s5 e6: Gut Health 101

how to have healthy digestion

Gut Health 101

We covered how to have good digestion and support detox in the last two episodes, so the natural next step is to dig deeper into understanding our gut health and how we can begin optimizing it. Digesting our food well is crucial for a healthy gut, so make sure you listen to that one too! I’ll be referencing it a bit throughout to tie it all together. 

As always, this podcast episode is not medical advice. Please talk with your provider before making any changes to your nutrition, lifestyle, or supplements.

This episode covers:

  • Key functions of gut bacteria
  • What impacts our gut microbiome
  • The role of our immune system
  • What happens when things get out of balance
  • How you can start supporting your gut health today

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Amanda Montalvo [00:00:01]:

Welcome to the are you menstrual Podcast, where we dive deep into all things women’s health to support you on your healing journey. I’m Amanda Montalvo functional and integrative dietitian, also known as the hormone healing Rd. If you enjoyed this podcast and you want to keep learning, check out the podcast Patreon, where I share a bonus episode with additional downloadable resources each week. You can go to Patreon.com forward slash Hormone Healing Rd or check out the link in the show. Notes. All right, so we are continuing our foundation series, and last week we talked about how to support Detox Naturally, the episode. Before that, we talked about how to have good digestion. Two very important things leading up to this episode where I really just want to dig into gut health and understanding our gut health.

Amanda Montalvo [00:00:51]:

I think there’s a lot of trends, just like anything else. We talked about Detox trends in the last episode. There’s a lot of gut health trends. I’m constantly getting questions about should I do a parasite cleanse? Like people wanting to support their gut with certain supplements, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But a lot of times I feel like we just don’t have the full context when it comes to what does it mean to support our gut health, like, what even makes up our gut health, what can throw it out of balance and then how can we kind of support it in our day to day? And digestion is a huge part of that. I’m going to reference that episode a few times, along with a lot of the episodes that we’ve done so far. Because you know me in this podcast, I really like to build on episodes so that instead of saying the same thing every time, I can get deeper into different topics. So we’re going to dig into that today.

Amanda Montalvo [00:01:41]:

The bonus episode for this week in Patreon is all about using nutrition and certain specific food strategies to support your gut health. And a lot of it kind of depends on your health history and stuff. So if you want access to that episode, make sure you join me@patreon.com, Hormonehealingrd, and you can get the bonus episode. As always, this episode is not medical advice. It’s just me sharing some generalized advice, things I’ve seen in practice and theories around gut health and how to optimize it. Just make sure you talk to your provider before you make any changes to nutrition, lifestyle supplements, anything like that, because you never know what really applies to you based on your health history. All that stuff is going to impact it. So what I’m going to get into is I’m going to talk about our gut bacteria.

Amanda Montalvo [00:02:30]:

What do they do in our bodies? Because again, I want you to really understand the basics. I’m going to get into our immune system and the role of our immune system, since a lot of that is in our gut. And then I’m going to talk about what happens when things can get out of balance and what can cause that, and then how you can start supporting your gut health today. And I think hopefully it makes you feel less overwhelmed that a lot of the things I’m going to talk about with how to support your gut health are things we’ve already covered in previous episodes. And that’s what I mean when I say we’re going to support the foundations. We’re going to support all different aspects, nutrition, lifestyle, stress, circadian rhythm, all those things that impacts all areas of our health. So it’ll have a big impact on your gut health too. So let’s get into what our gut bacteria actually do.

Amanda Montalvo [00:03:18]:

So the bacteria in our gut microbiome play a crucial role in maintaining our overall health and our hormone health. We’re going to talk about the estrobolum, which is bacteria that impact our estrogen metabolism. But in general, the gut microbiome, it’s really complex, it’s diverse, it has many different microorganisms, and that all resides in our GI tract. And while it has different types of bacteria, viruses and fungi, it’s mostly bacteria that are making up the majority of our gut microbiome. And that’s why you’re going to hear me constantly say, like gut bacteria, obviously there’s other things in there, but primarily we’re focused on the bacteria. So some of the different functions that you may not have known our gut bacteria do, a big one is digestion and fermentation. So gut bacteria actually help break down complex carbs fibers and other indigestible compounds that our digestive enzymes can’t process. So I talked about how digestion happens in the gut in a couple episodes ago, two episodes ago, and how to have good digestion and bacteria is a big part of that, like having a good balance of good bacteria.

Amanda Montalvo [00:04:29]:

And through fermentation, our bacteria will convert these fibers into short chain fatty acids and other beneficial metabolites that are good for our overall health, immune system metabolism. And these are then absorbed by our body and help with energy production. If we don’t have certain beneficial bacteria, we won’t make as many short chain fatty acids and it can contribute to metabolic issues. So digestion is a big part of what gut bacteria do. They’re also important for nutrient absorption. So certain bacteria can help absorb essential nutrients like certain B vitamins and minerals like magnesium. So that’s something to consider, especially if someone’s having a hard time improving their magnesium status. Of course, stress, because we use up magnesium in a stress response.

Amanda Montalvo [00:05:14]:

But I would also consider, like, how’s your gut health is that an area that you’ve explored yet? Because that can definitely impact our magnesium status. Bacteria are really important for our immune system. They play a huge role in training our immune system and modulating it. So it helps educate our immune cells and regulate their responses, which helps to balance our immune system function. So if we don’t have enough beneficial bacteria, it can actually weaken our immune system. They also help protect against pathogens. They can actually, well, good bacteria can compete with harmful bacteria and other microorganisms and prevent them from colonizing in the gut, which is huge for reducing our risk of infections. And that’s another one where if you think about the bacteria in our gut, we want enough beneficial bacteria and not too many non beneficial bacteria, not necessarily pathogenic, but they’re just non beneficial.

Amanda Montalvo [00:06:08]:

We don’t want them to overgrow because that helps create a good environment in the gut. When we have a reduction in these good bacteria, totally changes the environment and changes what is allowed to grow. So, very important for preventing against infections. Gut bacteria is also important for our gut barrier integrity. So our microbiome is hugely involved in maintaining our intestinal barrier and our intestinal barrier. If you’ve ever heard of leaky gut, a very popular term, that intestinal barrier is what helps prevent the entry of any harmful substances getting from the gut into the bloodstream and vice versa. So it’s really important, and I think a lot of people focus on having parasites and pathogens and inflammation and all those things, of course, can contribute to leaky gut. A lot of it starts with our digestion and not having enough good bacteria.

Amanda Montalvo [00:07:03]:

It’s also gut bacteria important for metabolism and weight regulation. Certain gut bacteria have been linked to metabolic health and body weight regulation. If you do a stool test, typically your provider is going to go through which ones can contribute. And it’s not even always like the amount, but it’s often like the ratio of bacteria that can give you some signs that, hey, things are out of balance in here, and that can contribute to things like obesity and metabolic issues. So bacteria is very important for metabolic health as well. We have our gut brain access where our gut and brain are connected through this. And our gut microbiome can influence our brain function and our behavior through communication pathways. It can affect our mood, our cognition, our stress response and ability to handle stress.

Amanda Montalvo [00:07:51]:

And then if we have inflammation in the gut, this can also lead to inflammation in the brain, which is known as neuroinflammation. I covered this in more detail in the next episode that comes out, episode seven, where I interview Brendan Beermeyer, and he is huge on neuroinflammation. He kind of goes through and breaks down how gut health in different aspects of inflammation, other areas of the body can also impact the inflammation in our brain, which is a huge root cause for mental health conditions. So gut brain access very important, and gut bacteria will have a big influence on that. Our gut bacteria can even produce bioactive compounds like neurotransmitters and other signaling molecules, and these can influence physiological processes, mood, again, mental health issues, stuff like that. So they’re also important for that gut motility. So our gut bacteria can influence the movement of our GI tract. I talked about this in the digestion episode where I went into how we need to have good motility and movement of our intestines at peristalsis in order to move the food through.

Amanda Montalvo [00:08:58]:

If we have poor motility, poor movement of our digestive tract, that will slow down how quickly we’re passing food through our system. And then that can lead to more overgrowth of non beneficial bacteria, which can lead to a lot of different symptoms and kind of everything we’re going through. It can also lead to a quickening of how food passes through the system, which isn’t great either, because that can lead to loose stools, poor absorption, digestion, things like that. So gut bacteria are also important for the movement of food through the gut and then fermentation of the nondigestible fibers. So those short chain fatty acids which are really important for maintaining that gut health. So gut bacteria are very important. It’s not necessarily just the balance of good and bad bacteria. It’s also going to impact digestion, how quickly we’re breaking down and moving the food through potentially our mental health and different communication with the brain, our immune system, nutrient absorption, our leaky gut, possibly, and protecting how healthy that intestinal barrier is and our metabolism.

Amanda Montalvo [00:10:05]:

So gut bacteria are so important when we think of the estrobolum, which is specific bacterial genes in our gut and they can metabolize estrogen. And I don’t think people realize how important gut health is for estrogen metabolism. Yes, we eliminate excess estrogen through our stool, right? So I think a lot of people know, like if I’m constipated, if I’m not having a bowel movement, then that will definitely lead to me recycling estrogen and can increase estrogen levels. But our gut bacteria can also activate estrogen. So some bacteria have enzymes that can convert inactive estrogen metabolites into active estrogen metabolites and this can increase the availability and activity of estrogen in the body. And then we have certain bacterial enzymes that can deactivate estrogen and can help metabolize active estrogen into inactive and that can reduce estrogen’s overall activity in the body. So it’s important for regulating our hormone levels and the composition and how this estrobom is functioning. It’s going to vary based on the person, based on their diet history, like their nutrition.

Amanda Montalvo [00:11:17]:

Genetics are a big influence on this stress, of course, and lifestyle. And it’s something that we’re getting more and more research on, especially for estrogen related types of cancer. It’s a big area of research and are there types of bacteria or things that we can do to improve our bacteria balance in the gut that can positively impact estrogen related cancers and things like that. So it is really important, not even just for digestive capacity and being able to remove that excess estrogen or estrogen in general, but also for certain enzymes that can either make activate estrogen or deactivate it, because we don’t want to have too much activation. We don’t want to have too much deactivation. It can have negative impacts either way. So having balance there is crucial for women’s health for sure. And then when it comes to like, okay, so we have these gut bacteria.

Amanda Montalvo [00:12:10]:

They’re really important. They do a lot of different things in the body. We even have gut bacteria that can impact our estrogen levels. What can negatively impact our gut bacteria? How could we possibly look at our own health history and have some insight if maybe you’re struggling with certain symptoms, maybe you have constipation moose stools, maybe you have some bloating, maybe you feel like you have a lot of nutrient deficiencies, like you’re not absorbing things well, autoimmune, anything like that. And you’re kind of wondering, what can I be ticking off and looking at to see if this could possibly have impacted my gut microbiome. That’s what we’re going to go through next. So nutrition is a huge part of this. The types of foods that we eat can have a really significant impact on the composition of our gut microbiome because that’s what’s feeding them, right.

Amanda Montalvo [00:12:59]:

So eating plenty of fiber rich foods and different types of plant foods tends to promote a more diverse and beneficial gut microbiome. In diversity is important. This is a big but, and I feel like this is said all the time, like you want to have enough plant foods for gut health. But I’m, like, a lot of people that have poor gut health can’t digest those plant foods well, and they probably already have imbalances in their gut because of poor digestion that then further reduce their digestive capacity. And so eating more and more fiber rich foods actually isn’t helpful for their gut bacteria because they’re not breaking them down well. So if you’ve ever felt like you need to eat more and more fiber in order to improve your gut health, but you don’t have good side effects from that, this is your permission to discuss this with your provider and say, like, hey, do you think that maybe I don’t have the best digestion? And that that could be part of why I don’t tolerate a lot of these foods? Like maybe I need some digestive support or something like along those lines. I think that’s really important to get a handle on because yes, certain fibrous foods can be beneficial, but really only if you can break them down well. And if you’re getting constipation or loose stools or bloating, things like that from fibrous foods and you’re like, I just feel like these aren’t a good fit for me.

Amanda Montalvo [00:14:23]:

They probably aren’t. And making sure you’re cooking your food enough, properly, preparing things like beans, like letting them soak or using a pressure cooker can be really helpful. But sometimes we have to reduce foods in the short term while we work on improving digestion. And then that will strengthen our digestion and make it so that we can eat those foods in the long term. But that can be a hard one for people to kind of grasp because they’re like, well, I feel like I’m supposed to be eating these foods because of XYZ, but if you’re not breaking them down, well, it really can contribute to a lot of those symptoms. So nutrition is huge. That’ll definitely impact your gut bacteria. Just like if we’re eating a lot of fibrous foods, if we’re eating a lot of processed foods, excessive poofas, excessive processed sugar, that can also lead to imbalances in our gut bacteria, which basically can favor the growth of the growth of less beneficial bacteria and more non beneficial bacteria.

Amanda Montalvo [00:15:15]:

And remember, that will change the environment in the gut. And that’s what can allow like pathogens and pathogenic bacteria to thrive. So nutrition is huge. A history of antibiotic use, because antibiotics, obviously they’re going to kill the harmful bacteria, but they can also affect our good bacteria. And if we’re overusing them, or maybe we’re prescribed them and it wasn’t appropriate, then that can definitely disrupt the balance of our gut bacteria, which can potentially lead to temporary or long term alteration in our gut bacteria in that little microbiome community that we’ve got going on in our GI tract. And this is something I see in clients a lot, like long histories of antibiotics. And they just have a really hard time with digestion, lots of inflammation, leaky gut, poor immune system function, and a lot of it’s just because they have a hard time replenishing their good bacteria from the history of antibiotics, but also because they’re not breaking down their food well. So usually there’s some pathogens and stuff present as well.

Amanda Montalvo [00:16:15]:

So antibiotics are going to have a big impact on it. I’m not always against antibiotics. I think some people can take that to an extreme. I’ve seen them for certain family members of mine, be very helpful and very essential. But it’s when we’re constantly taking antibiotic, we need to stop ourselves and say, what’s going on here? Why is my immune system not functioning optimally? Is there anything I can do to prevent overuse of antibiotics in the future? And then probiotics and prebiotics probiotics are the beneficial bacteria, the actual live bacteria, and that could be consumed through foods like fermented foods or through supplements. And then we’ve got prebiotics, which can also change our gut bacteria. And that’s the nondigestible fibers that are food for the good bacteria. And again, I’m all about prebiotic rich foods.

Amanda Montalvo [00:17:03]:

We use them a lot with clients, but we always make sure that their digestion is being supported if they’re increasing these foods. And if they don’t tolerate them, we don’t push it because they’re not going to help you if you’re not breaking them down. Well, but I do like to use a mix of prebiotic rich foods and probiotics with clients. When it comes to probiotic rich foods like fermented foods, I would say you do need to be careful. Not everyone tolerates fermented foods because they could have, especially if they have like, a history of histamine issues, which we’ll talk about in a little bit. And so I’m not like, oh, everyone should eat fermented foods. Some people actually don’t do well with them. So I focus more on supporting digestion and prebiotics than most people.

