Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Vagus Nerve Part 2

The Vagus Nerve Part 2: by Wendy Hayden

The vagus nerve is the highway that travels from the gut to the brain. Messages travel from the gut to the brain and from the brain to the gut along the Vagus nerve. Most of the communication is from the gut telling the brain what it needs to work properly. 80-90% of the communication messages are from the gut traveling up to the brain. Besides digestion, 80% of our immune system is in our gut. Poor gut health, leaky gut, and vagus nerve issues lead to immune problems, Food intolerances and nutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin D and glutathione can cause leaky gut; underlying infections like SIBO, yeast, mold, or detox pathways that aren’t working efficiently make our body toxic. Chronic stress, trauma, insulin resistance, hormone imbalances, estrogen dominance, adrenal fatigue/cortisol imbalance, and vagus nerve dysfunction can also cause leaky gut. When the vagus nerve isn’t working properly, communication between the gut and the brain breaks down and the gut doesn’t get what it needs. Low vagal tone causes constipation, low stomach acid, leaky gut, inflammation in the gut, imbalance in gut bacteria, and a lack of digestive enzymes to break down food. When the vagus nerve isn’t working properly, there is a lack of communication between the microbiome and the brain. Lack of communication between the microbiome to the brain causes problems with bacteria, parasites, and yeast. Low stomach acid can lead to many problems. We need stomach acid to digest our food, fight off parasites, stop reflux and fight bad gut bacteria. Many people struggling with reflux think they have too much stomach acid, so they take acid reducers. But a certain level of stomach acid triggers the sphincter muscle that stops reflux. If you lower your stomach acid, the sphincter muscle isn’t triggered to close. This leads to reflux. When our vagus nerve isn’t working, we don’t produce the proper amount of stomach acid, which can lead to reflux. Stomach acid helps break down our food. If you are struggling with constipation or you see undigested food in your stool, you might not have enough stomach acid. You can eat an organic whole-food diet, fermented foods, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and supplements to heal your gut, but if your vagus nerve isn’t working right, you will fight an uphill battle to improve how your gut works. You will still have gut problems if your vagus nerve has a low tone. Past or current traumas, infections, parasites, chronic stress, chronic illness, toxic relationships, abuse, or neglect can cause problems with our vagus nerve. But anything that makes us feel unsafe can affect the health of our vagus nerve. If students bullied you in school, if you moved frequently and weren’t able to be a part of a community, had mold in your home or work environment, if you work in a stressful job or have a stressful home life, it can affect your vagus nerve. Some signs that your vagus nerve isn’t working as it should: Swallowing or coughing issues, Heart palpitations, High blood pressure, Shallow breathing, using the chest instead of the belly, Slow to digest food/undigested food in stool/constipation, Liver problems, Acid reflux/Low Stomach Acid/Heartburn/GERD, Migraines, Poor circulation, Leaky gut, Kidney problems, Gallbladder problems, Cortisol issues, Hormone problems, including issues with your menstrual cycle, reproductive organs, or menopause, Depression, Anxiety, Inflammation, Sleep issues, Obesity and weight issues, Tinnitus, ADD, ADHD, Gastroparesis, IBS, Fibromyalgia, Diabetes, Sexual dysfunction, and Sleep apnea. Another test is to test your breathing. You can put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Take three deep breaths. 1…………2…………..3…………. Do you feel the breaths in your chest or in your belly? If your hand on your chest is lifting and lowering, it is a sign that you are in a stressed state and can be a sign of vagus nerve dysfunction. If your belly is where you feel your breaths, then that is an excellent sign that you are in a relaxed state. Community is very important to our emotional health. Being with people that support us and that we feel a connection stimulates our vagus nerve. The vagus nerve signals the release of oxytocin, the bonding, or the love hormone. We think of oxytocin as just a hormone that is part of the birthing or breastfeeding process or the hormone that bonds us to our baby, but it involves much more than that. Oxytocin increases feelings of love, empathy, and connection to others and facilitates feelings of trust. Increasing our oxytocin lowers our feelings of fear and has an antidepressant effect. Scientists believe that oxytocin reduces inflammation by decreasing cytokines. Having love, compassion, and forgiveness for yourself will help you heal and help your vagus nerve. If you feel stressed or panicked, you might feel your shoulders raise, your tone of voice becomes strained and your brow furrow, this sends a signal through your vagus nerve that you are not safe. Consciously relaxing your shoulders, softening your tone, and putting a smile on your face can convince your vagus nerve and your brain that you are safe and not in danger. Take a minute right now to lower your shoulders, take a deep relaxing breath and gently smile. Did you feel any different when you did this? Note your thoughts on how you felt before, and after.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Vagus Nerve Part 1

