Episode 028: What's A Gut Issue?

Using Functional Nutrition to Address IBS

You know that saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, in Functional Nutrition, it’s not “You are what you eat”, rather it’s, “What your body can do with what you eat.”

In other words, you are what your body can break down and absorb

In this episode you’ll hear me:

  • Ask and answer “What’s a gut issue?”

  • Talk about why we experience fatigue

  • Walk you through the digestion process of a chicken sandwich

  • Discuss the gut-brain connection


Mentioned In this Episode:

Click Here to Read the Episode Transcript...

Hi guys, welcome back to the Live FAB Life podcast.

A big misconception about what we do in Functional Nutrition is that we’re going to tell you how to eat. But this work goes much deeper than that

Instead of telling you how to eat, we believe that it’s much more effective to teach you how your body functions and why it might not be functioning well. Because by educating you, you can then begin to understand just what’s going on in there, what’s going on in YOUR body.

Because sometimes diet alone is not enough and having a basic understanding of anatomy and how your body functions can help not only help you connect the dots to identify root causes of why you’re feeling a certain way, but it can also help you to stay more committed to any dietary or lifestyle changes that you’re trying to make.

And, having this basic understanding can help you to have more grace and compassion for yourself - much like how I’ve learned to have that for me as I’m dealing with weight issues as a result of my digestive, hormonal and heavy metal challenges.

So, you know that saying, “You are what you eat?” Well, in Functional Nutrition, it’s not “you are what you eat, rathers it’s what your body can do with what you eat.”

In other words, you are what your body can break down and absorb.

Now when I first heard this, I was super intrigued because I had been reading how everything in health stems back to or is rooted in digestive health issues. But I didn’t quite understand what that meant.

So today we’re going to talk about, “What’s a gut issue?”

The health of your gut is involved in every single system in your body. Let me repeat that - “The health of your gut is involved in every single system in your body.”

You cannot address skin issues like acne without looking at the gut. You cannot address migraines without looking at the gut. You cannot address chronic fatigue without looking at the gut. You cannot address autoimmunity without looking at the gut. You cannot address anxiety, depression and other mental health issues without looking at the gut.

How many of you know someone with a thyroid problem. I didn’t know how rampant it was until I started health coaching, and then when I learned I had a thyroid problem too!

Well, Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a leading experts in thyroid disorders, has said that, “Gut health is foundational to thyroid health.”

Yet so many women (because thyroid disorders are super common among women) have gone straight to hormone balancing treatments without addressing the gut. In other words, without addressing the root, or the root cause of their thyroid dysfunction..

If you read more of Dr. Kharrazian’s work, he talks a lot about the how the gut-thyroid connection can be a vicious cycle because hypothyroidism can causes poor gut health, and poor digestive health can cause hypothyroidism - a cycle that I’m pretty such I’ve been trapped in.

So that’s one example of how the gut can be a root cause of an issue not typically associated with digestive issues.

The health of your gut is at the core of health. And we’re more and more we’re hearing about this in mainstream media which is great! But it those articles, don’t really explain what that means for you, how it applies to you, or what YOU should to about it. And this is what my client Kristen talked about in Episode 025.

Taking a functional approach means not just addressing how to fix signs and symptoms, but it also looks at why those signs and symptoms are happening - this is what we mean by getting to the root of a person’s health concerns, the root cause, then course correcting.

Because without looking for the root cause, you’re just masking the problem, but the root of the problem is still there.

An analogy that I’ve heard that I really like likens addressing root causes to putting a lid on a pot of boiling water. Eventually pot boils over, even though the lid is still on top of it. Finding the root cause here, would be to turn off the heat and then the boiling stops. The symptoms aren’t just masked out but will actually go away.

And addressing the health of your gut is where you start in addressing root causes of obvious and not-so-obvious gut issues.

Your digestive system is like a highway. In fact, it is a highway. It’s the transportation system that moves nutrients through your body and your cells are the final destination for those nutrients.

So, while your diet is fundamental, so is the health of your digestive transportation system

I think we all understand that what you eat, how your body processes what you eat and how you feel is intricately connected. Right? This is what we mean when we say, “where food meets physiology.”

But how many of us understand our physiology?

I know I didn’t.

I remember five years ago, sitting in my functional medicine doctor’s office and hearing her say to me, “Naomi, you have adrenal fatigue.” My first thought was, “What are adrenals?” I knew what adrenaline was - or sort of did. It’s what we feel when we’re super pumped up, right?

