girl holding a glass of juice

A wise Mind Presented by Sabino Recovery S1 EP 8

In this episode of A Wise Mind Presented By Sabino Recovery, podcast host Sam Zimmer, sits down with Leanna Stetson, MEd, a certified Holistic Nutritionist to discuss the role that your gut microbiome plays in your overall mental and physical health. The two discuss probiotics and other foods that can aid with your gut health and the role that stabilizing your gut microbiome has in recovery for alcoholism and addiction.

Leanna Stetson, MEd Bio:

Headshot of Leanna Stetson

Leanna is an award-winning professional educator who became a Certified Holistic Nutritionist after following her passion for healing with functional medicine and healthy eating. Equipped with a science-based education in nutrition and biochemistry, an honors degree in education, she shares her knowledge that food provides information that the body processes in multiple ways. She’s inspiring people to heal their mind, body and spirt through an understanding of how to use the information food provides to achieve holistic health goals.

Episode Transcript:

Sam Zimmer: Welcome back to A Wise Mind podcast presented by Sabino Recovery. Today we’re gonna be talking about gut health and how important it is when, you know, we talk about mental health and, and being just healthy overall. I’m pleased to welcome our guest today, Leanna Stetson, who is a certified holistic nutritionist.

Welcome Leanna.

Leanna Stetson: Thank you. I’m happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Sam Zimmer: Absolutely. Yeah, I think, so, you know, we’re talking about this before we started recording, but , everyone knows that you. A healthy diet is so important, but there’s so much that goes into it beyond that. And that’s where a lot of us kind of don’t understand. Um, you know, a lot of us think that certain types of food are inherently bad and others are good. And you know, I think a lot of us are just lost when it comes to knowing what to put in our bodies to make us feel good. So I’m really glad we have you here today because you’re gonna school us on some of that stuff.

Leanna Stetson: I’m, I’m, I’m interested in, uh, hearing, uh, how this all works out. Um, you know, it’s interesting you say about that the number one reason people go to the doctor is something to do with their stomach. there’s something like 10% of these doctor visits are really related to my gut doesn’t feel good.

something’s going on with my stomach. So there’s really this, almost this pandemic, I think where we’re going in, people are going into the doctor looking for solutions. And so, and we can really focus on what gut health is. I think we can find some great answers.

Sam Zimmer: Well that’s what we’re here to do today, so find some answers. So tell us a little bit about you and your expertise.

Leanna Stetson: So, um, like you said, I’m a certified holistic nutritionist. I spent quite a bit of time as an allopathic dietician for many, many years. And as I grew and learned more, um, functional and really integrative medicine is where my heart is, definitely. And so in about 2018, 2019, I started to notice my body was changing.

And, uh, I was, I was in pain, I was uncomfortable. I had. Um, I wasn’t sleeping well. I had brain fog. I was like, What the heck is going on? And I really sought out a local functional medicine doctor to look for some answers, and he helped me tremendously. But part of our initial conversation was kind of funny.

He started asking me about what I was eating. He was also asking me if I ate yogurt. And I thought that was an odd question for a doctor to ask, Do you eat yogurt? And I said, Well, of course I eat yogurt. I eat, yes, I ate some this morning. And he’s like, What is that all? I’m all, What are you talking about?

He just was really starting to talk about my gut at that point and what was my gut looking like and what was the health of it? What kind of foods was I putting down? That was like the first time a doctor really dug deep into what I was eating, and I was intrigued, and so it really led me to where I’m at now to really help others with understanding gut health, cuz it made a big difference in my life.

Sam Zimmer: Sure. Yeah. Yeah. And our Sarah Turner, our clinical director, She’s always mentioning gut health and how important it is when it comes to dealing with like mental health concerns and, and trauma specifically. And, um, you know, the gut microbiome is something that I, you know, I sure don’t understand and that’s kind of why we have you here. But, Why is the gut microbiome so important? And, and maybe, you know, what is it?