Amanda Montalvo [00:17:44]:

Age can also impact our gut bacteria balance, especially if you think about when babies are born, they tend to have different bacteria than when they’re adults, and it’s going to evolve as we age. So at different stages of development, our bacteria is going to change. And then, of course, when I think of aging, I think of how a lot of people struggle with sluggish thyroid as they age. And what does that do? That decreases how much stomach acid you’re making. And then as soon as we disrupt that ability to digest our food and that capacity for digestion, that will alter our gut bacteria as well. So I don’t think that we have to have a negative balance of good and bad bacteria as we age, just like I don’t think we have to have a sluggish thyroid as we age. I just think it’s very common. Our birth method can also affect our gut bacterial balance and our gut microbiome.

Amanda Montalvo [00:18:39]:

So if we are, say, for example, in childbirth, we are born vaginally, those babies tend to have a gut microbiome that’s similar to their mothers and their mother’s vaginal and gut bacteria, which is really important. Right? We want that transfer of bacteria from mom to baby, where babies born via C section have a gut microbiome that’s more resembling the hospital environment. And this is one where controversy sets in. A lot of people get really upset, especially if they had a C section themselves. I think a lot of that is related to mom guilt. I absolutely know mom guilt. I feel like a regular mom on a regular basis. I think it’s natural to feel very defensive about this.

Amanda Montalvo [00:19:28]:

Ultimately, sometimes C sections are absolutely essential. Now I think we’re starting to see more and more research showing, like, hey, if we do have a C section, if there is an emergency, what can we do to help support and populate the baby’s gut microbiome appropriately from mom? And we’re seeing more and more research on this. There’s a cool pilot study that I’m going to link in the show notes. I mean, obviously we need a lot more research on this. It was a small study, but they had 18 healthy moms that decided to participate, and some of them delivered vaginally. Eleven of them delivered by scheduled C section. And four of the moms elected to have their newborn swabbed. So they used a sterile gauze pad.

Amanda Montalvo [00:20:16]:

It was incubated in the mom’s birth canal an hour before the C section, and then the newborn was then swabbed with that gauze within the first one to three minutes of life. Like right after birth they caused their mouth, then the face and then the rest of their body. So they’re essentially giving them all that bacteria from mom’s birth canal that they would have had, or at least some of it that they would have had from a vaginal birth. And all of the women who participated in the transfer were then obviously they tested these women to make sure they didn’t have any viral infections, STDs, anything like that. And some of them did have prenatal antibiotics. They didn’t say how many or anything like that, which I thought was interesting. But the infants and moms later were swabbed again for DNA analysis, six time points up to 30 days after birth. They had more than 1500 samples collected from all over the body.

Amanda Montalvo [00:21:11]:

They had a lot of data. So even though it was a small study, the researchers found that the microbiomes of the C section delivered infants exposed to those vaginal fluids. They resembled those of vaginally delivered infants. Also part of the study. During the first week of life, our monthly cycle is like a report card. Understanding how to track your cycle and know what is and is not normal as far as symptoms go can help you identify possible hormone imbalances and whether or not a nutrition or lifestyle change you made is working for you. This is huge. So many of us are looking to experts and outside ourselves to figure out what’s going on with our bodies.

Amanda Montalvo [00:21:52]:

But tracking your cycle and understanding it can help you do that on your own. And this is why I created my free Healthy Period Starter guide. It walks you through the different phases of your cycle, goes through how to track, teaches you what’s at the root cause of hormone imbalances, and even has a section on nutrition tips for healthy hormones. I think every woman should have this knowledge easily accessible to them. So if you want to grab the guide, you can get it via the link in the show Notes or on my website, hormonehealingrd.com. I just thought that was really interesting and something where I would definitely love to know more about this. If you ever have to have a C section, then it’s something that it’s like, can you ask for this? I actually know a few clients that have asked for something similar to this and they were able to do it. It wasn’t right after birth, but it was within the first few hours of life.

Amanda Montalvo [00:22:47]:

So I would be very curious to see a study if that had an impact or not, if it wasn’t like immediate. But they looked again during the first days of 30 days of life and they found that the babies that were born via C section with the swabs from mom’s birth canal and they did them again and again. They were very similar to the vaginal birth baby’s gut microbiome. And so basically, it’s just showing that you can restore gut microbiome with using the fluids from mom’s birth canal, even if a baby is born via C section, which is just really important because a lot of the issues with C section babies tend to be like immune system related eczema, higher rates of asthma, all that’s related to our immune system. And so if we can get their microbiome in a good place right away by doing these swabs, then it could be something that I think it’s really important. And I wonder too, so it’s like if you had the baby a couple of weeks ago, is it still worth doing in the future? Who knows? I hope we get more research on that because I think a lot of moms would probably find this after the fact and then be like, I wish I did that. But it’s a good thing to know going in. Is it a possibility with your provider? How do they feel about it? You could show them the research article and then see if it’s something they’re willing to do or if you can do yourself.

