Today’s show is all about digestion so if you have any issues with acid reflux, gas, bloating, other gut issues, or things like fatigue, brain fog, skin issues, stay tuned. I’m interviewing my friend, Dr. Lauren Noel. We’re just going to jump right into it today.
Evelyne: Dr. Lauren Noel is a licensed naturopathic doctor and expert in natural medicine. She received her doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Since 2010, Dr. Noel has treated over 5,000 patients using natural therapies. Her areas of expertise are digestive disorders, thyroid and hormone imbalances and primal nutrition. She has been a frequent guest and lecturer on health radio shows and medical conferences and she is the host of Dr. Low Radio, a top rated podcast on iTunes that has attracted over 400,000 listens. She’s the owner of Shine Natural Medicine in San Diego where she treats patients locally and throughout the US. To learn more about Lauren, you can go to her website which is www.drlaurennoel.com. Lauren, welcome to the show.
Lauren: Thanks for having me.
Evelyne: First of all, what is digestive health? What are we talking about when we use that term?
Lauren: I think when most people hear that, they’re probably thinking diarrhea or constipation or having a stomachache, just the basics. But digestive health expands into so many different systems in the body. It’s way more than just, “do I have a nice bowel movement?” When I work with patients, I ask them so many questions about this because it affects everything from your brain to your hormones to your energy.
Digestive health encompasses a lot but essentially you want your digestion to be working smoothly. You want to be able to absorb all the nutrients in your diet. You want to make sure you stomach is nice and flat after a meal; you shouldn’t be feeling like you’re six months pregnant after you eat. You should be having pretty easy bowel movements where you’re not straining or pushing too hard, it should be pretty each and seamless. If you have any issues in those areas, digestive health is an area you want to look at. We’ll jump more into how this affects all the different body systems, but basically just are you absorbing your nutrients and are you eliminating appropriately.
Evelyne: I think people would actually be surprised at just how many different systems in the body the gut affects. Can you take us through the list and then we’ll discuss them one by one?
Lauren: For sure. Let’s go from head to toe. First off, the gut and the brain are very closely connected and this baffles most people when they hear this. Unless you listen to these podcasts frequently, it probably doesn’t come very naturally to know that the gut and the brain are connected. Brain health is huge. We know from a good amount of research that people who have digestive problems, like IBS for example, are way more likely to have some sort of mood deregulation like schizophrenia or depression or anxiety, so there’s a big connection with the gut and the brain.
Evelyne: And then what’s next?
Lauren: The gut and the thyroid is huge, jumping right down to the neck. Right in the front of your Adam’s apple area is your thyroid gland and the gut and the thyroid are closely linked. If you have imbalances in your flora for example, your thyroid can be totally out of balance because you can’t activate the hormone. It seems like a disconnect. like how does your thyroid actually relate to your gut, but it’s all connected. Dysbiosis, which is imbalance in the flora, we want to have good bacteria in the gut, we’ll get more into those details, when there’s an imbalance in that, then your thyroid doesn’t work appropriately. It’s that connection with those two systems and then jumping even further down, even your cardiovascular system; in research, dysbiosis can increase all different kinds of diseases down the line and one is cardiovascular disease, and even things like cancer which is more widespread throughout the body.
Beyond that, we have your ovaries, your reproductive system. You have to have healthy gut flora in order to metabolize your estrogen appropriately. If that’s out of balance, then you’re not going to have regular hormone cycles basically. More widespread would be your gut and just general pain. When your gut isn’t working appropriately, you can actually have more pain throughout the body, so do you wake up in the morning and you just feel like a rusty hinge or you need to get moving because you have pain when you first wake up? It actually could be related to your digestive tract believe it or not. The list goes on and on but those are just a few that jump out.
Evelyne: I’d love to talk about some of them in a little more detail. Lets talk about the gut and autoimmune issues, and obviously this is where the thyroid immediately comes to mind, but also Crohn’s is an autoimmune disease. Can you talk about those in general?
