Harmony Within: Exploring the Gut-Brain Connection

Harmony Within: Exploring the Gut-Brain Connection

Eddie Jimenez is a nutritionist with a specialization in kids' gut health. He pursued a degree in nutrition to further understand and emphasize the role of nutrition in health and wellness. Today, he guides parents of children and teenagers on the path to better health, with a special emphasis on gut health. Eddie is currently pursuing a PhD and Doctorate in Natural Medicine. 

Leslie: Just to get us started, can you tell us about your journey and how you ended up in this space? 

Eddie: Sure, I started in this space about eight years ago. About eight or nine years ago, I actually went to medical school. I was having a lot of health issues, and I realized in my third year that I needed to take control of my health. A lot of it had to do with my poor nutrition and then my lack of exercise, as well as all of my stress. So basically to control my lifestyle and find nutrition– to learn about nutrition and heal myself– I essentially decided to take a different career path, wanting to focus on nutrition and particularly on gut health. That's something that I struggled with a lot, as well as a lot of anxiety, which were all related. And so, eight years ago was when I changed my career path and became a nutritionist. 

Leslie: So tell us about the link between gut health and the rest of this. What is the role of the gut and how does it all fit together?

Eddie: When it comes to gut health, the first thing that comes to mind is digestion. We have a lot of what's called a gut microbiome, a lot of bacteria in our gut, in the large intestine primarily. They have different functions, and they're different bacteria strains. We have different kinds that do different things. They could be working on your immune system, brain, metabolism, muscles, or even skin. So gut bacteria has a direct connection with other parts of the system in your body. 

So, when it comes to gut health, I want people to stop thinking beyond digestion. If you don't have good digestion, there's probably a chance that you don't have a healthy gut. But you still have to think about, even if you have good digestion, “How's my diet?” And you can start thinking about how healthy your gut is. And maybe, “How frequently do I get sick?” Because the gut has a big connection with your immune system and even the brain. And that was something that I experienced myself– when I was in medical school, I developed a lot of anxiety. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And I didn't realize that there was a big connection between the gut and the brain. 

95% of neuroendocrine, neurohormones, are basically secreted in the gut. So if there's any imbalance of gut bacteria, there's gonna be an issue with those hormones in your brain, like your serotonin or your dopamine. So I realized that that's what I was missing. There was an imbalance of gut bacteria, what is called dysbiosis. And so I was not producing enough of those hormones, and I had a lot of anxiety. 

Leslie: So how are they actually communicating? Is it just the hormones in your blood kind of going there? 

Eddie: Yes, gut-brain access has a direct connection to the brain. 

Leslie: Wow, fascinating. So talk more about that. It sounds like an out-of-balance gut will result in symptoms like anxiety. So tell us more about that. And then the flip side, what does a healthy gut do for your mental health? 

Eddie: If we're not producing enough of those hormones that we need, like say dopamine or serotonin, happy hormones, brain hormones, then we're not in balance essentially with our brain as well. So having an imbalance of gut bacteria causes an imbalance in our brain function. But if you have a healthy gut, they’d be balanced. 

Leslie: So, looking at the opposite of that– what are some signs that people might look for that they need to look at their gut health or that they might have an issue?

Eddie: Good question. Again, digestion is a sign. So if you're having bloating or constipation, that’s a sign. It also has to do with your mood. So, for example, how's your mood? Are you having mood swings? Are you feeling tired? And even skin. How are your skin conditions? Are you having some rashes? Are you getting sick more frequently? When you get sick, does it take longer than you're used to for you to recover? That's some of the signs that you should probably check your gut health and see how you're doing.

Leslie: So let's say somebody has some of these signs, they wanna check their gut health. What does that process look like to see? 

Eddie: One of the things you can do– when you can talk to your doctor about it– is a GI map, which is one of the tests. They look at your bacteria in the gut, and they can tell you how diverse it is– how even and how rich. You want different kinds of the bacteria strains, and not only different kinds of bacteria strains, but also you want it to be even. So that's one sign, and they can tell you more about it. And this test is not something that they normally do unless you talk to your doctor about it. It's a functional test and like I said, a GI map test. And so they can look at your health, if there's an imbalance, a dysbiosis, of gut bacteria. 

Leslie: So if you get the test result back and you do have that dysbiosis, what do you do? Like how did you solve it yourself? 