Amanda Montalvo [00:24:14]:

But I just thought that was really interesting. So before anyone freaks out that C section babies typically don’t have as beneficial gut micromyme balance as a vaginally born baby. It’s like you could technically restore it. Breastfeeding is another one that impacts our gut bacteria because breast milk contains a ton of Fishial compounds and those compounds can support the growth of specific bacteria in the infant’s gut and contribute to a healthy gut microbiome. And so typically those infants will have a better balance of good bacteria and they won’t have as much overgrowth, but not always because it depends on mom’s health too, for sure. Our environment, where we’re living, the climate, our hygiene, exposure to different microfield communities depending on where you live and what your Hobies are, how much you get outside, are you ever in the dirt? Are you more of like an outdoorsy person? Are you like a very constantly clean, disinfectant type of person? All those things are going to influence your gut bacteria. Stress and mental health are a huge one too, because remember, mental health conditions can impact that gut brain access. So just like our guts can communicate with our brain, our brain will also communicate with our gut.

Amanda Montalvo [00:25:28]:

And that can affect our gut motility and the composition of our gut bacteria. Medications, I mentioned antibiotics, but even things like proton pump inhibitors because that affects digestion and stomach acid production, which will always affect our gut health. And gut bacteria, NSAIDs are another big one that can also impact the gut microbiome. And then if we have illnesses, infections, it can cause like a temporary disruption or it can cause a long term disruption. And I think a lot of that’s going to depend on how optimal your immune system is functioning, right? Can you get rid of the infection quickly or is it something that’s going to hang around because you don’t have the immune system capacity to do it. And of course, other lifestyle factors like how are you sleeping, how is your lead exposure, how active are you smoking? Alcohol? Alcohol is a huge one for gut bacteria balance. And I mean, you can change your gut bacteria balance right away as soon as you have a drink. So that’s one worth and inflammation and leaky gut, that’s one where I’m like if we’re working on gut health, I really like for people to minimize alcohol as much as possible.

Amanda Montalvo [00:26:36]:

And it’s often the one that people don’t always want to part with, but it usually ends up being like one of the best decisions of their life. So alcohol is a big one too. That’s very normalized in our society and just not talked about the different things that it can impact, especially when it comes to our gut health. So that’s kind of like what can disrupt the balance of our gut bacteria both positively and negatively. The next big part I want to get into before I break down. What happens when our gut bacteria get out of balance and, like, the cascade of events that occurs in the body is our immune system and how that functions. Because the immune system and our gut bacteria are very much intertwined and have a huge impact on each other. So remember, the bacteria that make up our gut microbiome, they modulate and teach our immune cells how to function properly.

Amanda Montalvo [00:27:27]:

And our immune system helps get rid of pathogens, viruses, bacteria, things that shouldn’t be in the gut. And so we need both to be in balance and working properly in order to have that nice homeostasis, that nice balance and happy environment in the gut. When our immune system basically how it’s working is it’s pretty complex. It’s not just in the gut. I’m going to be focusing on the gut, but it’s located in different cells, tissues, organs. They all work together and they’re helping to defend our body against anything harmful like pathogens, bacteria, viruses, any foreign invader that your immune system recognizes. And it’s like, hey, you shouldn’t be here. And the main function is to identify these things, eliminate them, while not eliminating our body’s own healthy cells and tissues.

Amanda Montalvo [00:28:18]:

Sometimes this doesn’t work and we can start to like if you think of autoimmune conditions, that’s when our body can start to attack its own cells. But ideally, our immune system is functioning optimally. It sees a pathogen parasite bacteria, whatever it is, for an invader virus, tags it and eliminates it from the body. Our gut bacteria is an important influence on this. If we don’t have enough good bacteria, then that typically doesn’t function as well. There’s two main parts of our immune system. We’ve got our innate immune system. This is like our first line of defense.

Amanda Montalvo [00:28:53]:

And it’s fast, it’s nonspecific, and it covers a wide range of pathogens. So it includes. Physical barriers like the skin, our mucous membranes, and immune cells like macrophages, neutrophils, and natural killer cells. And these help to recognize pathogens and respond very quickly and initiate that immune response to target whatever the pathogen is and get rid of it. Our adaptive immune system is more specific, and it takes time to have a specific response to a particular pathogen. So it’s involving specialized immune cells called T cells and B cells. When our innate immune system encounters a new pathogen, it’s going to present fragments. So it’s going to give those fragments to our T cells and our B cells.

Amanda Montalvo [00:29:40]:

This presentation triggers the activation of specific T cells and B cells, and they can recognize and target that pathogen. So once our immune system activates this, these cells are basically doing a more specific and targeted response to eliminate the invader. But it’s like first line is our innate immune system not quite as specific, but fast. And then our adaptive immune system takes a little bit longer, takes a second to kick in, but it’s really specific and it’s going to target and get rid of a particular pathogen. Part of the reason why our gut plays such a big role in our immune system and our gut health in general is because 70% to 80% of our immune system is located in our GI tract. So we have what’s called gut associated lymphoid tissue, or Galt, and that is a collection of immune cells and tissues that’s found throughout the GI tract and this Galt tissue. Basically, it’s essential for maintaining immune balance tolerance and just making sure that we are having an appropriate response, especially if we’re exposed to a lot of food antigens, which are also the same thing as food allergens and microbes. We need to have this functioning optimally so that we can have an appropriate response if there is a food allergen present or some sort of pathogen.