The Vagus Nerve Part 1: By Wendy Hayden

We have talked about the vagus nerve and the gut brain connection in multiple blogs and books throughout the past year. This book will explain that connection a bit more as it relates to symptoms in your body and how to help strengthen the vagus nerve. Feeling safe is the most important part of this healing journey. There is no right or wrong way to go through your healing process. One wonderful thing about the vagus nerve is that there are a lot of ways to stimulate it. If you notice an increase in gut symptoms while doing any of the techniques outlined in this blog, stop and try to figure out what is causing the symptoms. Are you feeling an increase in anxiety? Have you had stressful memories pop up? Are you feeling stressed out from trying to implement too many techniques at once? Once you figure out what is going on, you can develop a program that works for you and helps you to improve your gut and your mental health. The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in our body and connects our brain to all of our major organs. It is the gut-brain connection. The vagus nerve allows the brain to send and receive messages from our facial muscles, throat, heart, lungs, and digestive tract. Signals travel in both directions along the vagus nerve. 80% of the signals travel to the brain from the organs in the body. Sensory functions of the vagus nerve are as follows: Producing somatic sensation information for the skin behind the ear, the external part of the ear canal, and specific parts of the throat, Providing visceral sensation information for the larynx, esophagus, lungs, trachea, heart, and most of the digestive tract, Performing a minor role in the sensation of taste near the root of the tongue. Motor functions of the vagus nerve involve: Stimulating the muscles present in the pharynx, larynx, and the soft palate, which is the fleshy area near the back of the roof of the mouth. Stimulating muscles in the heart, where it assists to lower resting heart rate. Stimulating involuntary contractions in the digestive tract, including the esophagus, stomach, and most of the intestines, which enable food to move through the tract. The vagus nerve controls the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system regulates our automatic or unconscious actions such as our heart beating, the digestion of our food, blood pressure, body temperature, our metabolism, sexual response, or breathing. The parasympathetic nervous system handles the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” activities. The parasympathetic nervous system works with the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system handles our fight, flight, freeze reactions. These two nervous systems work in opposition to each other. When one is turned on, it turns the other off. Your body can’t be in a parasympathetic state while it is a sympathetic state. If you are in a stressed state, your body cannot heal, rest, or digest your food properly. When we are in a sympathetic state for a lengthy period, our vagus nerve weakens or loses tone. Vagal tone is basically how healthy our vagus nerve is. The higher our vagal tone, the easier it is for us to switch into a relaxed, rest and digest state. The autonomic nervous system's job is to keep us alive. It prioritizes stress over all other systems, including the digestive and immune system. It decides where to put our energy and resources. If we are in a life-threatening situation, our autonomic nervous system shuts down our parasympathetic nervous system and puts all of our energy into saving our life with our sympathetic nervous system taking the lead. If we were being chased by a wild animal, our sympathetic nervous system would give our body the signal to fight, run or freeze, depending on what would be the most beneficial to us in that situation. A body stuck in the sympathetic fight-or-flight response cannot heal. The problem with modern living is that our autonomic nervous system has a tough time telling the difference between a physical threat and an emotional threat. When we are stressed because of work, school, family relationships, or trauma, our autonomic nervous system can put us in a fight, flight, or freeze mode for an extended period. While a stressful job or a toxic relationship will not kill us immediately, our autonomic nervous system can’t tell the difference between an actual physical threat to our lives and an emotional threat. Besides stress, pathogens, bacteria, parasites or diseases can also attack our vagus nerve. Because our vagus nerve protects us, invaders can target it. When our vagus nerve loses tone, we can develop issues such as autoimmune diseases, inflammation, depression, anxiety, heart palpitations, headaches, tinnitus, problems swallowing, fatigue, seizures, blood pressure issues, constipation, weight issues, leaky gut, and IBS symptoms, parasites, pathogens, mold, spores, chemical toxins, parasites, bacteria, infections, and blood-borne illnesses. The vagus nerve detects something bad and signals the body to send in inflammatory cytokines to destroy the foreign intruder. If the vagus nerve is damaged or has “low tone”, then it can’t turn off the cytokines when the threat is no longer indicated.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Low Fermentation Eating Guide

