely had all of those which allowed me to have a blood test to validate that sex hormones at baseline are irregular, which I did.
And then you need to have an internal ultrasound to show cystic ovaries.
A cystic ovary is not what you think. It’s not physical cysts that could rupture and cause a lot of pain. And When you have a period and you ovulate that is a mature follicle coming into your uterus. With PCOS that doesn’t happen every month.
Sometimes it happens on a more regular basis than others, but basically you have excess follicles in your ovaries. They appear cystic on an ultrasound.
I found that out and all of a sudden, my whole life made sense, which was such a relief really. Because I think if you live with something like that, you are constantly in the state of mind that you’re not doing something right and you’re not good enough.
You’re not fulfilling what society tells you is correct or acceptable. To have that diagnosis was such a big relief because now I knew it wasn’t really my fault. My body was working against me and I didn’t have all the information that I needed in order to put the pieces together.
Fortunately, I was successful in conceiving. I ended up having twins, one girl, and one boy. On the downside of that whole process, as many people do, I gained a bunch of weight during my pregnancy and afterward.
Which is completely normal.
Afterward, I questioned what I was going to do? How was I going to cope and handle it? Because I know that the only way, I’ve ever been able to be successful in losing weight is to be super drastic.
Previously I opted for massive calorie restriction and massive calorie exertion, which is not healthy. It’s not nutrient-rich for your body.
If you do it for long enough and drastic enough, of course, you will lose weight. But that’s not maintainable. Nor is it healthy.
So, of course, following my pregnancy and successfully bringing into the world two little babies, the doctors told me to go on multiple medications to help control the PCOS. Since my background is in the medical world and I’ve studied the body and the systems for a very long time, I really was not happy with that.
I feel like there’s a massive gap in medicine at the moment. Doctors typically are taught how to diagnose and then how to treat symptoms. But there are very few people out there who take the extra step and try to look at what is actually causing the issues.
For me, it all comes back to your gut because that is the main entry point into your body. It’s the entry point for all of our nutrients and all of our systems function off of the nutrients that we give it.
So, I stripped everything back and really focused on re-educating myself because of course, I had the knowledge, but I just hadn’t put everything together yet. I did a ton of research and made some very small alterations t*o my nutrition for a short period.
The Trial & Error (10:21)
And then I reintroduced those allergenic acidic food groups. What I found in the process of doing that was that I lose 12 pounds in 10 days. To date have lost close to 75 pounds.
And don’t feel like it was hard.
In the past like I was working out three hours a day. I was eating super restrictive and basically living off of lettuce and cucumber and a tiny bit of protein. That was hard.
This for me was not hard. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. I felt amazing, which is the massive piece that was missing before because you can do all those things and lose weight, but you’re not nourishing your body. And so you end up feeling horrible.
You’re fatigued and you have no energy. You sleep horribly, your skin is just dull, and everything is an effort.
I was just blown away with how good I felt and I thought, “Oh my gosh, people are walking around in this world having no idea how good they can feel because what they feel at the moment, it’s actually not great, but that’s their normal”.
Because they’ve never gone through this process, they just have no idea how good they can feel.
Now I just live my life around nourishing my body. When I focus on that, the rest of the stuff, like more energy and better sleep and losing a little bit of weight sometimes and having better skin falls into place.
I had not as a similar experience, but when I was struggling to get pregnant, I went and saw a holistic nutritionist. The first thing she made me do was to strip out dairy from my diet.
I told her I wanted to face puncher. But it made a ginormous difference. And it was one of those things that I didn’t realize all the things that dairy was causing until I took it out.
Of course, I’ve tried to re-introduce is. I love cheese, who doesn’t like cheese?
But you put it back in and then you feel terrible and you’re like, “Oh that’s what that feeling was that I just hung out with for how long”?
Which is why I don’t think that there’s a perfect system for everyone. But I do think a lot of the benefits you mentioned:
- clear skin
- no abdominal pains
- higher energy levels
All fall into place with trial and error.
While we can rant about gut health all day long, it is a lot of trial and error. You do have to work for it. It doesn’t have to be overly intense. You don’t need to restrict everything. But, playing Guinea pig helps.