Amanda Montalvo [00:31:01]:

So our immune system and our gut overall gut health, the inflammation in the gut, gut microbiome are very intertwined. They’re always going to impact each other, and we want to make sure that they’re both working optimally in order to have them functioning well. So what happens when our gut microbiome gets out of balance? Like, what does this look like in the body, and how does it impact the different areas? When we experience different imbalances in our gut bacteria, it has a huge impact on the rest of our health, whether that be our gut health, how we’re absorbing and digesting our food, the amount of inflammation in the gut, how our immune system functions. If it’s getting overworked and then depleted, and then that’s going to trickle down and impact other aspects, like is our liver overloaded? Do we have a huge toxic burden because of gut health? And are we starting to get food sensitivities so all these things can start to show up? So if we do a quick breakdown, what’s typically happening when we start to have an imbalance of beneficial and non beneficial bacteria in the gut, number one, our immune system weakens. So this will automatically change the environment in the digestive system in that GI tract and it can often lead to an overgrowth of negative gut bacteria. And then not only does that kind of, like, weaken our immune system, because we don’t have as many good bacteria telling our immune system how to function, but we also have this overgrowth of not so great bacteria that can start to tell our immune system that, hey, we have invaders here. We have some overgrowth that should not be happening. And so we’ll turn that innate immune system on along with our adaptive immune system, put it to work and over time, if we’re constantly doing that, then our immune system gets exhausted.

Amanda Montalvo [00:32:47]:

It’s just like our adrenal glands where if we are and that stress response that like HPA access, if we are constantly experiencing that chronic stress, eventually those systems are going to get depleted, taxed and dysfunctional, so will our immune system. And this is a very common thing I see in practice is just having a very depleted immune system and that being a huge part of the root cause of why someone can’t optimize their gut health. So it’s a huge part of it. I would say that’s like one of the first big areas that I see people have issues with. You can have digestive symptoms. Now remember, digestion is really the first line of defense. I know, like the innate immune system I mentioned is the first line of defense against pathogens and stuff. But really our stomach acid is the first 1st line of defense because if we are making stomach acid, that should be killing pathogens and parasites, right? So if we are not making enough stomach acid, if we aren’t getting those digestive juices going, then that can lead to bacteria, pathogens, parasites getting into the gut that shouldn’t be there.

Amanda Montalvo [00:33:55]:

Now, should we have an immune system that’s working well that can get rid of those? Yes. So that’s kind of like the backup. But I see compromised digestion typically from chronic stress, nutrient deficiencies, dieting, over, exercising, all those kinds of things as the first root cause. And then you go deeper and you figure out well, what’s causing the poor digestion and of course that’s like your deeper root cause. But poor digestion is huge. And then the issue is a lot of people have digestive symptoms from having the imbalance of bacteria. So if we have Dysbiosis, we have that imbalance, we can get Bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and what a lot of people will classify is IBS or irritable bowel syndrome. So root cause is that digestive issues can cause imbalances, but gut imbalances can also cause digestive issues.

Amanda Montalvo [00:34:47]:

Another big aspect is that inflammation is increasing. So if we have an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, it can trigger this chronic low grade inflammation in the gut, which it’s linked to a lot of health issues, plenty of autoimmune diseases and metabolic disorders, right? But also leaky gut and having that leakiness of that intestinal barrier. And that’s really just meaning that we have this intestinal permeability where things are getting through that shouldn’t be getting through. And it’s really that lining of the GI tract. It’s passing things through because there’s inflammation. It’s leading to their tight junctions not being as tight, so they’re looser. Things can pass through that shouldn’t, especially things like toxins, bacteria, undigested food particles that can enter the bloodstream and then kick off this immune response and inflammation. And it has like, that downstream effect to the rest of our health.

Amanda Montalvo [00:35:42]:

So it’s a huge one. That’s why they call it leaky, because the cells aren’t close together and they’re leaking things into the bloodstream. Usually it’s like an immune response and too much of an immune response at first, but again, eventually that immune system is going to get tired and it’s going to get depleted. And your body does see this chronic low grade inflammation as a stressor. And so then this can of course, affect like, cortisol levels, minerals, hormones, all those things. So gut health is like a huge component. And this is kind of like how that downstream cascade happens. As you can probably guess.

Amanda Montalvo [00:36:20]:

We also typically see an increase in food reactions and like, food sensitivities. So as that immune system becomes overloaded and I think of this when I think of, like, histamine issues, your immune system is overactive. It starts tagging things that it shouldn’t be tagging. Typically it’s because it’s starting to go downhill and become dysfunctional, where it’s getting exhausted, it’s in overdrive and it’s not working properly. So it’s tagging foods that you eat regularly and that are healthy for you and making your body think that you have a sensitivity to them and it’s creating a histamine reaction or some type of, I would say allergic reaction, but not like when I think food allergy, I think of a very serious reaction. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that. It could be eczema. It could be like a skin thing.

Amanda Montalvo [00:37:09]:

It could be itchiness. It could be headaches. I mean, the thing with histamines is that they can show up all over the body like so many different symptoms. It could be reflux, constipation, diarrhea, and one day it could be eczema, and the next day it could be a different symptom because we can activate histamines on all different tissues in the body, and it’s not always the same. And so we start to see this increase in food reactions because our immune system isn’t working properly, then we can start to see an increase in histamine levels. Typically, we already have an imbalance of bacteria. Our immune system is already affected. And this can just lead to a ton of other symptoms.

