Improving lives and inspiring others is at the heart of everything we do. Our new podcast is here to encourage mindful, vibrant living, with plenty of tips, interviews, and information to keep you healthy along the way.

iTunes Google Play SoundCloud

Ep 22: Mothering your microbiome

Hosted by: MegaFood | Podcast



Ep 22: Mothering your microbiome

runtime: 31:46


Ep 22: Mothering your microbiome

Why is gut health so important? What are the signs of a distressed gut? What foods should we eat to nurture our digestive health? What should we avoid? Get the answers to these questions and more as we discuss how to mother your microbiome with Dr. Erin Stokes.


Blogs mentioned:

Glyphosate: A destroyer of gut health?

Gut love plus one: A personalized approach to probiotics


What's the perfect probiotic for me?

[00:00] [background music]

Announcer: [00:00] The statements in this podcast have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

[00:08] It's not just a gut feeling. The truth is, our digestive health has the power to influence more factors than we previously ever imagined. Today's show goes deep into the world of your own microbiome. Learn how to mother the good bacteria that resides inside, including what to eat, what to avoid, and how to recognize when your gut needs help.

[00:28] Naturopathic doctor Erin Stokes joins Abigail and Killeen for a highly digestible discussion.

Killeen: [00:38] No fancy introductions here today, Abigail. Let's get right to it. We are amidst a big, deep dive on digestive health right now at MegaFood. I am so completely fascinated by all the things I'm learning about our gut and how our gut is connected to the rest of our health.

[00:58] That said, there are over 100 trillion microorganisms that inhabit all kinds of places in our bodies, our mouths, our skin, our gut, just to name a few. Collectively we call this community our microbiome. Every day there's more and more emerging data about why this community is so important to our health, and it's just been flooring me as of late.

[01:22] From our digestion, our immune response, and then things that I had never even dreamed of, like my energy level, mood. It's all affected by how we treat our microbiome.

Abigail: [01:35] Like you, Killeen, I'm so fascinated by this. It's like this new frontier of modern medicine, discovering complex interactions between our microbiome and the human body. All of this can sound overwhelming, but the good news is that, like many other aspects of our health, we actually have the power to do something about it.

[01:53] We can shift our microbiome in many different ways, from lifestyle factors, the foods that we choose to eat, and then, of course, we're on that supplement show, so the supplemental probiotics that we take, so over time we can influence that unique microbial fingerprint that is this big collective microbiome and support our optimal health.

[02:13] I think this is a great topic for today. We can get into how we mother that microbiome with the love that it deserves.

Killeen: [02:21] When you're thinking about mothering 100 trillion organisms, that's such an unfathomable amount, but I want to take a moment to look at a singular microbe for just a minute.

[02:33] Individually we refer to a beneficial microbial inhabitant in our body as a probiotic. I think that's important because we use the word probiotic, and to a lot of people that means a supplement, right? It is also a little individual microbe in our gut, or in our body, anywhere in our body. That's a key thing to remember.

[02:56] It's also naturally occurring, so it's just there. It's essentially bacteria, but of the good kind, that good healthy bacteria. That is what is responsible for maintaining good gut health.

Abigail: [03:10] Exactly. In addition to aiding the digestion of food and the utilizations of its nutrients, the good bacteria within our microbiome are actually our biggest defense against illness. Over 70 percent of our immune response resides within our gut. Really no surprise that our bodies are taking notice when things are a little bit off balance.

Killeen: [03:28] For sure. What is the gut anyhow? I think that we need to go there. What specific parts of our body are we talking about when we say the gut?

Abigail: [03:36] A lot of different synonyms you might here for this, gastrointestinal tract, digestive system, digestive tract or gut, we're all referring to a group of organs that includes the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, and then some of the other organs that we maybe don't associate with digestion, the pancreas, the liver, the gallbladder, and then, of course, the small intestine, the colon, and the rectum.

[03:58] I think oftentimes when we think about gut health, or GI health, we tend to experience the most of that within the intestines. I'm thinking about gas and bloating, and that discomfort. Often when we say the gut, people immediately think their stomach and lower digestive tract, but it really entails from start to finish, when we consume food, all the way through.

