How does gut health relate to the health of the rest of your body, mind, mood, and soul? How can what goes on in the rest of your body be related to digestive health? In her new book, Beyond Digestion, Dr. Laura Brown, ND says that even mood can be a reflection or reaction of what’s going on in the gut. In fact, the state of the gut is the root of many chronic health issues.

The book aims to help people better digest their food and the world around them and of course, learn how to care for your gut so that it can care for you.

Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Dr. Laura Brown, ND, author of Beyond Digestion: How Gut Health Connects to Your Mind, Body, and Soul. Laura, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Thanks so much Drew, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Sure, I’m a naturopathic doctor with a functional medicine approach, I have studied with Chris Kresser and his ADAPT level of one training program and also, studied with Dr. Tom and his certified gluten-free program. I’m constantly learning new stuff, we’re always training and learning new things as naturopathic doctors, it just never ever ends and that’s why I’m here and why I love it. I am fascinated with how the body knits together.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to write this book? Did you have an inspirational moment, an “aha moment,” did you have some extra time on your hands because of COVID?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: So funny. So ahead of meeting up with Scribe, the publishing company, I had about a year or two of thinking, “I should write a book, maybe I’ll do some writing,” and I’m just not a very good writer, so I thought, “This is a ridiculous idea, what am I thinking?”

But it kept knocking on my door and then I started to follow some of the blogs that Scribe was putting out with Tucker Max. I thought, “Oh yeah,” and I started to save them. Then he was coming to Toronto and I thought, “Okay, I live near Toronto,” I’m a Canadian. I had no excuses now, it was, “Okay, either I’m going to do this and write a book or I’m just going to stop thinking about it right now and get on with it.”

I’ve learned so much through reading books and I love that aspect of being able to pick something up and open your mind. And I thought, “How do I give back?” This was one way that I could give back and I could also grow through it because I had no idea how to write a book, that was what Scribe has provided me, that confidence to journey across the pages. The guarantee that you guys would not let me write a bad book. So, I took the leap, and here I am.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, were there any learnings or breakthroughs during the writing of the book? You’re a doctor, you’re a professional in this space, but sometimes by doing some research or sometimes just looking back at your past and your past experiences, you’ll find something new that you didn’t see before.

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Constantly, absolutely. This book is a result of life and clinical experience and it’s written from both sides of the stethoscope. As I said before, we never stop learning. I’m always peeling layers, and I talk about peeling layers through the book, the physical, the emotional, the cognitive, the spiritual. We’re constantly digging in deeper and deeper and just when we think, “Oh we’ve arrived,” we dig a little deeper. It was as if things are continuing to be fed, the layers evolve from the inside out, and as I was writing the book and doing research to support things, I was learning something all the time.

You have to be careful not to get caught down the rabbit hole with the research, but I did use a lot of scientifically-based articles to support where I was going with things, especially in the first half of the book.

The second half of the book is reflective and more of the wisdom and trusting wisdom. That was an area that was probably a bigger growth for me at this point, was to trust more into that wisdom of knowledge–I should just say just wisdom because knowledge is kind of the other side of the coin. To really trust more in what comes through in the creative process and to allow things to flow.

Everything Starts in the Gut

Drew Appelbaum: Now, who is this book aimed at? Did you have a specific person in mind, or do you have to have issues with your gut or health problems to be able to take something away from this book, or can somebody who thinks they’re relatively healthy right now also take away some new knowledge from the book?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Yes, both. If you own a gut, you’ll get something out of this book. There’s definitely lots in there because everything starts in the gut. I mean, Hippocrates said this 2,450 years ago, and I don’t think there’s really a whole lot that’s changed. We’re talking not just about digesting food, we’re digesting energy and emotions and things from the environment and the world around us.

It’s talking about that side of things too. Helping people better digest their food and the world around them. Because our gut is our primary sensing organ that’s picking things up from the environment, not only through our digestive tract, but we might as well have antenna sticking out from our gut because we’re picking up a lot of energy and emotions from other people and those things have to be processed too.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, early on in the book, you make a promise. You say that the book is to help you appreciate that your mood and overall health could be determined by your gastrointestinal health.

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Yes. That’s pretty well done and really if I were to take the stats from 2019. 70% of people with IBS don’t get treatment, but the 30% that do, 50 to 90% of those people have anxiety and depression.

We also know that there are 40 million people in America seeking help for anxiety and depression, that’s 20% of the US population. There’s been a ton of writing in books about the gut-brain access and how things are going on, but your microbiome literally, the trillions of microbes that are sitting in your gut are a huge part of how we make vitamins, how we interact with hormones and the neurotransmitters that are made in our gut.