Amanda Montalvo [00:37:47]:

So if you’re someone that feels like you’re reacting to everything. It’s probably a histamine issue, and it’s always going to be related to your immune system function. But going even further back before that, it’s going to be related to how’s your digestion and all of the foundations. I’m going to link an episode I did on histamines because it would be like a whole really long series for me to go into. But I’m going to link that in the show notes if you’re wanting to learn more about that, if you’re like. I do react to everything. I do have skin stuff going on, headaches, reflux, all that kind of stuff in response to food. Definitely check out that episode.

Amanda Montalvo [00:38:21]:

And the last big area, the big kind of like cascade that’s going to happen is our liver is going to become overloaded, especially if we have imbalance in gut bacteria. If we have pathogenic overgrowth or even just non beneficial bacteria that are overgrown, it can lead. Certain bacteria can give off more toxins, certain bacteria can make more histamines. And so again, your liver’s got a lot more to process. And this is why a lot of gut issues show up on our skin over time. It’s like that liver, it can’t handle anymore. Usually people also have some sort of like constipation loose stool thing going on. And then of course, histamine overload as well.

Amanda Montalvo [00:38:59]:

But we’re really going to see that trickle down effect of like, immune system is not working as well. We have digestive issues, inflammation and leaky, gut increases. Usually you’re going to see an increase in food reactions, histamine issues, and your liver is going to become completely overloaded. So how do we support our gut health and our immune systems? What can we do in our day to day that doesn’t need specific testing in order to be able to implement these things? Because of course you can do specific testing. We utilize stool testing in our practice. I love using that with clients. I think it helps make so much very clear. But ultimately, you still can’t skip the foundation.

Amanda Montalvo [00:39:36]:

So for everyone, supporting digestion is key. It’s what’s going to help in the long run. And most people with compromised gut health have poor digestion. So I went through this in the digestion episode. I linked it in the show notes. Make sure you listen. But just like a quick summary. Slowing down at meals, activating your vagus nerve and getting out of fight or flight is always going to be number one because digestion starts in our brain.

Amanda Montalvo [00:40:01]:

And so if we’re in that chronic stage of fight or flight, then we’re not going to be digesting our food well. And typically that’s going to be like the beginning of the cascade of gut issues. I talk about how to activate the vagus nerve, my favorite ways to do that in the episode. But I think a lot of this too. It’s like, you don’t have to do anything fancy. You just have to start slowing down and being more mindful. And I like to think about it as like treating your meals with respect, giving yourself that time to eat, even when it feels like we have so much going on and it’s not as important. It’s very important.

Amanda Montalvo [00:40:33]:

You can also use things like bitter foods to support digestive enzymes. Making bile, stomach acid production, things like arugula, artichoke, bitter, melon, apple cider vinegar is a great option, especially if you want to start off experimenting with something dandelion. Greens, brussels sprouts, grapefruit, ginger, kale, mint, all those types of things can help support digestive enzymes because of the bitter flavor. You can also consider using digestive bitters. Just make sure it’s appropriate for you and then making sure we have enough of certain minerals in order to support that stomach acid production. So we need enough sodium, potassium and zinc. So getting a food source of those is going to be really important. But supporting digestion is always going to be number one.

Amanda Montalvo [00:41:17]:

It’s something we can all start to work on. Nutrition is also a big aspect of this. So I really like for people to include a mix of animal and plant foods. What and how many plant foods is really going to depend on the person and how much they can digest. Like, how is their digestion? Can they handle more plant fibers? Or are they going to have to cook a lot more of their foods and go slow with that? Because a lot of times when we have this long history of gut issues, we will have a hard time digesting fibrous foods, especially like raw veggies and beans and stuff like prebiotic rich foods. It doesn’t mean you never consume these foods, but we do want to make sure that we are digesting them. Well. Maybe it’s like cooking all your veggies.

Amanda Montalvo [00:41:58]:

The cooking helps that breakdown process. I mean, slowing down on meals is definitely going to help chewing your food. Those crucial parts of digestion that are like the very beginning of digestion that we tend to not think about as much, that can all really help and then just not overdoing them. Just because you see someone like, I have a video on how to properly prepare beans, and I love beans because they’re very mineral rich, they’ve got good prebiotics, but if someone couldn’t break them down, well, they’re not going to be beneficial for them. So experiment with food. And if you try a food and you’re like, I feel like I’m not digesting this well, don’t force it. And then animal foods. I know people are kind of usually surprised to hear that because we’re always told that plant foods are so important for gut health.

Amanda Montalvo [00:42:41]:

They both are. We need enough protein from animal foods in order to make digestive enzymes because they break down to amino acids. And that’s what our digestive enzymes are made up of. So that’s a huge part of it. We also need important micronutrients like the ones I mentioned above, like sodium, potassium and zinc. Zinc you’re primarily getting from animal foods. Oysters and red meat are like a great example. Potassium, a lot of people think it’s only in plant foods.