The Microbiome Connection Part 6: by Mark A. Pimentel

Low Fermentation Eating Guide:

We are not going to go over foods to avoid and keep in mind this is only for if you have SIBO or IBS. Choose simple, easy to digest foods and avoid high fiber foods.

Foods to choose:

Baking powder

Cream of tartar


Almond flour

All-purpose flour

Dark chocolate

Avocado, coconut, olive, sesame oils

Nuts and seeds

Baking soda

Cane, caster, turbinado sugars



Agar flakes

Active dry yeast

Nut butters (all natural, no additives)


Bittersweet/semisweet chocolate

Vanilla extract/powder

Condiments that are minimally processed without high fructose corn syrup and additives)





Lactose free cottage cheese

Cocoa powder


Milk alternatives and lactose free milk (not soy)

Small amount of butter

Organ Meats




Corn flour






Bacon (nitrate and sugar free)






Passion Fruit







Dragon Fruit









Water chestnut







Sweet potato






Green beans


Green part of scallions










Bell peppers


Small amount of onion, garlic, and shallot (all cooked)








Hemp seeds

White or wheat bread/Bagels

Italian/French/Potato bread





GF pasta made from white rice, corn, or almond flour

Rice cakes made from white rice

Rice (white, sushi, paella, jasmine)

Dumpling wrappers

Cream of wheat


Maple Syrup/Glucose/Sucrose/Honey

Refined Cereal such as rice krispies

Phyllo dough


Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Microbiome Connection Part 5