But I didn’t know that we had glands in our bodies called “adrenals.” I didn’t know that they produce hormones that regulate bodily functions, and I certainly didn’t know that they sit on top of our kidneys.

Ad. Renals. Renal, referring to kidneys. You know, come to think about it, I wasn’t exactly sure where exactly my kidneys even were.

And you guys, I considered myself health-conscious back then but I didn’t even know basic anatomy! I mean, how many of us really do?

Nowadays, I firmly believe that it’s our personal responsibility to know this! To have a basic, and I mean, basic understanding of human anatomy - of our very own bodies. I don’t think we need to have doctor-level expertise, but I also don’t think only doctors should understand this.

Now I’m certainly not a doctor. I make no such claim, but I’m going to attempt to provide a bit of education on the anatomy of the digestive system, to show you that it’s not that hard to learn, and when you do, a lot of confusion around diet and health can be cleared up.

I also want to say that I am not a sciencecy person. In fact, full confession - I cheated my way through science classes when I was in school because I just didn’t get it. So if I can sort of understand this, you can too!

First, let’s talk about mitochondria. Mitochondria turns food into energy that our cells need to grow, repair and function through a process called cellular respiration. They affect our metabolism, vitality, aging process, mental health and our overall well-being.

But mitochondria is very sensitive to damage and when it’s not working properly, we have symptoms like fatigue, memory loss, rapid aging, and more.

In fact, the core reason we experience fatigue is because of damage to our mitochondria. Dr. Terry Wahls discusses mitochondria in her book Wahls Protocol if you want to dig deeper into this.

She says, "At the most basic level, scientists are discovering that nearly all of the chronic diseases that cause so much suffering all share mitochondrial dysfunction, excessive inflammation, high cortisol levels, and other markers of broken biochemistry. In a very real sense, we all have the same disease because all illness begins with broken, incorrect biochemistry and disordered communication within and between our cells. For health to return, the chemistry must revert to normal and communication within and between our cells must be restored."

It’s why the digestive system is so important because it provides the fuel, the energy, at that very foundational level. So how well do you know the digestive system?

There’s a great anatomy lesson that I learned in my studies that I’d like to share with you. I’ve shared this with a few of my clients and it’s really powerful in helping things click so I’d like to share it with you too.

Imagine it’s the middle of the work day, and you head out for a lunch break. You head to your local deli where you order a grilled chicken breast sandwich on wheat with cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, salt and pepper. So full disclosure - this is what I used to do every day for lunch.

Now looking at this sandwich, it has all of the macros - carbs from the bread, protein from the chicken and fats from the mayo.

So let’s walk through the digestion process.

You take a bite of your sandwich - and this is where digestion begins, when food enters your mouth.

Two types of things happen:

Chemical breakdowns as your salivary glands release saliva that has enzymes. Mechanical breakdown as you chew your sandwich.

So you’re breaks down your food by chewing and your saliva helps lubricate it when swallowing your food.

Once you swallow your food, it’s now known as a bolus which is food mixed with saliva.

Next, your epiglottis protects your food from getting into your trachea, which is the pipe for breathing. Your epiglottis diverts your food to your esophagus.

Your esophagus is a long pipe on your diagram. Your bolus, food mixed with saliva, moves through your esophagus with contractions called peristalsis. It’s a squeezing action that leads from your mouth to your stomach. At the same time, mucous is released to help lubricate the bolus as it travels

The line down from your neck all the way to the upper opening between your ribcage is the path of that this happens on.

Once your bolus approaches your stomach, it needs to pass through your lower esophageal sphincter, also called the LES.

Once your bolus passes through your LES, it enters your stomach.

Your stomach then releases acidic gastric secretions to destroy any bacteria or parasites that may have entered your body from the food you ate.

So if you ate foods that weren’t organic, or were bad, or even had something like salmonella, then it’s the job of the stomach to kill those bugs. So you really need your stomach to be acidic - we want good stomach acid to kill the bacteria.

Now an enzyme called pepsin is also produced in your stomach. Pepsin helps to breakdown protein, so while carbs start to digest the minute you start chewing, when the enzymes in your saliva start to break it down, protein doesn’t begin the mechanical digestion process until it arrives in your stomach.

