I was recently interviewed by Alexa from Inner Wellness Co. about gut health and the digestive system. The full article and many others can be found on her website.
Firstly, Introduce yourself! Who are you, what do you do, and what are your passions?
Hello! I’m Bridget, I’m an Australian naturopath & nutritionist, currently based in the UK. I am super passionate about integrative medicine and the management of women’s health and gut disorders. Outside of work, I love spending time in the ocean, hiking mountains, and exploring new cultures.
What sparked your interest and love for all things health and wellness, and specifically naturopathy?
I’ve always been interested in the human body. I had an anatomy picture book when I was little which I was obsessed with, and my Mum remembers me reciting all the bones in the body to my netball coach when I was in primary school. Growing up I remember shopping at our local health food store, growing food in our vegetable patch and spending loads of time camping on Australia’s coastlines, so I guess I have sort of always been exposed to a healthy and active lifestyle. Fast forward a decade or so, I knew I wanted to study something health related at University. I was really frustrated watching people I loved going through the conventional medical system and not getting the help that they needed, and knew that there had to be another way. This lead me to study naturopathic medicine. That was 10 years ago now. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I’m so glad I did. I can’t imagine doing anything else!
What is your definition of the term ‘gut health’, and why is it so important?
Gut health is really a broad term for the health of our digestive system. Our stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, some valves, acids, enzymes, nerves, hormones and a whole heap of microbes (termed the microbiome, or more commonly “gut bacteria”), are what make up our gut health. “All disease begins in the gut” was first quoted by Hippocrates, the Father of modern medicine, over 2000 years ago. Naturopathic medicine practitioners have always placed huge emphasis on the health of the gut, however in the last 15 years there has been a tremendous amount of research which has gone into understanding gut bacteria and the consequences it has on our health as humans. We now know from science that most of our immune system is in the gut, most of our serotonin (our happy chemical) and GABA (our calming chemical) are produced in the gut, and it’s also where hormones are metabolised. The evidence-base has exploded and poor gut health is now scientifically proven to impact mental health conditions, autoimmunity, hormone conditions, infertility, pregnancy outcomes, children’s behaviour, inflammation, cardiovascular disease and much more. Name any condition and you can probably link it back to the gut, in some way.
What factors can classify someone’s gut health as ‘bad’? And in contrast, what makes someone’s gut health ‘good’?
Bad gut health might present with bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain… but also seemingly unrelated symptoms such as brain fog, low energy, acne and skin conditions, depression, anxiety, frequent colds and flus, hormone imbalances and period problems. Good gut health means no digestive symptoms, and great absorption of nutrition which results in stable energy levels, clear skin, sharp thinking, a strong immune system, regular periods, and a calm, happy mood.
What are the most common contributors to poor gut health?
I would say stress is absolutely number one, followed by poor diet, infections and bacterial imbalances.
How would you as a naturopath diagnose and then treat different specific gut health conditions with your patients?
As naturopaths we typically spend an hour or more getting to know our patients and taking a really comprehensive overview of their signs and symptoms. There is so much the body can tell us through asking the right questions. Depending on the patient, we might then go on to do further testing such as stool testing to assess the microbiome, breath testing to check out any bacterial overgrowth (i.e. SIBO), or blood testing to rule out any food intolerances. Treatment generally focuses on a combination of lifestyle, diet, nutritional and herbal medicines and works to regulate the nervous system (which controls digestion), reduce inflammation, remove bad gut bacteria, replace good gut bacteria, and ensure sufficient acid and enzymes to support nutrient absorption.
What are some everyday practices we can incorporate to improve gut health?
Anything to reduce stress levels will also support digestion, via activation of the vagus nerve – the nerve that controls digestion. So whatever reduces your stress, be it meditation, yoga, exercise, breathwork, writing, drawing, pottery, music… do more of that.
What impacts can poor gut health have on mental wellbeing, compared to good gut health?
So many impacts! As I mentioned above, most of our serotonin, our “happy chemical” is produced in the gut. It’s also where we absorb all of our nutrients from the food that we eat, and every single biological pathway in the body uses one or more nutrients as a catalyst. So poor gut health can cause a host of nutrient deficiencies, which impacts the production of neurotransmitters and hormones, impacting mental wellbeing.