Leanna Stetson: Yeah. Really that the gut microbiome is really a term for the collective population of bacteria. Um, viruses and fungi that actually live in the gut. And I’m not talking about, um, pathogenic bacteria and viruses and fungi, um, that cause infection or illness, but discussion or research around gut microbiome, often focused on the digestive health and nutrition.

But there’s a bigger thing going on here, and this is really the vital role of that gut microbiome for overall health and wellbeing. And so this is often overlooked, right? And there’s a lot of research that supports that if we look at the gut and we focus on healing the gut, that depression heals, a lot of these anxiety disorders start to heal as a result of feeling that gut.

When we’re anxious and when we’re stressed, our gut is, listening or to our thoughts all the time, and it really contributes to that. So really focusing on your gut microbiome can really impact your overall health.

Sam Zimmer: Yeah, I can see that. And, you know, everyone’s looking for the answers, right? It’s like, was it medication? Is it this, this cool new type of therapy? But it’s just so, it, it’s so funny how it’s just so simple, right? , it’s like, I just need to put good things into my body. I need to sleep well. and when it comes to dealing with trauma, obviously there’s addressing and processing that, that thing we don’t wanna talk about that we’ve put under the rug, but you know, it, it’s just so funny in, in a world where everyone’s looking for that quick fix. It’s like, well, this is a quick fix too. it’s like all you gotta do is put some healthy stuff in your body and you know. Sleep schedule and . and deal with that stuff that happened to you.

It’s really not that, not that difficult,

Leanna Stetson: Well, you would think so, right?

Sam Zimmer: Right, right.

Leanna Stetson: And, and in theory we can say all those things.

Sam Zimmer: It’s what do they say? Well, I know what they say and I’m a recovery guy. A they say it’s, um, it’s simple. It isn’t easy. Right.

Leanna Stetson: This dysbiosis is idea of imbalances in our gut are, are really interesting in our society, and we’ve really moved away from harmony with nature and harmony with the earth. , and then that harmony. We’ve caused imbalances in our diet. It’s kinda like, think of a garden, right? We have a garden and it’s flourishing, but when we get things in there that aren’t so nice, maybe some weeds or bugs, it can really destroy our garden.

And I love that analogy and thinking as our, think of our microbiome as a garden that we wanna fill. With, um, healthy things and things that make it flourish and, and start to eliminate those weeds or those insects, those things that really are destroying our garden .

Sam Zimmer: Absolutely. Yeah. So as far as like the process goes, like how the microbiome is, maybe like, you know, I, I don’t have a healthy gut, let’s just say that right? Hypothetically, how is my, my gut health. related to, and correlated to, like my mental health.

Leanna Stetson: Okay. Mm-hmm. , that’s a, that’s a really great question. So the functions of the gut really are regulating your immune system. Um, Preventing growth of harmful microorganisms. It’s also fermenting food and fiber and all those things.

It’s producing nutrients. It’s influencing hormone and neurotransmitter production, and this is where it gets interesting. About 90% of the serotonin our body needs, serotonin is that happy chemical we all talk about is producing our gut 90%. So if our gut is unhealthy and it’s filled with things that are not contributing to this hormone and neurotransmitter production, including serotonin, we can lead to imbalances in our mental health, right?

So the relationship between the gut and the brain is really well established through. There’s lots of research regarding this gut brain access, access, where it’s connected. And you know, we learned in biology class that these things were unique, that the heart really wasn’t connected to really anything.

The lungs, we learned them all as distinct and, um, isolated units. But when we really think about that, we think about, um, I was, I was talking to a heart doctor and he said, How much of what is produced in the gut really is contributing to heart health? He’s like, I don’t know. I thought it was gonna be a really small percentage.

. And he says, Oh, probably like 50%. I’m like, What? ? 50% of the, uh, microbiota in our gut is contributing to our heart health. That’s a really big number. When you think about, we have trillions of cells in our gut, trillions of cells that are communicating with our body, and if there’s bacteria in there that um is good bacteria we’re gonna get, send really great signals to our brain. If there’s, um, not so nice bacteria, those ugly bacteria that are killing off the good bacteria, then those signals are a little bit different. So that’s circulating in our brain. And then we’re gonna add in other things where we’re gonna add in stress.