Now, you mentioned a ton of benefits as to why we should focus on gut health. But what are some of the things that can hinder our gut health? What is going to suppress it and make it not function as optimally as it should?
At the end of the day, it’s all about your systemic toxicity levels.
And we get toxins in our life every single day from all sorts of things.
- The things that we breathe in,
- The things that we eat and drink
- The things we put on our skin.
Those three passageways: your skin, your lungs, and your stomach are the ways that nutrients and toxins get into our system.
What happens when we increase the number of toxins that are coming in, our bodies do not really know how to process them. It goes into survival mode.
What happens is it will uptake it into ourselves, encapsulate it, and kind of push it to the side. That creates a series of inflammation in our body, which can present in so many different ways.
The crux of it is that the lining of our gastrointestinal gut is not nourished and is not being well looked after because all of these little toxins are getting in the way of the nutrients.
Leaky Gut (15:50)
You end up having a condition and a condition called leaky gut.
Basically, you’ve got all these little microvilli in your tummy that help pushes through the food and break it down and absorb it. They look like little fingers under a microscope. They’re normally very tight together.
What happens when these cells get pushed apart? Then everything can get in without as much of a filter.
Things like headaches, migraines and poor skin are noticed.
There’s a lot of research coming out now with the relationship between mental health and your gut. I think a lot of science previously suggested that stress and anxiety cause irritable bowel syndrome or gastrointestinal issues. Where now a lot of researchers are looking at the flip side.
People who have poor gut health are more predisposed to having depression and anxiety and other mental health issues.
Once the cells start to part more toxins get into our system because it’s an easier entry point for them. Then, we increase our inflammation and inflammation just contributes to every single ailment that you could ever think of. Inflammation is something that many of us live with unfortunately every single day.
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I’m really glad you touched on the three avenues in which we can take in toxins. I know obviously people think about food as much as anything else, but I think that we overlook that what we’re putting on our skin makes a very big difference too.
One of the reasons that I’m a crazy DIY’er is because I looked at the ingredients in my traditional skincare and it was insane. As women, we’re using makeup and hairspray and lotions and scrubs and 20,000 things every single day.
I think we’ve just gotten away from the impact that that daily buildup has on our system. It’s one of those things that we want to ignore because we don’t want to acknowledge it.
it’s one of those tricky things because you purchase something, and you assume that it’s safe because it’s allowed to be sold.
It’s unfortunate for us in North America because there are actually only 14 ingredients that are banned from all personal care products. Compare that to Europe where there are 14,000 ingredients that are not allowed in products.
In North America, you have to prove that something is directly linked to cancer for it to not be allowed inside of our product. And even then, when there’s so much proof, like talc, for instance, it is still not banned for companies to put that in their products.
Looking at makeup and fragrance too. They don’t legally have to disclose what’s in those because they’re unique to each company and “secret”.
That scares the crap out of me now. It’s one of those things I never used to think twice about, but now I think of how much we put on our skin every single day and they don’t even legally have to tell us what’s in them
We mentioned a couple of symptoms of unhealthy guts:
- Mood swings
- Poor energy levels
And just not functioning optimally. All of that begins with gut health.
Can you give us some daily practices that we can kind of put into place to help our guts thrive?
There is definitely there is a huge list of things that you could implement. To keep it simple, the best thing you can do is eat whole foods.
Stay away from the processed stuff. Addictive items like:
- Processed sugars
- Vegan cheese
- Ice cream
- Quick, convenient foods
Those are the things that are going to be doing the most damage.
Looking at other things that are addicted, like coffee. Having a cup of coffee, a day is not a bad thing. But if you use it as a crutch to get through your day, that is not a good thing.
Implementing some really good sources of probiotics is another great step.
Probiotics are the things that are really going to help restore your gut flora, give you all that good gut bacteria.
They make it so that the nutritious food that you’re consuming, your body can then properly break it down to a level that it can be absorbed. So many people say, “you are what you eat”, but actually you are what you can absorb.
And if you can’t break it down and you can’t absorb it, all that good stuff is going in and then just coming out. And then it’s not assisting your system and assisting your natural detoxification process to grab onto those toxins and pull them out.