Your stomach blends and mixes the bolus to create chyme, which is broken down foods mixed with acids.

So your chicken sandwich became a bolus and is now chyme.

After a few comes, the chyme passes through your phyloric sphincter into your small intestines.

So I always thought of my belly to be my stomach, where it’s actually where the small intestines is. Your small intestine is about a 20-foot tube and it has three parts.

Having SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, I was most fascinated to learn about the small intestines. I didn’t know much about it, like it has three parts - the duodenum, the jejunum, and then ileum. And each part has its own function.

Your duodenum is the upper part of your small intestine and it introduces pancreatic enzymes to the chyme and bile that comes from your gallbladder. Bile and the pancreatic enzymes is what helps your body to digest fats.

So carb digestion begins with chewing, protein digestion begins in the stomach and fat digestion begins in the small intestines.

My body had a hard time digesting fats, so when I learned about this, and knowing I had SIBO, it made a lot of sense to me.

So poor function in the small intestines will mean poor fat digestion. And, poor function in the gallbladder, or no gallbladder (which is super common these days) will also mean poor fat digestion.

Let me just pause and say that if you have poor fat digestion, eating fats, even healthy fats like coconut oil can be problematic. So while coconut oil is a healthy food, it may not be healthy for everyone. And this is a good example of how personal evidence and bioindividuality are so, so important.

I know keto diets are super popular these days and have tons of proven health benefits, but if you’re body cannot digest fats well, then it may not be the best diet FOR YOU.

The next portion of the small intestines is the jejunum and it has a lining especially for the absorption of carbs and proteins. So we know that proteins were broken down in the stomach by pepsin and acid, which further breaks them it down into amino acids.

And carbs were further broken down by enzymes from the pancreas and liver into simple sugars. Those simple sugars feed the cells for the creation of energy, which if you recall are the mitochondria we talked about earlier.

Earlier I also talked about how you aren’t what you eat, but you are what your body can breakdown and absorb. So absorption is happen here in the small intestines, in the jejunum.

The third part of your small intestines is the ileum and this is where your body absorbs vitamin B12 and any other products of digestion not absorbed in the jejunum, or the second section of your small intestines.

Your ileum is also responsible for much of your immune system.

And your immune system is your body’s defense system. It defends it against illness and infections.

So can you can see how your small intestines is the key spot for nutrition? This is pretty much the most important organ to understand for nutritional healing.

Now the waste products, the stuff you don’t need, will move out of your small intestine through your ileocecal valve, to your large intestine.

While most of the nutrients should have been absorbed in your small intestine, your large intestine still needs to reabsorb water and electrolytes from the remaining products into the bloodstream.

And the waste that your body doesn’t need meets the toilet in the form of your poop.

So that is the journey of your chicken sandwich.

What we have done here is a brief walkthrough of the anatomy of your GI tract.

There are other critical organs in your digestive system, like your teeth, tongue, liver, gallbladder and even pancreas. But like I said, this was a brief overview.

So to recap:

Ingestion occurred in your mouth. Where chemical and mechanical breakdowns happened when your chewed your food and this is where your food is turned into a bolus, and digestion, and the digestion of carbs begins. Then peristalsis happened in your esophagus. And the acid and pepsin in your stomach began to breakdown and digest protein, and where your bolus turned to chyme. Then in your small intestines is where your body began to breakdown and digest fats, and where it also began to absorb nutrients from food. And then lastly your large intestines did any final absorptions and dispensed of waste through your poop.

So we’ve talked about mitochondria and how we get energy to our body and how its intricately tied to fatigue.

We’ve talked about the digestion process. If any part of it out is out of whack, your body may not be able to absorb nutrients that it needs from food, no matter how much healthy foods you’re eating.

We even identified where the digestive system and immune system meets.

Now I said that digestion begins when you start chewing your food, but actually, it starts in your brain. Because when you see, smell or even think of food, it triggers a reaction in your brain.

I don’t know how many times I’m out for a summer walk with Coco Pop, my dog, and will smell someone barbecuing and I immediately want whatever it is I’m smelling. Or if I see a photo of tacos on Instagram and then suddenly, I don’t want my dinner anymore, I want tacos.

Those senses sends a signal to your central nervous system through your vagus nerve.

And your vagus nerve is super important. It’s the largest nerve in your body and it runs from your brain to your abdomen. It connects the gut and brain and it’s plays a role in a lot of different things from digestion to emotions like anxiety and fear.