Stress causes things like leaky gut. Anybody who has been stressed at any point in their life has had leaky gut and that what that leaky gut means is that there’s food or particles, or chemicals that are crossing that, um, intestinal wall in your gut, and they’re entering into your bloodstream, causing all kinds of havoc in your system.

Leads like irritable bowel syndrome. So when we really understand what’s going on in the gut, we can think of, we can really understand what’s happening in the brain. At the same time, since there’s this close connection and this communication that’s back and forth, it’s this bidirectional access that is going on at all times.

Sam Zimmer: So I think I absorbed most of that , but I, it, it kind of gave me a thought. So like, you know, they say that like the leading cause of death in the, in the United States is like, um, things that are related to being overweight or obese. Is that correct?

Leanna Stetson: Sure.

Sam Zimmer: So, It seems like a correlation rather than causation kind of situation where like everyone thinks that, you know, you eat unhealthy and you get overweight and that’s what leads to all your health issues. But it sounds like a lot of those health issues aren’t necessarily because of the weight. That’s just kind of like an added symptom. It really has to do with the health of your gut. ,

Leanna Stetson: sure. And, and what I think what you’re getting at is how do we influence the gut microbiome, right? So food choices.

What are those food choices? Really stress management or lack of stress management or unprocessed trauma, all of those things, right? And then, um, exercise or lack of exercise or smoking, alcohol, all of these things are gonna change that gut microbiome, all of those things will change it so, Um, you know, thinking about obesity being a contributing factor to a lot of disease, when we, if we just take a back, we take a step back and go, What does the gut health look like?

And, um, a good functional medicine practitioner will be able to kind of take a population census of the gut. And say, What’s going on down here? Are there, what kind of bacteria is living down here? Do we have, um, an overgrowth of bacteria, um, causing an imbalance or this dysbiosis in our gut that are causing other issues?

And so those, a good function, functional medicine doctor will be able to really assess that population in a real comprehensive way. And if there’s high levels of one, it might mean this and there’s, there’s certain bacteria present. Um, high presence of a, a bacteria called ARO Mania. Well, Aro Mania is great for the gut lining. It lines has a nice, creates a nice mucus layer of the gut, which, um, contributes to some amazing gut health when our gut has, has this nice mucosal lining and things aren’t entering into the bloodstream. And so we’re healing the gut that way. So there’s so many different kinds of bacteria and, and we’ll get into this a little bit more and we talk about how some research, some really great research on bacteria and, um, binge drinking or opioid use.

Sam Zimmer: Yeah. So, and it, it’s, I think I kind of know where this is going because, you know, if you, if you have poor gut health , you’re not gonna get that serotonin. you’re gonna be depressed, you’re gonna be anxious, and that’s gonna contribute to maladaptive coping mechanisms like binge drinking or you know, fill in the blank. Right. And then I’m sure it’s, you know, a vicious cycle cuz I’m sure you’re about to tell me like things like binge drinking probably exacerbate the problem.

Leanna Stetson: Right, Right. Yeah. And it makes sense cuz what we’re putting in our body is creating an environment that whatever that environment is, there’s bacteria that will thrive in that environment and there’s bacteria that will not. So, When we understand that certain bacteria actually will starve and die if they’re not fed properly. And these are really great bacteria. And these can lead to things like glucose intolerance, which is a big area, irritable bowel syndrome. And so, um, even just the use of certain medications, and this leads to, um, any type of medication. So it could be something as simple as an antibiotic or an overuse of an antibiotic or um, alcohol, we think of that as a chemical, right? So what’s interesting about the gut and in alcohol, it changes the gut environment and it also changes the composition of the bacteria. So 20% of the alcohol is really absorbed our stomach, right, followed by about 70% being absorbed in the small intestine.