I was just talking a second ago about the antennae sticking out from our gut, pulling in, and our gut being that primary sensing organ. 90% of the serotonin is made in our gut. 400 times more melatonin is made in our gut than our brain.

There are other neurotransmitters that are made in the gut without getting all too technical. We’re just making a ton of things down there. Our gut first senses, then our heart has to process, it feels, then our brain makes sense of what we’re feeling and labels it.

We know that there is a nervous system, there is the Vagus nerve that goes from the brain and into a lot of the digestive organs. We know that there is an Enteric nervous system in the gut. We know the microbes communicate, I don’t think they’re crawling up and down there, but maybe they do. But they’re sending information and sending chemical messages most likely, from the gut to the brain, and we know that even in some conditions, when that is severed in animal models sometimes you see changes in anxiety or changes in behavior patterns different than before.

We know that lactobacillus, a really common gut microbe bacteria, is key for transmitting information back and forth. We know Candida, which is a naturally occurring yeast in our body, can get overgrown and it actually preferentially feeds itself, it makes us crave sugar.

We just wonder how much these other microbes are driving our behavior? There’s a lot of interconnected things going on with the gut microbiome, the nervous system within the gut moving up to the brain, chemical messengers being transported, neurotransmitters being transported, tons of things going on there.

Drew Appelbaum: Can you talk about a few of the major success stories from people taking control of their gut and seeing some spectacular results?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: My goodness, yes, it just goes on and on. I just had a patient this morning, we made some changes to her diet about two months ago. She would come in and she was at her wit’s end and feeling like, “I’m 42 and I feel like my mother has more energy at age 80 than I do. What’s going on?”

We started by just cutting back on the gluten and the sugar and she has so much more energy, she was feeling so much better. Just a simple thing, I had a fellow in a few years ago. He came in with a really bad tremor. Essentially, the guy had never eaten any vegetables in his life, he was missing a ton of vitamins, we did some supplementation on some of it, but then changed his diet. We tried to get some vegetables into the diet, some green leafy’s and some broccoli and cauliflower, just really simple stuff. Then over the course of time, his tremor has pretty much gone away, he can pick up a cup of coffee and not spill it all over himself.

People with autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, who are getting in better dietary stuff now and slowing down the progression of their disease. People being able to think more clearly–I always think of Sam who I talked about in the book–of course, everybody I talk about, the names are actually different, I do that to protect autonomy. He came in, walking with a cane, and came with his wife. He could hardly even speak to formulate a sentence–his cognitive powers were just not there. He was a man at age 70, it just was amazing, and he had two daughters with celiac disease. We did testing, and he didn’t come up with celiac disease, but he had gluten sensitivity that was affecting his brain. We went on the gluten-free diet and in six weeks, he comes walking in without a cane.

It’s not always gluten, there are other things going on. People with parasites, feeling like they’re going to crawl out of their skin, very anxious, whenever I see anybody with a parasite, they have heightened anxiety, and literally, they just want to crawl out of their skin. All I can think of is parasites crawling around inside of them and then literally, they’re feeling that sensation so strongly.

We go through the gut-reset protocol, get the things out of there that you don’t want, get some balance back into the microbiome, and they start feeling like themselves again. Yeah, it can be many different things.

Sometimes it’s food-oriented, sometimes it’s microbiome dysbiosis, things you don’t want in there, not enough of some things, too much of another.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, why don’t traditional doctors talk about the microbiome more?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: I think gastroenterologists have a pretty good handle on it but maybe not in the sense of some of the testing that we’re doing. I don’t know. Is the research too new? It’s been exploding so it’s difficult for people in full-time practice to constantly keep up to date on the latest science. That’s part of it.

We’re told in medical school that what you learned 10 years ago, half of it is going to be redundant 10 years from now. We’re learning things collectively as a society, as time goes on, and we do the best with what we know.

Digest Food and Process Emotions

Drew Appelbaum: Can we talk in just a big general sense, just so we can understand a little bit more, what is the role of the gut overall?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: To digest food and to also process emotions. When we talk about the gut, we’re talking about the big tube that starts at your mouth and basically ends at your bum, but we have so many other digestive organs involved, like the spleen and the pancreas and the liver and the gallbladder. Then we talk about the whole small intestine and large intestines. There’s so much going on in there.

Then you have the trillions of microbes that live in the gut that aren’t even a part of us. 99% of the genes that we carry around with us aren’t our own. They’re our microbiome, and they’re responsible for making vitamins and hormones and protecting us, and interacting with our immune system. 70 to 80% of our immune system is in our gut.

We also have that as a huge part of what’s going on in the gut, our immune system, and how important that is with COVID that we’re talking about lately. Keep the gut strong and that’s going to be helpful because you’re going to keep your immune system strong.