Talk to me about probiotics for a second.
Do you have a brand that you like or what we should be looking for when we’re purchasing probiotics?
Also, I’ve heard that we should cycle our probiotics. Meaning takes them for two weeks, give your body time to hang out, maybe ease off them, bring them back in. Tell us more.
It really depends on what type of probiotic you prefer.
I have one that is freeze-dried, so it’s a dry shelf item. It is activated when it comes into contact with liquid.
For me, this works because I’m always on the go and with the kids. If I’m out doing things, I can easily have a couple in my bag to pop into water or a smoothie.
There are so many different sources of probiotics that you can get I don’t want to say that one is better than the other as it’s really is going to be dependent on your system. But I think as a broad standard, you need to be having a pre and probiotic.
The prebiotic is going to act as the food for the probiotic to really flourish. If you’re having a probiotic on its own, the sort of standard is that that probiotic will usually last for between 20 and 24 hours. I recommend having a probiotic every single day so that you can maintain that level of good bacteria with every meal that you have.
If you’re not having the prebiotic with the probiotics, the probiotic dies off faster than it should. I am an ambassador Arbonne so that’s the one that I love to have because I think it’s super effective.
I use um, Arbonne digestive clots because it’s a three in one. So, you also get digestive enzymes in it, which helps to break down sort of those more complex food items that you might be eating.
You can also make your own through fermented foods. You can buy Kefir. You can use the refrigerated probiotics, or you can have the freeze-dried ones. All of them I think are pretty effective, but the level of effectiveness is going to really depend on your specific system. It’s best to sort of talk to either someone like myself or a naturopath about your current situation and what your diet normally entails to be able to decide what’s going to be the best one for you.
I am a fermented food addict. I have kimchi or sauerkraut every day. I’m also a homebrewer for kombucha, that weirdo.
Do you think that people who are very continuous with their fermented foods still need probiotics or are they kind of doing the same thing? Canceling each other out?
It definitely doesn’t cancel each other out. Fermented food is great and if you are incorporating that into your diet every day, that’s super beneficial for you.
Unfortunately, it’s not going to do all of the work because if you’re just having sauerkraut or you’re using the same products every day, you’re not getting that diversity of bacteria. So, you will end up lacking in some of those good bacteria, which could be the missing factor or the issues that you’re experiencing.
No one thing can work in solitude. There’s multifaceted. Having a well-rounded probiotic is really important, but if you are incorporating fermented foods into your diet, that’s only going to enhance the effectiveness of probiotics.
What about Kefir? Can you talk to me about that? I don’t tolerate dairy very well. I had to eliminate dairy a couple of years ago.
And while kefir is a probiotic, it’s still dairy. But would I be able to tolerate it because it’s fermented?
A lot of people are dairy intolerance and they don’t realize it. I personally think that everyone should go through a period where they eliminate it, reintroduce it and see how their body responds.
I think kefir is a great product and is a good source of probiotics, but I don’t think it should be the first avenue you go down.
Since so many people are dairy intolerant and don’t even know it there are better avenues. The reality is that the dairy that we receive and purchase in the store today is not in its purest form.
The reality of the world is that the population is growing. We need to make sure there’s enough food for everyone. So things get added either to the food that the cows eat or how the milk is made. To let that expand a little bit. And so, unfortunately, we end up with all of these products in the dairy that our systems don’t know how to process or how to eliminate.
And that’s where the intolerances lie. So, by eliminating dairy completely and then reintroducing it after a period of time, you’ll understand how your system responds to that. If you have a system that is okay with dairy, then definitely go for some kefir.
It’s a fantastic source of probiotics. It is fermented, and it does have a grain source in that as well. So, it’s great for you, but you have to decipher whether or not your system can cope with the dairy source.
And I know with many people I work with, they come in wondering why they’re doing everything right (like drinking kefir) but nothing is working for them.
In theory, doing all the right things, but they’re working against their system or their systems working against them and they’re missing a few pieces of the puzzle.
I think it’s probably best to start with a non-dairy source of probiotics and go through the process of eliminating:
Those are my three big ones that I get people to eliminate. And then from there you have such a better understanding about how your body is going to respond to it when you reintroduce that.