And then the liver comes in and it converts it, uh, to, um, A serious toxic chemical which damages your, your tissues and the gut health, right? So alcohol’s a really big cause of dysbiosis and so alcohol consumption actually can, um, inhibit the way that your body is going to be able to detoxify it.

And what’s interesting. One thing alcohol does is when you drink it, it, it decreases the amount of digestive enzymes that you might need. And, and this is differs from person to person, meaning it becomes more difficult for you to break down and digest nutrients. Right. And we’re not, when we’re not breaking down nutrients or digesting food, boom, we get gas, we get bloating, we get discomfort.

And a lot of people with excess alcohol consumption will report that, that they’re, they’re having a lot of discomfort in their gut. And so it leads to bloating, you know, gas, loose stools, all of those things can happen and there’s so much more, but it, alcohol makes that gut lining more permeable. And then it was always talking about earlier is food particles. You do not want food particles crossing that gut membrane and entering into the bloodstream because it sees it as a foreign object. Or foreign chemical. And it’s gonna launch an attack and that attack is inflammation. And so inflammation can be a side effect of that as well. So we really, when we are looking at, and this is when we’re talking about excess alcohol consumption. And then chronic, where it’s chronic, where it’s going on for many, many years can actually change the overall composition of the microbiome.

Now, this is where it gets really fun and interesting, is how do you change that composition that you’ve created over many years of your life? right? And so to the rescue, there comes probiotics, right?

And probiotics are in an interesting introduction. They’re living organisms we can introduce into our gut that can heal our gut. And the kind of bacteria we introduce is important as, um, how often, and this gives, this is a long process, takes, you know, 10 to 12 weeks where people really start noticing a change in how they’re feeling.

Some people notice right away, some people it takes a little bit longer, but there’s probiotic supplements and then there’s foods that you can consume at least once daily. I say consume a probiotic type food once daily. That’s like a fermented food. Fermented vegetables, kimchi, yogurt, um, keer, all of those things are fermented and that introduces new bacteria and all of these great bacteria start growing and hopefully they start flourishing and getting larger colonies in the gut where they start, um, consuming that bad bacteria and that bad bacteria starts moving away.

Sam Zimmer: So the more probiotics that I have in my gut , the healthy ones, obviously, well, I guess all the probiotics are healthy bacterias, but, They’re the ones that are breaking down the food so that maybe when I eat a big meal then I won’t feel as bloated because I have all these healthy bacterias in my gut that are breaking that stuff down, helping me digest it. Am I far off right?

No. That’s, that’s, that’s about about it. Now, Does this happen quickly? No, it depends on the damage, right? Depends on what that population looks like inside of the gut.

Leanna Stetson: So if there are a lot of these bad bacterias that are flourishing, it might take a little while to heal that cuz they cause damage to tissue and so the healing of the tissue could take time as well.

Sam Zimmer: So I can see obviously how alcohol is probably one of the, the biggest, you know, Habit it causes when it comes to gut health as far as substances go. Right? What about like using drugs? And I know that there are, you know, dozens of drugs out there, but the, the, you know, ones that you aren’t necessarily drinking and that are going straight into your gut, can those have an effect too?

Leanna Stetson: And that’s, that’s, that’s an interesting thing that has happened. So let’s just take a look at, um, a study was done in 2020 where they took some rats and they fed them antibiotics.

Okay? Simple. Most of us have taken an antibiotic at some point in our life, right? But what they did in this study is they fed these rats antibiotics to the point where it depleted 80% of their gut microbiome. that’s a significant number. So now there, these rats are down to like, just they’re, they don’t have much left in their gut to really digest or process really anything.

And what was interesting is that they were studying the link between what would happen in the gut and then when you introduce a drug. So what they found out was really interesting is the rats, they gave them opioids of some kind, like a pain reliever of some oxycodone, and they became dependent on that naturally. And then these rats that had these damaged microbiomes had more active neurons in the areas of their brain that regulates stress and pain. So they’re not responding to stress and pain like we would normally. And so what they learned is that this can actually lead to fewer withdrawal symptoms, which can also lead to higher risk of drug abuse.