Killeen: [04:19] When we say, "Trust your gut," for example, my hands go right to my stomach. That's where I'm thinking that that gut feeling is that we're talking about.

[04:29] To touch on that for a moment, this statement of trusting your gut, it really lends itself to the idea that our gut is this thinking and feeling living object, and it truly is. The reason it's so easily affected and so broadly interconnected with the rest of our body functions is because it's such a sophisticated system. We don't often think of nurturing our gut until it gives us trouble.

Abigail: [04:53] As you say that, I'm trying to think of the best person to gear us up for this conversation, inform us on the signs of a distressed gut, and also what we can do to give it the love it needs. How do you feel about calling Dr. Stokes?

Killeen: [05:06] Perfect idea. Let's give her a call and find out all we need to know about how to notice when our gut is distressed, and then maybe what we can do to support it.

Abigail: [05:16] Sounds great, let's ring her up.

[05:18] [phone rings]

Dr. Erin Stokes: [05:19] Hello. Good morning.

Abigail: [05:24] Hey Erin. It's Abigail and Killeen today. How are you?

Dr. Stokes: [05:27] Hi Abby and Killeen. I'm doing great thanks. How are you?

Abigail: [05:31] We're doing awesome and thank you so much for joining us to chat. We were just having a great conversation about the importance of digestive health, of gut health. We thought you'd be the perfect person to walk us through some of the signs of a distressed gut, and then what we can do to nurture our gut.>

Dr. Stokes: [05:46] You got it. As a naturopathic doctor, I was trained from early on that gastrointestinal health is a cornerstone to our overall health and wellness. It's interesting. When you look at the signs of a distressed gut, you'll see some really classic GI gut signs like occasional gas and bloating.

[06:09] People that will say, "Sometimes I have diarrhea, and then other times I'm constipated. I don't know what's going on, but my bowel habits just aren't that regular." Then, other times, people will talk about food intolerances, and may even say that they feel like over time they've become more sensitive to more different foods, and they're not sure if it's a classic food allergy or food intolerance.

[06:37] Somehow, it just seems like what they are able to eat has gotten more limited. Those are classic signs that we think about. Because gastrointestinal health is so key, and it makes a ton of sense, right, going back to the fact that food is our fuel, and food first, if there's something immerse in the way that we're able to digest and absorb food, it's going to affect every aspect, really, of our health.

[07:04] Some of the other classic symptoms that people will talk about that are connected with gut health is sleep disturbances. You might not think about insomnia or a difficult time sleeping being connected with gut health, but it truly is. When all of that is working well, you're able to wind down and have a restful, restored of a long sleep.

[07:26] Another classic connection is gut health and skin health. When you see skin irritations and skin issues pop up, that can often be connected to something awry in the GI tract.

Abigail: [07:44] Now, Killeen, I don't know about you, but sleep and skin health is a little bit of a revelation for me when it comes to digestive health. I didn't expect us to be touching on this topic today.

Killeen: [07:54] I'm right there with you. That just further proves how fascinating this gut/health connection is with the rest of our body.

[08:00] Some of our listeners might be sitting here thinking the same thing, like, "Gee, I'm not sleeping well. Maybe it is in my gut." What about eating to nurture our gut? I know there's a couple of different things we can do to support our gut health and our microbiome, but what should we avoid? Then, what should we maybe consume a little bit more of?

Dr. Stokes: [08:28] Let's start with what to include. Foundational to gut health is a wide variety of fiber‑rich vegetables and fruits. This is really important. Sometimes we think of some more classic foods like prebiotics, which are essentially food for probiotics. Then, we'll talk about probiotic‑rich foods.

[08:50] You really need to back it up to also foundational food. If you have a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, again, fiber‑rich, we're talking things like broccoli, celery, carrots, pears, apples, you will nurture a more diverse microbiome.

[09:09] That's really important to know that that's foundational. Of course, when we're looking at those foods, we want to choose organic whenever possible. That's because we don't want to be having additional pesticides and herbicides. Specifically, one that we've been talking a lot about and raising awareness around at MegaFood is glyphosate.

[09:32] Glyphosate is not allowed to be sprayed on organic foods. It is the number on herbicide used in the United States in conventional farming. It's actually also sprayed on public parks, schools, and many municipalities around the country. It's widely utilized.