The message that I try to communicate to people with kefir is that it’s not bad. But until we understand how your body responds to dairy it’s not the best first choice.
Which brings me to aloe juice. This one comes up quite a bit in my cancer nutrition research. I use it more in DIY products than I do from an ingesting perspective. But tell me what you know about aloe juice and intaking it or adding it to smoothies
I think aloe juice is fantastic. The thing I don’t like about aloe juice is it gets marketed a lot to appeal to the consumer. Everyone needs to start becoming label readers more so than ever. And unfortunately, a lot of the best foods out there are actually full of sugar.
It’ll taste great and you think you’ll love it. But in fact, you’re just bloating your system on sugar. And it’s just a very small amount of aloe that’s actually in there.
It’s the same with coconut water! My girls love coconut water. It’s yummy and delicious and really hydrating, but so many brands add sugar.
You need to read the label.
There are some really good brands out there but typically if you’re just going to the supermarket or your standard health food shop, a lot of them are full of sugar.
I’m a fan of aloe in its pure form. It is fantastic for your gut. It’s really soothing, and it really helps to move that sledge that just sits there, which unfortunately we all have. Anywhere between five and 20 pounds of sludge at any given time within our gastrointestinal tract.
Aloe is a really nice way to cleanse your GI tract and move along some of that stuff. It also helps neutralize some acidic gases, so it’s really good for bloating. That along with ginger and lemon, the combination of those three is really great not to rebuild but to soothe.
It’s like if you were to put aloe on a sunburn. Your guts when they’re bloated and inflamed, it’s like a sunburn on your skin and the aloe juice is really soothing to allow those cells to restore themselves without having to die off and then be rebuilt.
Which one would you recommend? Does it matter?
I would go with the whole leaf. The extract tells me it’s got some good stuff in it but then they’re adding a ton of other stuff to it. If you can go with a whole leaf, then that’s just going to minimize the number of additives that get added to it.
To sum up in case you are kind of freaking out about all of this gut health fun, your gut is responsible for absolutely everything in your body.
Inflammation is the precursor to a lot of disease risk, but symptoms are very different for everyone. Headaches, acne, bloating, abdominal pain or just feeling really sluggish and not being able to counter it no matter how many coffees you drink.
There are a lot of things that you can do to improve your gut, but the biggest and simplest one is to eat whole nourishing food and to scale back on sugars and processed food.
From there, everything you do is just added bonus. Probiotics, prebiotics, anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric, garlic and aloe, those types of things are all going to benefit your system.
At the end of the day you still have to reduce crap food in order to see a difference. I am always going to recommend a trial and error system of eliminating the three major allergens that you mentioned: gluten, dairy, and soy. And then reintroducing them one by one.
And honestly just taking note of how your body feels. That’s how I’ve learned the most about my body in the last 10 years and why I go for a more intuitive eating style.
Erin, anything else to add to that?
I just would really encourage people to go down the avenue and do this trial and error method because it is amazing the domino effect that you will see in your life. Then you can start to intuitively eat as you said, Shelby, you’re then picking what you’re going to eat and adjust based on how you feel.
And how that either inhibits or makes your system flourish rather than following a fad diet that tells me you have to have a certain amount of this or that or you can’t have that and that doesn’t take the intent into your body into account. At the end of the day, it’s not going to be maintainable.
Well, thank you bunches for coming onto the podcast today and for all the listeners, I truly hope that you now have a better idea of the power of a healthy gut.
Before we sign off here, Erin why don’t you tell us where everyone can find you in case they want to get in touch?
You can find me on Instagram. I would love to chat with anyone about depth whether it’s just a discussion or you have any questions, please reach out.
It just makes me so happy when people are concerned about their health
Instagram is actually where we met. I kept commenting on all of her gut health posts because I’m also a weirdo. So definitely check her out.
Check back soon to catch the next episode of the fittest mama bear podcast. And if you took one lesson from today’s podcast, I hope is that you’re inspired to make changes, even one slow one to take your health and your life into your own control.
Chat Soon Everyone,
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