This week’s guest is Nicole Fennell, a fellow Houstonian and dietitian.
She’s a functional medicine dietitian who focuses on autoimmune disease, gut health, hormone imbalances, thyroid, you name it! She owns Chews Foods Wisely in Houston, Texas.
I am so thrilled to have her on this week’s podcast because today we are going to dive in all about gut health, removing the bad and replacing it with the good.
Table of Contents
Nicole Fennell’s story
Nicole is a registered dietitian and runs a functional medicine private practice near the Medical Center in Houston, Texas. She is also a mother of two and a wife.
Nicole became a dietitian because she always had an unusual relationship with food. During high school, her degree plan was health science with an emphasis in Nutrition. She had a bad relationship with food and battled through eating disorders. It wasn’t simple enough for her to just get over an eating disorder, she wanted to know why she was doing it and what was happening to her body.
She found that learning about nutrition, biochemistry, and understanding how the body runs more from nourishment and not from deprivation. That was the huge catalyst that got her to the point of wanting to be a dietitian. She is huge on connection with others and getting to know their stories.
She was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and feels a personal connection to others who have autoimmune disease. She transformed her practice to a functional medicine model to address the root cause of health issues and has never looked back.
What constitutes a good gut and what are the symptoms of having a bad gut?
Signs of a good gut:
- Having at least one normal daily bowel movement
- Producing minimal/normal amounts of bloating and gas – we’re human!
A healthy gut is really something that you really don’t pay a lot of attention to. The more attention that it requires, the more likely it is that you have an imbalanced gut. Also – even if you don’t have gut health related symptoms, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have gut health issues. Many times symptoms are produced once things are past a certain threshold, and a little more effort is needed to repair the damage.
Most common gut health issues:
- Chronic bloating
- Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Food sensitivities and intolerances
- Low stomach acid (GI reflux)
- SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)
Many of these issues are comorbidities that appear together.
Things that can affect gut function
- Stress. Gut is like a second brain – there are neural pathways that directly connect the brain to the gut. Chronic stress compounds in its impact on the gut.
- Lack of Hydrochloric acid or poor pancreatic enzyme output. It can decrease how well the body is digesting food and those maldigested foods can be really hard and abrasive to the gut. This can also cause nutritional deficiencies.
- Medications. Medicines like antacids, antibiotics, steroids, NSAIDs, birth control pills… all can have a negative impact on the GI tract.
Some tips and tricks that you can help with digestion
- Being undistracted and present during meal
- Have some bowel rest between meals (less snacking) and over night
- Getting your stress in check to get into rest and digest mode
- Eat a very well balanced plate
- Focusing on bacterial balance – do a stool analysis!
- Remove anything that is potentially harmful to your GI tract, Candida overgrowth, parasite, imbalances in gut bacteria
- Remove overly processed foods (deep fried, added sugars)
- Remove the common food sensitivities or the food intolerances (dairy, soy, gluten, corn, sugar, eggs – these are the most common)
- Removing foods that are specifically intolerant to the person since this is variable amongst each person
Best way to figure out what the best antimicrobial would be for each person
Nicole, as a savvy practitioner, would definitely go for TESTING and won’t just guess what type of issue her patient has.
She likes to know exactly what she’s going against and exactly what needs to be removed because just blindly going in with antimicrobials can do more harm than good.
Trying to remove an infection should definitely be happening in coordination with a functional medicine practitioner. Some people don’t respond to what you think they will respond to. Don’t be afraid when another agent is added into your protocol, and be open minded to those changes.
- Replacing digestive enzymes, HCl, bile
- Replacing lost nutrients like zinc, magnesium, etc. to repair your digestion
Some of Nicole’s favorite ways would be doing targeted probiotic therapy. It depends on the person because some people need bacillus strains to megaspore, some need bifido strains only, some need lactose strains only and some need a combination of all of those…
It is really specific to the person but when probiotics are needed, a lot of the time the probiotics are needed in pretty high amounts and in a form that’s going to survive past stomach acid. So that’s where the pharmaceutical-grade probiotics come in.
She also likes supporting the body’s own beneficial bacteria growth through good quality fermentable fibers, prebiotic-rich foods, and fermented foods. Approaching this from all angles is important.
Repairing the gut should be happening throughout this entire process to see the best results.
- Moving from leaky gut to not leaky gut
- Building the mucus layer and the immune layer inside the GI tract
- Regulating the immune system and inflammation
- Repair the tissues inside the gut
Key nutrients to repair the gut
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A (retinol form is better than beta-carotene precursor)
- Herbs that can stimulate mucus layer inside the gut
- Mucousy foods like Okra and Aloe Vera
- Chia Seeds, Chamomile, Slippery Elm, Marshmallow root
- Zinc Carnosine
Common gut issues
Nicole says that the people she loves working with the most are people who have IBS.
IBS is a very nonspecific diagnosis – the silver lining is, it means that you don’t have any major gut issues like Crohn’s or celiac or ulcerative colitis. Many times IBS patients will second guess themselves because they have been overlooked for so long.
Some people just don’t feel too good in their gut, feel exhausted all of the time, and haven’t been diagnosed yet. Many times, it’s actually multiple issues and not a single issue.
Biggest contributions to symptoms in IBS
- Poor gut integrity
- Imbalanced gut bacteria
- Food intolerances
Important things for optimizing your gut health
- Test, don’t guess!
- Work with a functional medicine practitioner
- Stress management
- Chew your food
Nicole Fennell’s information: