INDULGE Interview | Gut Health with Dr. Leigh Wagner

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Conversation on Gut Health with Dr. Leigh Wagner

Hi all! You may know Dr. Leigh Wagner from Self-Care YEAH!, INDULGE or on my IG training for triathlons this past summer. She has become a go to nudge for me and my skeptical and interested mind in supplements, gut health and my personal health. Bless her for dealing with my persistent driving questions.

Leigh is an integrative dietitian and a never-ending source of knowledge. I love chatting with her and being educated on nutrition and wellness. We recently had a conversation about gut health and I wanted to share here. Please feel free to drop questions for Leigh in the comments and also share topics you’d like to hear about in the future.

Gut health is the buzz word right now. What is Gut Health?

Gut the condition of your digestive tract and how it can use the food you eat and turn it into energy or feed the bacteria that are living in you to help your digestive tract work “normally”. To really break it down, it is how your body can break down what you eat and then use it to fuel and support all functions of your body.

What are some of the more bigger issues with gut health?

More common issues are anything related to digestion. This includes running to the bathroom after you eat, constipation, bloating, skin issues, systemic bloating, acid reflux, fatigue, chronic fatigue, migraines, headaches, joint pain and the list goes on.

Food is medicine but there are also ways it can be a burden on the body. Especially with the food we are consuming, like lots of food out of boxes. Based on our previous conversations, this leads me to ask - can you explain leaky gut?

Yes! You gut is a tube that goes from your mouth all the way to the other end (she means your butt…) And your gut is like panty hose. It is tight mesh with millions if not billions of little teeny holes that allow food to be absorbed into the system. What can happen is that large holes can be created and bigger particles of food proteins can leak out into your bloodstream and makes your immune system act up. And your immune system acting up causes more inflammation. And inflammation causes all of the other symptoms we talked about earlier like skin issues, fatigue, digestive issues.

Does everyone have leaky gut?

The longer I practice, I would say at least everyone in the United States probably has a certain level of leaky gut, because our food system, as you can guess, is not always the highest quality. We have chronic stress which affects our gut health. To varying degrees.

Do we need to panic?

Please don’t panic.

Of course not, right. We use our bodies, every day. They are not going to be in perfect condition.

Right. And what I think about when we are talking is to what degree is whatever symptoms you are having affecting the way you are feeling. If it is affecting your job or the life you have envisioned for yourself. But if you have gas after you eat broccoli sometimes, that’s not abnormal.

Right, thats so big in fitness. Oh gosh, I am bloated. Sometimes I am just like, fart. I get it, you ate broccoli. Go in the other room, let it out.

And that is something I do not think is emphasized enough. If you eat you are going to have food in your stomach so it is going to push out a little bit but if you look like you’re three month pregnant after you eat then thats a different discussion. If you are in pain and it is distended like a balloon every time you eat or drink something, thats where it could be a problem rather than when you have to toot after you eat maybe a salad.

And you know my whole take on this, that the way it is being communicated, maybe because the space I am in that I am seeing it all of the time. But everyone is now going to go cure their leaky gut. How do we know to what degree we have it and how to treat it?

First recognize if you have a leaky gut. Hopefully you poop once a day and it is formed.

Sarah Kucera says it need to look like a ripe banana. Maybe not that color.

That is a good visual in that it is formed and not falling apart. But also you need to have one every single day and some people have gone their whole life having to go to the bathroom once a week or a couple times a week and that is when things are not working the way that they should be. You shouldn’t be getting reflux after every meal. You shouldn’t have to be in pain after you eat something. I am illustrating the problems but that is how you know something is not quite right.

I’d say waking up and feeling genuinely rested, it’s really just feeling in good health. What I would say is some of us don’t know what good health feels like or felt what is possible. If you are in pain, if you are tired all of the time, if you are not getting enough sleep which is 8 hours a night, then you should look into leaky gut.

Wow. That’s - As much as I get skeptical of the industry and this idea that everyone has issues and everyone needs to be fixed, everyone needs stuff… I am also an extremist in my believe that food can solve most issues. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in medicine but issues like ADD, chronic fatigue, etc. I have recently been tested, we have talked about this, and I am currently looking at my issues with high dopamine, cortisol spikes, adrenal fatigue. So selfishly, can you educate me on how cortisol is in the gut and affected by the gut?

So cortisol is affected by stress. So it relates to our brain, our brains perception of stress, adrenal glands and neurotransmitters that are in the gut.

So it’s not in the gut, it is tested by the gut?

So yeah. How it all ties together is that our stress can actually affect our gut bacteria. So seratonin, dopamine and these chemicals and how they affect our mood and our focus, depression, anxiety, ADD, all of those things. We think of those in terms of our brain but we actually have more neurotransmitters in our gut than in our brain. So thats where we talk about the gut as the second brain. So when people have depression, anxiety, mood stuff - that can actually be affected by our gut health. So I can help someone heal their gut and then they will see lower anxiety, they have lower depression, They can focus better. So that is in line with what you are looking to answer.

I would love to go further down this discussion of depression and anxiety but maybe we will save that for another time. I am really intrigued by this conversation.

So when I think about gut health, I think about supplements and the first one that comes to mind is probiotics. And now there are a million options out there. How do we navigate this large number of options? How do we know which one to take?

I can’t emphasize enough to take care of yourself and how you manage stress because it has such a great affect on your health. Second, shop the produce aisle and eat real food. So for you, I know you eat a lot of real food, you may not need a probiotic. I don't take a probiotic. A lot of people may not need a probiotic.

Probitoic isn’t meant to be something you need to take the rest of your life unless you have had a insult on your digestive system like chemo or chronic antibiotics. By eating whole real foods like vegetables and fruits, that should keep you gut in good condition. And I can go down a rabbit hole that way.

But if you eat whole real foods then you may not need a probiotic.

Can you quickly, as the last piece can you hit on inflammation. With leaky gut can cause inflammation. But we are in a space now where inflammation is fading. I know for me legumes, peanuts, soy protein, black beans are hard on me.

Inflammation is a result of your immune system reacting. So you could have had something that day that causes inflammation. I know for me gluten is a big driver that causes digestive issues and I get headaches. It can cause leaky gut. When you have an irritant like gluten or other foods. For some it could be dairy or legumes and that can cause pain and your immune system is reacting to proteins and trying to fight it off.

Where is a good place to get you gut health checked you can reach out to Leigh to get tested or either of us to ask options. Getting tested is a great place to start.

Where can they reach you? @drleighwagner on instagram

Please ask any questions in the comments and Leigh will respond.