Eddie: Yeah, one way it is we're looking at, say, probiotic foods, and that's one that has had studies done on it. You can actually normalize your gut bacteria between two weeks if you work really hard at it, by eating the right foods. That's like probiotic foods, plant-based foods, and even like meats– but good healthy meats. And that's one way to balance your gut bacteria. Or, it could be that you need some antibiotics or some herbs that can remove the bad bacteria from your gut.

Leslie: Okay, got it. So I know one good probiotic food, which is Vitaminis’s gut health. We've got as much probiotics as two cups of yogurt in there. But what are some other things? What sorts of foods or supplements or whatever did you do, or what would you recommend? 

Eddie: Yeah, so polyphenols: greens, blueberries, even dark chocolate, and green tea. That's polyphenols. You want to get some polyphenols in there to increase your good gut bacteria. So one of the good gut bacteria is called akkermansia, and that's really difficult to get from foods. So they basically repair the mucin. And yeah, you can get it from polyphenols. 

Leslie: And then are there other sources besides supplements that you use or would recommend? 

Eddie: Yes. Movement impacts your gut bacteria. So that could be 20 or 30 minutes of cardiovascular movement, exercise, strength training, working on managing your stress, eliminating toxins from products you might be using, like shampoo or other products or even household products, and making sure it doesn't have any harsh chemicals in there. 

And also, even with vitamin D, you can see a lot of people that are deficient in vitamin D have an imbalance of gut bacteria. So you might want to check your levels of vitamin D; that's through blood work, so you might want to ask your doctor to do a vitamin D level. 

Leslie: And do you work with people in this area to help them solve their issues? 

Eddie: I actually specialize in gut health and with kids and teens. And I'm currently developing a gut-health testing product where a test is sent to your home. And it's just two samples, which take like a minute to do. Then, you return the sample to us and we send it to the lab. And then I get the data and analyze it, and then create a plan based on that, and go over the results with you and what you can do. 

Even things from maybe having your kid work with and play with animals, just to bring more diversity of their bacteria– or going outside and playing. We live in a sterile environment where we're not getting enough bacteria. So not all bacteria is bad for you. Your environment is huge. And everyone has a unique gut microbiome. So one of the things that happens is like, so you can take probiotics which helps with digestion. Some people would feel it right away; maybe they're having constipation, bloating, and there's this type of bacteria strain that helps remove your bowels. It goes out with the stool, so it doesn't colonize in your gut, meaning that it doesn't create that environment that you need. So it'll take time. It's not just taking probiotics only when you're having digestive issues. A lot of times, doctors prescribe probiotics when you're having digestion problems. But, I believe people should always be having probiotics to create that environment in your gut to colonize that bacteria, so that you're having a healthy gut environment and preventing those health issues.

It's not always just if there's an issue. I mean, back to the whole like traditional medicine versus holistic health debate, it's like not necessarily just if you have an issue, but it should just be part of your routine.

Leslie: Yeah, I know probiotics can be hard, especially if you have a dairy allergy and you can't have yogurts and then also kimchi and sauerkraut are very strong foods. That's one of the reasons we developed this Vitaminis’s gut health, because it's just basically fruit juice– blueberry juice with banana puree– since probiotics can be difficult. Also, a lot of people can't swallow pills, and gummy vitamins I don't think are a very effective way to get probiotics in. So it's just another easy option for people. 

Eddie: Yes, and I agree with your point. Having a drink like yours, which tastes really good, by the way, goes all the way down to your large intestine where you want it; it goes all the way down to where you need it. 

Leslie: Yeah, that's awesome. I'm glad you liked it. So, I guess, what are your top tips for our audience in terms of gut health if you had to simplify?

Eddie: Focusing on a whole foods approach, which can be challenging, but I know that's the number one. Limiting the sugar like processed sugars, and then moving as often as you can. Get some sun, we want some vitamin D. Develop a good sleep routine at night, so you can get some good quality sleep. And the environment you're around is really important for stress. Play with animals, we want to be exposed to different kinds of bacteria. So they're the best place to get it because they're everywhere, right? 

And play outside. Again, we want to be exposed to bacteria. And then the last two would be taking a probiotic supplement, a high quality probiotic supplement– like yours– would be a good idea.

Leslie: Just to wrap up, where can folks find you if they want to learn more or get in touch? Yeah, thank you. Yeah. They can go to my website, My Instagram too: @eddiejimenez_coach. I provide a lot of information about gut health, and tips about what to do with your kids and teens; for example, how to overcome picky eating, because I know that's a challenge. Even if we want to improve their gut health, there’s still going to be some challenges. 

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