Lauren: It’s a blanket statement to say that all autoimmune disease starts with a leaky gut. In medicine we very rarely actually make a cause that is a statement, like where something causes something, but there’s so much research in this area that it’s pretty safe to say that.
Evelyne: Can you define what leaky gut means?
Lauren: Leaky gut is a really simplified way of saying intestinal permeability. Intestinal, obviously your intestines, permeability, that’s basically like a screen door; you naturally want oxygen to go through a screen door, just fresh air, but you don’t really want a bunch of bugs, bees, or mosquitos to get through your screen door, but it functions as a barrier. The same thing with your digestive tract; your gut provides a barrier between you and the outside world. If you have a healthy gut, then it protects from things like viruses or bacteria or parasites. For various reasons, when this can’t get broken down, then you get holes in your screen door and then you can start to absorb things that should not get into your circulation.
That’s basically what leaky gut is and that can cause all different kinds of problems, but it’s very individualized how that can show up as disease. For one person, lets say they’re now absorbing things in their circulation that they shouldn’t, it’s causing inflammation, pain, maybe another person it’ll lodge into their thyroid and they’ll get antibodies to their thyroid, which is also called Hashimoto’s. In other people, it can maybe lodge into their joints and then they’re going to get things like rheumatoid arthritis. It’s a very simplified way to explain how autoimmune happens; it’s very complicated but it’s widespread. I think 25 million Americans have autoimmune diseases now and it is going up in staggering numbers.
Evelyne: What causes leaky gut in the first place? How do you get it?
Lauren: I love that you’re asking this because if the cause is leaky gut, what’s the cause of the cause? I just keep going back to find what the first domino is to fall. I do this a lot in my practice, continuing to ask questions; I’m always working as a detective, always asking “why” like an annoying little kid. When we’re looking at leaky gut, what is the cause of leaky gut? It’s widespread and everybody is really different of what has contributed to theirs, but here are a few different things that are associated with an increase in leaky gut.
The first thing would be toxins. We know that we’re in an increasingly toxic world and rewind 50 years ago, we were on a whole different planet. Nowadays, there are hundreds of thousands of chemicals that are in our environment, most of which haven’t even been studied for what they do to the human body. We know the tip of the iceberg of what these different toxins do and these are all contributing to disease and I believe that a large part of the leaky gut epidemic that’s happening right now is from environmental toxins.
Antibiotics. Most Americans have been on at least one antibiotic, but most in my practice is at least 10 or 20 even. Some people just popped them like candy when they were kids. That was how it was for me; when I was sick, here’s another antibiotic, here’s another Z-pak. This all contributes to dysbiosis eventually leading to leaky gut.
The other one is birth control pills. It’s so rare that I come across a lady who has never been on birth control pills. Even for maybe six months, most women have been on them at some point and their doctors don’t tell them this can actually cause leaky gut for you. It’s never mentioned. Medications like Advil or aspirin; these all contribute to that as well. How about bad diets? Sugar, pesticides, just the typical standard American diet is going to contribute to leaky gut?
Evelyne: What about stress? I know I’ve read this, but how exactly does that work?
Lauren: It’s a pretty easy connection, so when you have an increase in cortisol, that can cause the tight junction of your intestinal cells to become loose or leaky. We know this when someone has a real stressful event, maybe like a trauma, an accident or something, when you’re going to the emergency room for example, or a burn victims, they tend to have leaky gut a limited amount of time, but most people are under stress all the time. It’s not really a natural way of living that we’re supposed to wake up in the morning and look at our cell phones and look at our email right away and then head to work and be in rush hour as we’re driving to work and then immediately we get to work, we get hit with emails or calls or angry customers and then we rush through lunch and then we rush home through rush hour and traffic and then we go home and then we have to figure out what to do for dinner and have to deal with family stress. Most of us are under stress from morning until night, and then we just collapse in bed and do it over again.