[09:52] It's interesting because glyphosate has really what you're calling antibiotic effect. I want to pamper that because antibiotics actually have their place in society. Antibiotics aren't necessarily bad, but the effects that glyphosate has its antibiotic life is negative because it really, at least they take some diversity of the microflora in the soil. It makes the soil less rich.

[10:22] Then, when we ingest glyphosate, it actually will preferentially kill some of our beneficial bacteria in our gut. It can actually encourage growth of more harmful or pathogenic bacteria. This has all been well‑documented in scientific studies.

[10:41] Nothing exists in isolation, as I like to say. Of course, spraying glyphosate on crops, it will get into the soil and then it will get into our food. This is certainly not something that we want to scare people around.

[10:53] We just really want to spread awareness and education, and give people an opportunity to take action, both in their everyday life choices. Some of the bigger actions that we've included, like our petition to ban glyphosate as a desiccant with oats.

[11:09] We're just all about positive action and positive change. Knowledge is power. I'm all about power to the people and empowering people with tools and knowledge.

Killeen: [11:20] Erin, you had created a really lovely blog for us, about a really scary topic, the glyphosate and gut health connection. I'm definitely going to put that in the show notes today for those who are interested in learning a little bit more.

[11:35] I know I personally was fascinated by the concept that something like an herbicide, such as glyphosate, works like an antibiotic and what that can do to the microbes in the soil, as well as the microbes in our gut.

[11:49] Just really eye‑opening stuff when you stop and think about what we're consuming and how our food is grown, and pausing to realize what an obvious connection that these harmful things that are killing weeds, or undesirable plants in conventional agriculture are going to maybe have an effect on us too. When it comes to digestive health, I guarantee that's not the first thing that people think about.

Dr. Stokes: [12:16] No, It's not. I think, again, it's just a way to spread awareness and realize that there's choices that we can make every day. I absolutely understand as a working mom, myself, that we also have to be cost‑conscious, so that's why we really encourage organic whenever possible.

[12:38] I know the two of you know that the Environmental Working Group has a really nice list that's been very helpful for people that's based on data, and it's the Dirty Dozen. These are the fruits and vegetable that you really want to try to always buy organic if you can.

[12:55] Then, there's also another list called the Clean Fifteen. Those are some fruits and vegetables that's OK to get. Not organic sometimes because they don't have the same levels of herbicide and pesticide residue. Again, knowledge is empowerment. We make choices every day. Some choices are easier than others. For example, I do a lot of shopping in the bulk department, which is also very cost‑saving.

[13:20] When I look at the difference between the USDA certified organic oats that are also non‑GMO in bulk, and then the conventional oats, there really isn't that much of a price discrepancy. I think the fact that I'm buying them in bulk already has actually made thing less expensive.

[13:36] I will always choose organic because I have a 12‑year‑old son that happens to love oatmeal. These are just the choices that then we can make when we have the information like that glyphosate is used as a drying agent on oats before harvest.

[13:50] It's like "Ooh, OK, well I'm going to avoid conventional oats." Then, that actually affects the supply chain because more people buying organic oats means that there's more of a market demand. That's how things start to shift.

Killeen: [14:04] Erin, I love that point about doing what you can and making smart choices when it's possible. I think, as I've mentioned to Abby before, four or five times on this show, I love my oatmeal.

[14:18] When I found out about glyphosate and its negative impact on gut health, and then just the fact that glyphosate residue could be in food like my oatmeal, I went to my buying club and was able to get organic oats for actually less than the conventional brand at the grocery store.

[14:33] There are some of these small changes that we can make. If we do our homework, some of them are actually going to be cost‑effective. I absolutely love that. I think it's super actionable when it comes to creating that change that we're desiring to see in the world.

Dr. Stokes: [14:48] One of the wonderful things about oats, especially if you're eating organic oats, is that oats are on the list of what are called prebiotic foods. We can think of these prebiotic foods as food for probiotics. They really are going to promote the growth of a healthy microflora. We know that there's really great probiotic‑rich foods out there.

[15:12] Kombucha has gained a lot of popularity, kefir, sauerkraut have gained popularity, but a lot of listeners out there are like, "Ah, not so much, I'm not probably having those every day."