Amanda Montalvo [00:43:10]:

There’s a lot of potassium in red meat, salmon, things like that. Pretty much every animal protein has some level of potassium. And then copper is so important for our gut health. I think of like gut bacteria balance, it’s, antifungal, it’s important for regulating iron. And if we have excess iron, that can lead to a lot of pathogenic overgrowth in the gut. So copper is huge and one of the best sources of that is going to beef liver, which is also in plant foods. But we need vitamin A. That’s another really important one for copper, but also for our immune system.

Amanda Montalvo [00:43:45]:

We need enough vitamin A for maintaining the health of the cells that line the digestive tract. So it’s important for reducing leaky gut. They act as that protective barrier, so they’re going to help prevent those harmful substances from getting into our bloodstream. But vitamin A is also really important for our immune system and I feel like people don’t really recognize that. But I see a lot of women deficient in vitamin A. They’ve got like iron, imbalance issues, thyroid issues, but also gut issues because it is really important for our immune system function as well. Animal foods also contain things like collagen and gelatin, which can support that gut lining and that integrity, which is important for making sure that we’re not having this overactive immune reaction because things from our gut are getting into the bloodstream. We also get B twelve from primarily it’s going to be found in animal foods.

Amanda Montalvo [00:44:38]:

And that’s not only important for like DNA desynthesis, for blood cell formation, nerve function, but if we have a deficiency in B twelve, that can also lead to digestive issues and negatively affect our gut lining. Vitamin D is important. I feel like a lot of people probably know this. A lot of people think of our immune system when it comes to vitamin D, and it absolutely is important for that. But it’s also important for making and maintaining our tight junctions. So those intestinal cells that line our GI tract, keeping them close together so that things are not passing through, we need optimal vitamin D levels for that. And of course that then affects our immune system. But vitamin D is important for leaky gut.

Amanda Montalvo [00:45:21]:

So those are things that we’re primarily going to be getting from animal food. So this is why it’s like we need a mix. One or the other is not better. It really just depends on the person and their health history and what they tolerate. But nutrition is huge when it comes to supporting our gut stress management. I talked about this a ton in episode two where I talked about a holistic approach to optimizing cortisol I went through Nourishment and blood sugar. I talked about supporting minerals for a healthy stress response. I talked about light exposure and circadian rhythm.

Amanda Montalvo [00:45:48]:

I talked about having too much information overload and then your daily rhythm, like living in a way that’s not going to be constantly leading to Cortisol spikes all day. So definitely check out that one for more things on stress management and then circadian rhythm support. I did talk about this in the stress one too, because we talked about light exposure. But I think people don’t realize how important it is for digestion and specifically our gut bacteria. Number one, during the daytime, that circadian rhythm, our body’s natural body clock helps to regulate stomach acid and digestive enzyme production. So if we are not prioritizing eating the majority of our food during the day, during daylight hours, then that can definitely impact our digestive capacity. It’ll also increase hormones and enzymes for digestion absorption foods, tidy, things like that, and increase the beneficial bacteria that help with digestion. And then at nighttime, that bacteria adjust and those bacteria that will increase at night help to support detoxification.

Amanda Montalvo [00:46:53]:

So these are things where it’s like it does matter. And that’s why thinking about your routines around sleep, your routines around light exposure can be so helpful to so many different aspects of your health. It’s not just related to cortisol. It’s not just related to gut health or detoxification. It’s really everything. If you want to dig more into that, I do talk about that a little bit more in episode two, that stress management, Cortisol episode. So these are huge. These are the things I really think about the most.

Amanda Montalvo [00:47:27]:

And then of course, with supporting the liver and detoxification, this is important as well. I talked about that in the previous episode on how to naturally support liver detox. I go more into how we can do that on a day to day basis. A lot of it is like things I’ve already mentioned, eating enough protein also important for your liver, not just important for making digestive enzymes. So I feel like people want like, oh, I have a gut issue, so what should I do instead? And it’s like if you’re not already doing these other things, adding something super specific or even something like a supplement probably isn’t going to help because these are what’s foundational nutrition, sleep, light exposure, stress management, how you’re living on a day to day basis, are you constantly in fight or flight? Or are you able to tap into that rest and digest state, your toxic exposure, all those things I talked about last episode, all that matters and all that’s going to impact your digestion and gut health as well. So if you want to dig into more specific foods and nutrition strategies to support gut health, that’s what I go into in the bonus episode. But this one, it’s crucial for just understanding, like, what are gut bacteria, what do they do, what happens when they get out of balance. If you related to a lot of that, I would definitely check out the patreon.

Amanda Montalvo [00:48:46]:

If you go to Patreon.com Hormonehealingrd, you can get access to that bonus episode and everything else I’ve ever shared in there. I’d love to have you, but I hope you’d enjoy this episode. Next episode we’re going to talk about mental health. It’s going to be a great interview. I’m really looking forward to it. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Are You Menstrual? Podcast. If you want to support my work, please leave a review and let me know how you like the episode. This lets me know what you guys want more of less of.

Amanda Montalvo [00:49:13]:

I read every single one and I appreciate them more than you know. If you want to keep learning, you can get access to the bonus episode and additional resources on Patreon.com Hormonehealingrd. I’d love to have you in there. Thanks again and I will see you in the next episode.

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

Master Your Minerals

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Hormone Healing RD