Drew Appelbaum: Can you talk about the amount of plastics that are found in our gut? Because the stats you list in the book are incredibly surprising.

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Yeah, it is really surprising. Plastic is a pretty sad state. You think of the oceans, you think of food, you think of everything that’s made with plastic, we absorb plastic. So, what’s wrong with plastic. Often, it has the bisphenol A, or the BPA’s in it that really mess with our hormones, so then they came out with BPA-free we wondered, “Okay, but is that any better?” We don’t know. It doesn’t look so good, and maybe too early to tell, but plastics mess with our hormones.

It makes it pretty tough. It makes it pretty tough and because things can be stored up in our fatty cells and our fatty tissue, usually with females more than males because of the increase of fatty tissue that female bodies typically have, and also the hormonal cycles with women.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, there are a lot of misconceptions about drinking alcohol and some people say in moderation it’s great and I think people’s definition of moderation is what sort of gets them in trouble. Some people think a glass of red wine a day is great. Can you talk to us about how safe drinking is for the gut and what moderation should look like?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Absolutely, you know, it’s individual because of the genetic component. We do know that there are some genes that tie to people that have addictions to alcohol. That could be, in their case, nothing, zero is the limit for them. We know that alcohol in large quantities is a toxin to all the cells and it can be very difficult and very hard on the gut. We know that if we’re drinking alcohol, it’s really difficult for the gut to heal.

We also know that a glass of red wine, even just one every couple of weeks is actually helpful for the microbiome and we see that with gut tests. We see that with research. I always say everything in moderation and moderation in moderation, but we know that as you’re taking in alcohol, you’re leaving little room. If you’re always drinking alcohol and having to detox it, then you’re leaving little room for your body to detox other things.

Our body is a detoxification engine, but if it is always having to detox alcohol and excess drugs or things like that, it’s not having that reserve to detox the everyday things of life or other things that are toxins in our environment.

Typically, what the medical terminologies say is one to two drinks a day for women. Two, maybe three for men, and I always say, that would be your daily limit but have some days without. Have some extended breaks without, so that you have that opportunity to back away from it. Instead of always having the alcoholic spirits, have room and give time and space for the holy and divine spirit to come in is one nice way of thinking about it.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, how do some of the more common medications affect the microbiome? I think people are quick to pop something in their mouth these days to solve one problem but are they creating another, potentially?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Yeah, potentially. I hope when people read the book they don’t think, “Oh, I got to quit my Levothyroxine because it might give me SIBO.” No, don’t stop your medications until you discuss it with your prescribing doctor of course, but it is really good to increase the awareness around the different types of medication. Of course, a lot of people are aware that when you take an antimicrobial, like antibiotics, for something, and sometimes antibiotics are necessary to get ahead of a really bad infection, but then are you following it with some probiotics to help reseed the gut?

Sometimes you need that extra help. Repeated bouts of antibiotics can really deplete the natural flora in the system, and the natural microbiome that is down there can and often do tend to create a resistance for the bugs that are in there. Sometimes it’s the ones that we don’t want that start to grow and get out of balance.

We also know that antidepressants, which a ton of people take, can act as an antimicrobial. As I mentioned Levothyroxine, which a lot of people are on for thyroid stuff, does that mean you don’t take it? No, not necessarily, but maybe once or twice a year or you talk to your functional medicine doctor or your naturopathic doctor to do a preventative for your gastrointestinal tract so that you can prevent SIBO from happening.

Then taking a look at some of the other things, we also know that when you’re taking five or more different medications, that can actually alter the whole microbiome. Your microbiome will change in order to properly break down and digest what drugs that you are taking. We also know that in a drug, in the capsule that they’re making, there can be binders, there can be stuff in the capsule that we might be reacting to. Really, it could be one of those things. Polyethylene glycol, PEGS can be another. Some people are sensitive to the fillers and binders and you could be negatively responding to those.

Also, hormonal birth control. It depletes a lot of minerals and depletes vitamins, so if you’re on birth control, you really should be on a B-complex and a multi-mineral, multivitamin while you’re on that in order to compensate.

Drew Appelbaum: Are there any big clues that you can name that folks out there might be feeling but they think, “Oh, this is fine. Oh, this is something minor.” Or any big red flags, like having a stomachache every night–are there any clues that, hey, maybe something’s wrong, or something is going on with your gut?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: I mean irregular bowel movements is one thing, but we can have a normal stool that doesn’t necessarily tell us what is going on. Other things are gas, pain, bloating, headaches, joint pain, just feeling dragged out, lack of energy, fatigue, difficulty in concentrating, foggy brain, rashes. Things that look like psoriasis or eczema or other types of rashes sometimes can collaborate with the fungal infections because often, I always say fungi is the term for multiple fungus–so I say the “fun-guys” they like to hang out together, so where you have one fungus, you often have another. Typically, if you end up with an overgrowth of one and it is not always candida, I have seen other molds and fungi on stool analysis tests, and it’s really just getting those guys under control. It’s a number of different things, but those are some highlights of things that you can watch for.