Basically we’re like in the trauma unit 24 hours a day besides when we’re sleeping. That by itself, you can have the most perfect diet, you can eat organic all the time and free range and local food, but if you’re having that kind of stressful lifestyle, then that right there can just contribute to your leaky gut.
Evelyne: I’ve had shows about gluten and dairy and it comes up at least once per show, but I think because we’re talking about digestion, we can’t skip over that. Can you talk about how gluten specifically can affect intestinal permeability?
Lauren: The newest research is showing us that gluten sensitivity is in 70% to 80% of people, and that’s not even with people who necessarily have symptoms. You can think that you’re just feeling great but you’re eating these foods and you can be causing some microscopic damage and not really knowing it. It’s like heart disease; you don’t really have symptoms of heart disease until you drop dead of a heart attack. You can have some real damage happening to your gut without really having symptoms.
Very rarely do I let a patient continue to eat gluten unless they just feel amazing but that’s pretty rare. They go gluten-free because you’re not going to go without any nutrients from eliminating gluten, but there are so many benefits that you get from not having it in your diet. Gluten is the protein that’s found in wheat and it can cause some major inflammation and damage to your digestive tract. People say, “why is it so much of a problem, we’ve been eating these foods for thousands of years.” As Dr. Thomas O’Bryan says, the bread that Jesus Christ ate is not on the planet earth anymore. This is different from what we’re used to having because of hybridization and genetically modified foods and so gluten is no longer the same that it used to be. The gluten content that’s in foods is exponentially more than it once was. That’s why we have delicious bagels that are nice and chewy and fluffy, that’s the gluten content that makes it have that consistency. It’s tasty, but it wreaks major havoc on your gut.
Evelyne: What about vitamin and mineral deficiencies? Can those be related to poor gut health and how does that work?
Lauren: Absolutely. I am very passionate about digestive health, but I’m also maybe more passionate about nutrition. Nutrition is what brought me to this form of medicine; I love talking about food as medicine, and I love customizing diets that are going to give the most healing that you can possibly have with every single meal.
But if you’re not going to absorb your nutrients, then it defeats the purpose of a perfect diet. Really optimizing absorption is super important obviously for energy, to give you all the nutrients you need for healthy thinking and brain function and mood and all of that. Having digestive malabsorption definitely can contribute to deficiencies in your diet.
I test nutrient deficiencies for every single patient, which is a blood test through a lab called SpectraCell. The main deficiency that I would say that I see is. Zinc is a mineral that is really important for immune health; that’s why usually when people get sick they’ll pop a bunch of zinc lozenges. Zinc is important for immune health, it’s also essential for healing up tissues, healing up your ligaments, your tendons, your skin, and so when you’re deficient in that, it’s like a cycle; if you have damage to your gut, you’re going to get deficient in zinc, and if you’re deficient in zinc, then you can’t heal your tissues, and it goes on and on. That’s a really important one that we supplement with when someone has malabsorption, getting their zinc levels back on track.
Vitamin A is super important for the health of your skin. That’s why when people take Accutane for acne, your skin tends to get better; it’s a topical of Vitamin A but that’s the reason why it works. That’s another deficiency that we see a lot of. Good sources of that are obviously liver; I’m a huge fan of liver so that’s a really nice food source, but you obviously have to heal the gut before you’re just going to assume that your body is going to absorb that.
Vitamin C is a huge deficiency. That’s your adrenal’s favorite vitamin. It’s similar to zinc in the way that it’s necessary to heal tissues. That’s why you see skin creams that have vitamin C, like vitamin C serums and such. It’s healthy for your skin but it’s also healthy for your digestive tract, so when that’s deficient, you can have some problems with your gut too.
Those are some of the main ones. The other thing that we see a lot of times too is low protein in their blood. If you’re not absorbing your nutrients, often times you’re not absorbing proteins as well. It’s the same thing with that cycle that you can’t break down your proteins and actually absorb them, but if you don’t absorb your proteins, then you can’t heal your body tissues. It’s a vicious circle that happens.