Sam Zimmer: Oh, okay.

Leanna Stetson: Because of the biome being so damaged that the neurons are over firing. So pain and stress aren’t registering as they normally would.

Sam Zimmer: Gotcha. Yeah, that’s really interesting.

Leanna Stetson: Yeah, really interesting. I mean, there’s the, the jury’s still out and we still need more studies on this. I just really wanna point out that the, the gut microbiome was really critical in this, is that, and when they introduced probiotics into the mix, the gut starts to heal and then those other symptoms are mitigated.

Sam Zimmer: Yeah, no, I just think it’s so helpful. And you know, I probably know less than most people or, or did before we started this podcast, I should say, but you know, I’ve heard about probiotics and how they’re so healthy for you. And it’s one thing to know that probiotics are healthy for you. It’s another thing to know exactly why. If I can understand exactly what these things are gonna do to help me um, you know, I’m gonna be more likely. To give him a shot and make him a bigger part of my life, So, you know, that’s why I’m really glad we’re doing this is so that we can, you know, educate me too, but also our listeners who a lot of them probably have the same kind of issues I do with just lack understanding.

We can take something

Leanna Stetson: as simple as, um, a lot of people take antacids, right? we have some, um, reflux or heartburn. We take an antacid and there’s great over the counter ones. They, you know, they, they offer them readily and overuse of these, antacids or overuse of any type of medication is causing imbalances.

So an interesting side effect of these medications is it’s decreasing the stomach acid. That’s its job, right? So now we have a pH in the stomach that is super high. And the stomach’s supposed to be digesting food with it’s normal. So now we have a pH that’s super high. Now guess what? There’s certain bacteria that love that environment. They love it, and they flourish in that environment. So we lead to an imbalance and a bacteria that really flourishes in an acidic environment, side effect, becomes irritable bowel syndrome. So it’s like you treat your heartburn. But then you get irritable bowel syndrome, and that’s a side effect of a lot of antacids is irritable bowel syndromes causing bloating and discomfort and gas.

Sam Zimmer: Yeah, and it’s the same way that people treat their maladaptive coping mechanisms as opposed to digging to the root of the issue, which is that underlying trauma. , you know, that I think is a good corollary that will help some of our listeners understand. It’s like, you know, we get people, and I’m one of them who went to a few different 12 step oriented treatment centers.

you know, the 12 steps were great for me, but they, they did not go very far to address any of my underlying trauma. . Um, and it was just a matter of time before I was back to my old habits of drinking and using drugs. Same thing with the gut, you know? if we just do, you know, taking antibiotics or the next medication that somebody tells us is gonna make us feel better, it might make us feel better, Right. In the short term. But bef until we address our gut health, It’s just gonna be a cycle that keeps repeating itself.

Leanna Stetson: Sure. And the overuse of… antibiotics have a place, it’s just we wanna avoid excess use of antibiotics. And these things, they all have their place.. But we wanna avoid the excess use. The that, that it becomes the solution. Right.

Sam Zimmer: Right. Exactly.

Leanna Stetson: We don’t want it to become the solution. We wanna really find out what the underlying cause of it and, and a lot of it is unaddressed stress unmitigated trauma. Things that we’re, we’re gonna have to process. And, um, I remember meeting with my doctor and he would say, I can give you all the supplements. We can do herbs, we can, we can talk about diet and we can change what you eat. But until Leanna, until you process your trauma, until you process that, you might not sleep as well. You might still have issues with your gut. You might not be able to lose weight. I’m like, wow, that’s a, that’s a big change. So it really works together.

I mean, it isn’t just the probiotic, right? It isn’t just the diet. It’s really a holistic approach of really looking at the mind and the body and the spirit of looking at all of those things together.

Sam Zimmer: So outside of, you know, doing the hard work and dealing with, you know, our traumas and also, you know, addressing the gut health, are there any other things we can do from like a lifestyle perspective that are gonna help us with our gut health? Like maybe exercise, like what else is. It’s recommended.