Ever had to use the bathroom when you get nervous?

Deepak Chopra, who you may all know as a meditation and conscious-living guru has even said, “The only difference between the brain and the gut is that the gut has not yet evolved to the state of self-doubt.” So even he recognizes the connection between the gut and the brain.

There’s a constant stream of electrical and chemical messages moving between the two. This is why disturbances in the gut can often be seen in mood, pain perception and even behavior.

And the chemical messengers include things like hormones. You may or may not know that almost all serotonin, one of the the happy hormones, in your body is manufactured in your gut.

So can you see how everything in health stems back to or is rooted in digestive health issues?

From the obvious gut issues like IBS, Crohns, SIBO to the not-so-obvious like autoimmunity, hormonal imbalances and even mental health challenges like migraines, anxiety, depression and more?

So in Functional Nutrition, when we have someone with a thyroid issue, or allergies, or migraines, or fatigue, or skin issues, we always start with the gut by backing things up and starting with food. Remember in Episode 027 when I talked about the 3 tiers?

In Tier 1 we remove the most inflammatory foods with the goal to lower inflammation of the digestive tract. We also address any other inflammatory influences whether it be further food elimination or behavioral modifications like getting more sleep or meditation to allow the body to rest. How many of us don’t know how to relax? It’s a huge problem for me and one that I have to actively work on. And that sounds totally counterintuitive but I think you know what I mean.

And concurrently in Tier 2 we focus on repairing the gut and addressing nutritional deficiencies. If we can get the digestive system functioning better, then a lot of the other issues are put in a better position to be fixed as well.

And while everyone wants to learn about lab tests and supplements, the truth of the matter is, we need to back things up and take pay attention and take an honest look at how we’re eating and living.

Because a lot of times how we think we’re eating is not actually how we’re actually eating. And how much sleep we’re getting is not how much we’re actually getting. I know when I start using my FitBit to track my sleep again, I’m always surprised at how much less I’m getting than what I thought was.

And when I keep my Food Mood Poop Journal, there are always surprises of things that maybe I’m not getting enough of, and things that I may be getting too much of. I mean, I love almond butter, but sometimes I’m not paying attention and eating way too much of it, which is not good for my body that has a hard time digesting fats.

So if we can focus on the core basics of bringing the body back into balance, truly, not just what we want to do, what we want to eat, then we can resolve a lot of the issues that may be plaguing us.

And when we pay attention to our bodies, in a truly mindful way, and tracking it, then there comes a lot less confusion on what diet to follow, or feeling overwhelmed by having to “do all the things” or by needing more research.

What you need is to study your personal evidence, what your body is telling you, because it is telling you, and you just need to pay attention because the messages are there.

So like I said, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t think you need to be a doctor to know how your body functions. I’m not even an expert, but think of me as a contributor to this conversation of gut health.

What I shared today was a brief, and I emphasize brief overview on what your body does with the foods that you eat. I think that’s something that we should all have a basic understanding of and I know I certainly did not. At all.

Know that this episode doesn’t even begin to get into the depth of digestion and gut health, but I hope I was able to give you a brief overview of what is a gut problem, and hopefully by now you know that everything is a gut problem, and that you start thinking about it differently. If you’re wondering, “Well how do I get started in learning what my personal evidence is,” I always recommend starting with at least a 5-day Food Mood Poop Journal. And I have a free download that you can use to get started.

When you download it, you’ll receive a series of follow-up instructional emails, over the course of about three weeks, teaching you how to use this tool and start thinking functionally about your own health.

Go to the show notes for this episode at www.livefablife.com/028.

Now one more thing before I close. If you’re on my email list or are connected with me on social media, you know that I have a community survey going on, where I want to hear from you.

I want to know what topics you’d like to hear more on the podcast, or in emails, or in other offerings whether they be free resources or paid programs.

Since you are one of my podcast listeners, I most definitely want to hear from you! I would so love it if you took 2 minutes to complete a 3-question survey. You can find the link also on the show notes at www.livefablife.com/028.

I really want to make sure that I’m bringing you episodes on the topics that matter to you, so it would mean so much to me to hear from you.

Thanks so much, once again for being here. I appreciate you taking the time to listen. That’s it for this week and until then, be FAB because everyone deserves to live a FAB life!

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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.