Gut health. I hear about it everywhere. But what does it really mean, and why is gut health so important? For years, I have been hearing my friends whisper delicately about their “digestive problems." They report that these symptoms have, if anything, worsened as they approach menopause. Could these mysterious and seemingly shameful “problems” be related to menopause?
Did you know? Digestive diseases represent one of the most serious health problems in the U.S. in terms of discomfort and pain, financial costs related to treatment, working hours lost, and mortality? More people in America are hospitalized with digestive diseases than any other condition.”
In fact, scientists and doctors are really just beginning to understand how much disease has its roots in poor gut health. Last week, I sat down with Jennifer Hanway, a Board-Certified Holistic Nutritionist and wellness expert, to get to the bottom of all this on my podcast Sex, Body, and Soul: It’s All About Our Gut. Here’s what I learned: your body is home to trillions of microorganisms, including trillions of bacteria (yes, that’s trillions with a T), most of which live in your gut. This is part of your microbiome. And what we humans need is a diverse microbiome. That means many different strains of bacteria. The makeup of your unique microbiome comes from many places, starting at birth from your mother (traveling through the birth canal, breastfeeding, skin to skin contact), to your environment and what you eat. Your environmental exposures and diet can help change your microbiome to be either more beneficial or put you at greater risk for disease.
Here’s where it gets really interesting: your microbiome doesn’t just help with digestion and absorption of nutrients, it also plays a role in other less expected functions such as immunity and imbalances can cause chronic diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, cancer, and even autism. So of course, it makes perfect sense that if your microbiome is affected by what you put in your body, you’re going to have problems! Unfortunately, everything in modern day life, namely processed foods filled with sugar and fat, is set up to result in poor gut health. Fortunately for me and listeners of the podcast, Jennifer lays out her daily routine and diet so we can make the improvements that will make us feel great (and some helpful hints for those of us, like me, who can’t resist a drink). If you enjoy having a glass of something alcoholic, try lower sugar options, such as champagne, Prosecco, or organic red wine (with its antioxidants and polyphenols).
Women are disproportionately affected by digestive issues...of course! We are complicated beings. However, getting your hormones and diet sorted before menopause can make the transition so much easier! It can also help prevent what I call “the menopause middle” – you know what I’m talking about – the belly fat that seems to magically accumulate around your middle when your body is starting to transition into menopause. In fact, it’s not just about the hormone estrogen: it’s actually more about two of your other hormones, cortisol (the stress hormone) and insulin (the blood sugar hormone). If these aren’t in balance, other hormones in your body will also be out of whack. And when your insulin is high, your body stores fat (hence the menopause middle). During the episode, Jennifer shares the secret to flying through menopause and how to keep that menopause middle in check.
Regular listeners to the Sex, Body, and Soul podcast know I have been on the keto diet (very low carbs, lots of fat, and medium amounts of protein). It worked for me for a while, but it’s not for everyone - especially women - as not everyone can digest that much fat. Jennifer and I also talked about intermittent fasting, but I learned that too is very challenging for women because of our complex hormone balance and our thyroid. These diets can put a lot of stress on our bodies. I took Jennifer’s advice on diet and also started using an incredible supplement, The Happy Hormones Formula by Sex and Good, to balance my hormones and honestly, I am feeling amazing!
On the podcast, we also talked about something else near and dear to my heart: how to help my 10 year old daughter eat healthy when she’d rather eat anything processed (we call it “Frankenfood” because it bears a resemblance to food but really isn’t) over anything green. It’s all about choices and education. Would she really pick Cheetos over chickpeas if she knew all the ways the chickpeas could benefit her body and brain? The good news is that veggies don’t have to be farm fresh or organic – eating healthy shouldn’t break the bank. Anyone can eat healthy food affordably with the right information if they put their minds to it. My favorite quote from Jennifer: “Perfection should not get in the way of progress.” Amen!
Now, regular listeners know that poop is my favorite subject, so there was no way an expert in nutrition was going to get through the podcast without talking about it, and Jennifer did not disappoint! I learned that in general, you should be pooping 1 to 3 times a day, although this may depend on where a woman is in her menstrual cycle or how stressed she is. Ideally, your poop should be in 1-3 pieces, in the shape of your colon, and you should feel “complete” when you are finished. Your poop shouldn’t float around the toilet; it should sink. Poop that is very stinky might be an indication that your food hasn’t been properly digested.
To learn more about how your gut health is related to your body, mind, and well-being, check out the podcast episode. And if you want to taste one of my most important tools in my battle against sugar cravings, try out The Good Chocolate. All the chocolate taste without any of the sugar!