[15:25] Yogurt is mentioned as a probiotic food often. It is. One of the things that I may add is that it's best to get really low‑sugar yogurts because we all know that even organic yogurts can sometimes have a lot of extra sugar. Getting low‑sugar yogurt, that's good. Those are the probiotic foods. Those are the classic list.

[15:46] Oats and some other foods I'll talk about now are prebiotic foods. That means they're going to actually help the good bacteria grow. That list is a little more expensive and sometimes a little more accessible. Oats are definitely a prebiotic food, as our onions and garlic, great to include this time of year in soups and stew, asparagus, soybeans for those of you that can have soy, and whole grains.

[16:13] We can really expand this list of foods way out from a narrow view of just probiotic foods, which are great and wonderful. I just also want to acknowledge the reality, especially if you have somebody that is dairy intolerant they might not be able to have kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi every day.

[16:34] Maybe they can, and if they can, awesome. If they can't, think about lots of vegetables and fruits, organic whenever possible, like we talked about, that are fiber‑rich, then all these prebiotic foods like oats, garlic, onions. Then, all of a sudden, your world is really expanded in your world view of what you can eat and what you can do to promote a healthy microbiome.

Killeen: [16:56] It's funny to think about those probiotics inside of us needing to eat too. I love that. That's really cool that some of these really delicious foods that like you said are super accessible, and we probably are already eating are going to help those probiotics flourish.

Abigail: [17:11] As a fun little side note, whenever I'm thinking about prebiotics, and the probiotics that are consuming them, it's Pac‑Man, so if that will help listeners with a visualization at all.

[17:20] [laughter]

Dr. Stokes: [17:21] That's great. I love it.

Abigail: [17:23] Erin, all of that was great information for those listeners that are not sure where to go and how to take their digestive health in their control. We know we're going to avoid glyphosate. We know we're going to eat prebiotic‑rich foods, whole grains. If that's not enough, do we truly need to supplement if we're trying to do those things on a regular basis?

Dr. Stokes: [17:43] That's a great question, Abby. I think, in most cases, the answer is yes. I don't just think as a naturopathic doctor, I would say what I've seen is, "Yes, I know that."

[17:54] Most people benefit from probiotic supplementation. It's certainly a supplement that I take every single day. It's one that I consider to be foundational, particularly in modern times. If anyone out there has ever had a round of antibiotics, for example, that has an impact on your gut microflora.

[18:17] Some of the exposures that we've talked about, I think that all of us are doing our best to limit glyphosate and other exposures, but we know that we, just by living on this planet, have had some exposure to those things.

[18:35] When you really look at our modern lifestyle, again, focusing on what we can do, but also, the realities of what is and what is there, I believe that most people can really benefit from a probiotic supplement. I really see it, as well, both in myself, my family, my greater community.

[18:59] The MegaFlora collection is actually, along with Blood Builder, just anecdotally, those are the two supplements that people come up to me at parties, at a holiday party the other day, talking about, "Wow, this has really made a difference! This is something I love to take." I think it's very foundational.

Killeen: [19:21] If somebody is ready to turn to probiotics as a supplement to promote good digestive health, the next question is how to choose. There are so many different options. We know that there are a whole bunch of strains.

[19:37] You turn over any probiotic supplement label, you're going to see these live strains. They've got all the Latin names that sound like they're great. "Gee, this looks really healthy." How do we know what to look for? Is it going to vary, person to person? I'm guessing, yes. That's why there's so many options. Can we break down how you would narrow your options to what's going to work for you?

Dr. Stokes: [20:05] Yes, absolutely. Another great question. I think that there's five key questions that you want to consider when you're looking at a probiotic. I totally get that this is a confusing world.

[20:20] That's why I think it's so great that you're doing this podcast is that people get overwhelmed trying to figure out what is the best probiotic supplement for them just as they can get overwhelmed trying to figure out what is the best multivitamin for them. We're here to help try to break that down.

[20:38] The first is something that I talk about a lot is that in our country, a lot of times we supersize things, more is better and just go for the highest potency the possible just like you would go for the biggest drink possible, or supersize your entree. That's not is much the point. Potency definitely matters.