Drew Appelbaum: Let’s talk about diets and fad diets that are out there. I know everybody wants to get quote-unquote, “healthy” and they assume that it’s by losing weight, but do these fad diets, do they end up doing more harm than good, and is there one diet out there that, considering the microbiome, is the best one, in your mind?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: The whole foods diet is probably going to be one of the better ones. Paleo, Mediterranean-style, the things that involve real food are pretty much a good way to go. There’s a lot of fad diets out there. Some of them have been increasing in popularity because they are helpful for some people for a short period of time but no one diet is right for anyone and not necessarily even one diet for life.

I look at it in the way of how do we feed our gut microbiome? The things that it needs to be healthy because then, we’ll be healthy as a result. That comes back to real food without a lot of excess stuff, and fresh and prepared with love. Love is always the secret ingredient.

Evolution, Not Revolution

Drew Appelbaum: Now, for the book itself, is this something that someone can read through and make all these changes overnight? What do you think the first step is to start changing the way and testing what foods work for you?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: I always say it’s a process of evolution, not revolution. Awareness is the first thing. Often, I have people just write down what they’re eating. No judgment, just write it down. Don’t think about what you’re going to eat because you have to write it down, because then we’ll just cheat. Just write it down for example, “Okay, yeah I ate a box of cookies,” or, “I ate some chips today,” or, “I didn’t eat anything but chicken wings today or maybe some ice cream to go with it.”

Who cares? Just write it down, just become aware of what you are putting in your mouth and be honest with yourself. Start there. I include in the book some daily diet tips, and if you get anything out of the book, eat more vegetables because there are over 5,000 reasons to eat vegetables. There are so many different positive things about what they have packed in there for us. I am not pro-vegetarian, but I am pro-vegetable.

Start getting some color in your diet, start eating some things that are green and some things that are orange and red, that are whole foods. Maybe take a highlighter through that diet diary that you’ve made and highlight in green everything that you ate that was a green vegetable and you can see, “Oh, well I had two things this week.” Okay, well maybe next week, you can get three, right?

It’s that kind of thing, so sometimes slow is better than fast. Like Stephen Covey says, “Sometimes fast is slow and slow is fast,” and it’s so true. Just put one foot in front of the other,  little small changes made in a positive direction with the end in mind are often more effective than trying to do things overnight.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, you do mention this in the book, and I think it’s because people don’t pay attention to it, but you make sure to say, “Hey, this is not woo-woo stuff,” as you call it. Can you talk about a little bit of the scientific research behind this?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Oh gosh, yeah and I do footnote a lot of the studies that I used while I was putting the book together and it just continues. I have volumes of that beyond what’s in the book, and volumes that I’ve made on articles that I’ve written since the book. I use the National Library of Medicine for the majority of the articles that I am citing and it’s based on scientific research that’s been done around the world by people that are probably much smarter than me.

Drew Appelbaum: Well Laura, I just want to say that writing a book, especially one like this, is going to help so many people reset their gut and become more educated about their health, it’s no small feat so congratulations on writing and publishing.

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Thanks so much, Drew. I appreciate the time to chat about it. Hopefully, if anybody just gets a small nugget out of it, they can read parts of it or all of it, it’s pretty easy to do that. Hopefully, they’ll find something that’s of help for them and that they can feel a little better about.

Drew Appelbaum: Now, speaking of a small nugget I have one final question for you. If readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Just eat more vegetables. I mean with all of the education and stuff, when it boils down to it, you just look at those vegetables, that’s so important. There is a lot packed into the read and there are many different parts of what we have, but in order to digest, truly we have to rest. We have to allow ourselves to connect more with our food and our environment and with that, connect with the earth in ourselves.

I think through this global shift of having to slow down a little bit, we’re recognizing this as a well-needed slowdown. We need that because when we are constantly on the go, constantly in that fight or flight, guess what’s turned off? Our digestion. And yes, we need the science-based evidence and the proof to make a point, but we also have to take the wisdom that’s been passed on through the generations, that innate knowing that we need to guide our bodies and ourselves so that we can digest our food and the world around us.

Drew Appelbaum: This has been a pleasure and I’m so excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, Beyond Digestion, and you can find it on Amazon. Laura, besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: or [email protected].

Drew Appelbaum: Laura, thank you so much for coming on the show. Best of luck with your new book.

Dr. Laura M. Brown, ND: Thanks so much Drew, it’s a pleasure.