Leanna Stetson: Absolutely. You’re so, there’s so many things we can do and it’s overwhelming. Like what do I do first? You know, and I get that question a lot. What did I do first? I’m like, Well, do what’s comfortable. If it’s gonna be a probiotic, let’s start with that and, and then add in something else that’s gonna be more comfortable.

If it’s uncomfortable or difficult, it means the likelihood of you continuing. It is very small, so you know, like we said, really deal with stress, work with a therapist, really process trauma process that those things.

Regular exercise. There was a really great study on, um, how exercise increases your microbiota diversity, and that’s important. You want a, you wanna really diverse microbiome. You want lots of stuff down there. And so if, that’s why I say when you take a probiotic, don’t plan on taking the same one for the rest of your life. Change it up, introduce new bacteria, introduce things, new things into the biome. And so that’s really an important part of it.

You can take probiotics like we talked about, avoid smoking. Um, smoking has a really, um, adverse effect on the flora. And you, and think about the chemicals, right? Think about what’s going on in the brain cuz the brain is talking to the gut. The gut’s talking to the brain.

Sugar is a big one. Um, artificial sweeteners really have been linked to depression. Um, use of high, um, overuse of artificial sweeteners have been linked to depression.

Avoid an, you know, unnecessary antibiotics definitely is an important, but I think you have to, when you decide you wanna feel better, you make a decision, I wanna feel better, I wanna feel better overall. And that’s part of that. And, and that gives you your why to support what you’re gonna be doing next. I want to feel better, but what do I specifically, I wanna have less pain. I wanna be able to sleep. What is, what is the why, why you’re doing this? And, um, Small changes lead to bigger changes. I mean, we all know that these are big changes we want to make over time, and so a lifetime of trauma doesn’t get processed in 12 weeks. we need to work on it continually. And we need to sometimes be aggressive and really take care of ourselves and find new people to make part of our team as we heal. I like to say you always should have a team of people around you, whether that’s a functional medicine practitioner, a therapist of some kind, build a team around you, of people that are gonna support those goals as you move forward.

Sam Zimmer: And I love that.

Leanna Stetson: I, I always think that, I always call my, my group team Leanna, you know, be part of my team, you know, because I can’t do it myself. I need help.

Sam Zimmer: We all need a team. There’s no shame in asking for help. Absolutely.

Leanna Stetson: And someone’s gonna bring something to the conversation, even if it’s just the so smallest little idea go, Oh wow, that’s a really great meditation. Or that’s a really great way to move every day. not really thought about that, but

Sam Zimmer: yeah. So, and you never know what that little thing is gonna be that’s gonna resonate with you and Sure. Completely change your perspective.

Leanna Stetson: Yeah. So I think start, start small. Let it snowball. Let it become bigger and bigger until it becomes a part of your life. And becomes part of, you know, take long walks. Take a long walk.

Sam Zimmer: Gotta start somewhere. I just think it’s, it’s remarkable how simple it is, and I’ve already touched on this, but it’s, it’s just, You know, there’s, there’s always that new thing. , that new shiny toy that, that, that pill that someone says is gonna fix everything.

Cause you know, those people are out there and they’ll try to get you. But it really just comes back to basics. And I think on the most basic level, it’s, you know, what am I putting in my body? And I think you, being on our podcast today, everyone knows it’s good to eat healthy, but they don’t necessarily know, you know, the why and, and, and the process behind, you know, why that is the best way to be. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Leanna Stetson: Thank you.

Sam Zimmer: And educating our listeners. And Me too. I really appreciate it.

Leanna Stetson: Oh, you’re welcome. Happy to be here.

Sam Zimmer: And to our listeners, thank you for listening to a Wise Mind podcast presented by Sabino Recovery. To listen to more episodes, just search a Wise Mind presented by Sabino Recovery in your chosen podcast platform. We discuss topics that can be difficult to process on a wise mind. There is no shame in seeking help. For resources or to find someone to talk to, please visit the links in the description below.