[21:02] For question number one is, what's the right potency? Basically, the potency comes in something called CFUs. You don't have to remember this, but we're just going to put it out there, it's called colony‑forming units. When you see that CFU, now you know it means colony‑forming units. It's just a measurement for the number of live microorganisms in each serving of probiotics.

[21:20] If your serving is one capsule, that's what you're going to see on the label. You want to find the right potency for you and your unique needs. You might be like, "OK, number one, what's the right potency?" One example is, if you're just in maintenance mode, there you may have a lower potency.

[21:43] If you are in repair mode, say, you did just have a recent course of antibiotics, or you did just come back from traveling internationally over in India, then you may go with the higher potency. Number one, what's the right potency? It's going to depend based on your needs.

[22:03] Two is, doesn't number of strains matter? That's something that's gotten lost in this supersized, more is better mentality. More can be great if you need it, but it's not always more is better. We need a variety of different strains. We also want to have strains that don't compete for resources.

[22:24] Potency, one, strains or strain variety, two. Three, and this is a question, we've been doing some informal research where we're asking people different questions about probiotics. A lot of people out there are wondering if the probiotic strains are alive. Are these even alive in this little bottle? Like buying this bottle and making this investment.

[22:48] You want to be assured through some kind of quality testing that the probiotic strains are viable and alive in your supplements. It's very important just like quality testing for anything else, quality testing for potency, impurity of the vitamin B6 that's in your multi. This is very similar. You want to be able to know that all the strains that are listed are there and at that amount.

[23:13] Number four gets back to something that we talked about earlier. What kind of certifications are important? What matters to you? What's important to you? For example, do gluten, dairy, soy‑free, are those important to you? Is glyphosate residue‑free important? Non‑GMO?

[23:34] You want to be able to look at all of those certifications and, [inaudible] very seriously. Probably, I'm sure we can put a link in the show notes too, right to our certifications. Then cool. This probably feels like a lot. It's not as complicated as it sounds. These are boom, boom, boom, quick questions most of the time.

[23:52] The last is getting the age and gender appropriate supplements. What's the best probiotic for me? For me, because this is personalized. This is me. I'm living my life here, and I want to get the best probiotic for my age and gender.

[24:08] Also, for any specific needs, I might have in my life, whether I'm working on immune health, or I'm working on mood health or urinary tract health. Can I find a probiotic that suits my age, gender, and specific needs? To really personalize it.

[24:24] You could sum that last bullet point up as like, how do we personalize it to fit our needs? Those are some of the questions. It sounds like a lot, but really can get broken down into potency, variety, living strain, certification, and personalize it for me.

Killeen: [24:41] That is one super list, Erin. I can speak for myself that that really does help. If listeners want to jot down those things, it's like, maybe, then the next time you're in the supplement aisle, it's not quite so scary. You're looking at all of those bottles because it really does narrow down.

[24:59] I have a couple questions here. When we're talking about strains and strain variety, when you talk about a good variety, Erin, are you talking about three or four strains? Are we talking about a dozen strains? What makes for good variety?

Dr. Stokes: [25:17] It depends. I want to acknowledge as a naturopathic doctor, that there are some targeted formulas out there that have a lesser amount of strains. Usually, more like a dozen because I believe that you started out this show talking about the trillions of organisms that we have in our gut.

[25:35] Let's put it all in perspective. It's like a garden, and we want to be seeding that garden. Usually, somewhere more in the range of a dozen with some exception if you're very, very specific. Variety is important.

[25:51] Like I said, I know from talking out in the world quite a bit, that that conversation got lost a little bit as people were just upping the ante on how many hundred billion. That's not the key. It's like saying, "How many billions of what? Who's in there?

Killeen: [26:10] Who's [inaudible] .

Dr. Stokes: [26:10] Who's in that little capsule? I want to know. It's like a little party. Who's at the party? Who came? That's important.

Abigail: [26:18] [laughs] I like that. That is important. Who is at the party? Another thing is talking about personalizing probiotics. Classic example here. My family was over to celebrate my daughter's birthday last weekend.

[26:33] My dad, we can't even go five minutes without him starting to talk about health. That is his go‑to topic. Of course, as the evening progressed, we talked about digestive health at one point. We started discussing the wonders of the microbiome. It's one of those safe topics in family conversation. We all pretty much agree. [laughs] It's a good one for the dinner table.

[26:58] My husband was saying, "You know, what I really need is more energy." When we were talking about gut health and how our microbiome can affect all different parts of our body. When he said he needed more energy, I said, "Well, wait a minute. I actually have some of MegaFood's newest probiotics that are supporting specific conditions, very personalized.

[27:21] There's one formulation that we have that's a probiotic that also has an emphasis on healthy energy levels. I actually ran to our cabinet and said, "Here you go. Give this a try." I do think that sometimes we might pause and think, "What do I want out of a probiotic beyond just all that beneficial digestion stuff?" There are other things that we can target.

Dr. Stokes: [27:45] Absolutely. Keeping in mind, too, that the interconnectedness of all of this, we do have this specific, wonderful shelf‑stable probiotic to support energy. Even thinking big picture, once gut health gets working better, you're going to digest and absorb your food better. It's upward spiral in that case.

[28:06] It's like probiotics supporting energy, supporting your digestion, and then, of course, I can't help myself because I'm a naturopathic doctor, and then sleep, which is key to energy. It's all connected. I love that, now, people can customize for their specific needs as we broadened our collection of offerings.

Killeen: [28:27] Total domino effect. It's really cool.

Abigail: [28:30] Erin, this was incredibly helpful information not just for our listeners, but I think for Killeen and I as well. I was wondering before we let you go, if there is one big digestive health take away that you could give for our listeners, what would that be?

Dr. Stokes: [28:43] Sit down and relax when you eat your food. I think I'm surprising you both left and right today, but that is so key and gets missed a lot is that we talked so much today about all of the wonderful vegetables, fruits, and things to avoid and what to include.

[29:04] The bottom line is, you need to sit and honor the time that you have to eat, hopefully, together with some other loved ones, friends, or family when you can. When it's just you, to honor that time, even if it's 15 or 20 minutes, to actually sit down and eat, away from a screen, not while you're driving, watching TV, or taking a phone call.

[29:26] Because when we get into that parasympathetic rest and digest mode, that's just going to support all of these other things that we're doing to support our gut health.

Killeen: [29:38] Savor, relish that food and take time. I think that's awesome. Quick little tip, I actually really enjoy eating with a teeny‑tiny fork or spoon. I know it sounds ridiculous, but if you don't have a big fork, you can't eat very quickly.

[29:56] [laughter]

Killeen: [29:58] When we have this really delicious food, sometimes I am just unconsciously shoveling because we're busy and we're always on the go. Reduce that utensil down to a smaller size. It will actually force you to take a little bit more time with eating. That's my little trick for today.

Dr. Stokes: [30:17] I love it.

Abigail: [30:19] Perfect little life hack.

[30:20] [laughter]

Killeen: [30:22] Thank you, Erin. I love this. I'm excited to talk in greater depth with you about digestive health really soon.

Dr. Stokes: [30:29] I would love that. Thank you both so much.

Abigail: [30:31] Thank you, Erin. Have a great day.

Dr. Stokes: [30:33] You too.

Killeen: [30:35] Abigail, I don't have much more to add here today other than we just hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digestive health. There's so much to learn and so much to unpack. Again, just to echo my sentiments from the beginning, I'm really excited that we are taking some time to focus on our gut. There will definitely be more to say about it in the next coming episodes.

Abigail: [31:03] Agree. Thank you for this, Killeen, today. You said, "Tip of the iceberg," but I think we still came away with some great actionable steps that we can implement right now to benefit our gut health, so really thrilled with that too.

Killeen: [31:15] Not the tip. More like it's a very nice hefty chunk.

Abigail: [31:20] [laughs]

Killeen: [31:20] It's still an iceberg, but we've got a good handful here. [laughs]

Abigail: [31:25] Killeen, till next time.

Killeen: [31:28] Thank you, Abby. Take care.

Abigail: [31:29] You too. Bye‑bye.

Killeen: [31:30] Bye.

[31:30] [background music]

Announcer: [31:31] The statements in this podcast have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Transcription by CastingWords

More episodes You'll Love