The Microbiome Connection Part 5: by Mark A. Pimentel

Low-fermentation eating originates from our knowledge of microbes. If you leave a teaspoon of olive oil on the counter, bacteria won’t grow on the oil. But if you mix a teaspoon of sugar (carbohydrate) into the oil, within a few days bacteria and fungi will ferment and spoil the oil. Carbohydrates are one of the main energy sources for bacteria, and when bacteria ferment carbohydrates, the sugar converts to gas that causes the bloating and abdominal distention of SIBO. The predominant driver of SIBO symptoms is sugar. Yes, we need sugar, but bacteria need sugar as well. If you can eliminate sugars that humans don’t digest and limit your intake of fiber (which is difficult to digest) you can limit your SIBO symptoms and decrease the chance of recurrence of SIBO. Low-fermentation eating has two essential rules: Restrict products that contain high levels of carbohydrates or ingredients in food that humans can’t digest, and therefore are digested by bacteria. Space meals four to five hours apart. At the top of the list of foods to avoid are non-absorbable sugars, such as sucralose, sorbitol, lactitol, xylitol, and mannitol. Humans can’t digest these artificial sweeteners, and therefore 100 percent of their calories are available for bacteria to digest. Non-digestible sugars will always cause bloating. For the same reason, you should avoid sugar-free gum, which often contains artificial sweeteners. Look for hidden inulin. Inulin is another food additive that may bother your gastrointestinal tract. Inulin is a type of fructan and prebiotic, a compound in food that can induce the growth or activity of microorganisms, such as bacteria. It’s extracted from chicory root fiber—a natural dietary fiber—and may also be found in smaller amounts in whole wheat and some vegetables and fruits, such as asparagus, garlic, and bananas. Inulin does, however, have some digestive benefits. It appears to help with constipation, and the fiber increases the amounts of beneficial Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli bacteria in the gut. When you think of a non-digestible carbohydrate, think of fiber. Fiber is a carbohydrate that can’t be broken down by the body. It either passes through the digestive system unchanged (insoluble fiber), or is fermented by intestinal bacteria in the colon (soluble fiber). Fiber is found in intact plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. It can also be isolated and added to processed foods and fiber supplements (see inulin, above). In general, if you have IBS or SIBO, you’ll need to limit or eliminate high-fiber foods. When we advise less fiber in your diet, it doesn’t matter whether it’s soluble or insoluble. Less fiber means less gas production in the small intestine. You’ll need to eat fewer vegetables that have fiber, such as cruciferous vegetables, cabbage, sauerkraut, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. We consider these foods as absolute “no-no’s” because of how quickly and potently they can worsen symptoms in SIBO and IBS. Some carbohydrates to avoid include black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and lupini beans. Chickpeas (the primary ingredient in hummus) can be extremely provocative. Lentils are an important source of protein among vegans, however, when SIBO is present, these legumes are among the worst provocateurs. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of keeping the gastrointestinal tract’s cleaning waves intact on a regular basis. These cleaning waves keep the small bowel clean, and they reduce bacteria therein. Notably, the housekeeping waves don’t occur until you are fasting. The feeding phase of digestion ends within one to four hours of eating, and then the housekeeping wave cycles begin. Based on this time frame, we recommend waiting four to five hours between each meal as part of low-fermentation eating. That will result in at least one set of housekeeping waves between each meal. This timing procedure will keep the small intestine clean of bacteria and residual foods, as well as residual enzymes that were secreted to move food through the gastrointestinal tract. If you have IBS or SIBO, we recommend you eat two or three distinct meals a day, four or five hours apart. This doesn’t mean you should be eating less, just less often. You don’t have to eliminate vegetables from your diet if you have IBS! In the carbohydrate realm of vegetables, it’s okay to eat vegetables like eggplant, tomato, and zucchini. We suggest that you eat what we call the “root and fruit” foods, as they don’t cause much trouble for IBS or SIBO patients. If you want a salad, instead of using lettuce, try a Greek or Shirazi salad with cucumber, tomato, and a small amount of onion. Root vegetables, such as potatoes, beets, and carrots, tend to be simpler carbohydrates. Sweet potato has more fiber and is on our optional list. Bell pepper is technically a fruit and is also okay to eat. You can mix a small amount of onion (as a flavoring ingredient) with ground beef for a burger. Small amounts of garlic also are acceptable. You can also use salt, pepper, and turmeric for seasoning. Some SIBO patients can tolerate small amounts of garlic. Garlic has many health benefits in addition to digestive benefits, as it’s an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Individualized attention to each person’s diet is important and the reason not to have tunnel vision with your diet for overall health. Some patients with IBS and SIBO eliminate garlic because they think they shouldn’t eat it at all because it’s banned from the low-FODMAP diet. Proteins, such as beef, chicken, or fish, are allowed in low fermentation eating, but if you eat in a restaurant they may be cooked in butter or other banned products, so be cautious and be sure. ****Please remember to work with a health care professional and only use these tips and tricks if you have IBS or SIBO**** Apart from the direct effect of sleep on gut motility, sleep is also very important in regulation of appetite and what we crave to eat. Sleep deprivation leads to decreased levels of leptin and an increased level of ghrelin hormones. The net effect is an increased appetite. For reasons that we don’t yet understand, sleep deprivation also increases endocannabinoids, which increase our craving for fat and sugar, similar to increased appetite with marijuana use (“the munchies”). This change in food consumption behavior has deleterious effects on SIBO and the gut microbiome. Some athletes drink protein shakes to bulk up, but most commercial protein powders contain sucralose or other unacceptable artificial sweeteners. Manufacturers use these non-absorbable sweeteners to make the drink more  palatable, but you may feel bloated all day. Look for a protein shake with glucose or dextrose, not fructose, sucralose, or sorbitol, and nothing with prebiotics like inulin. We recommend whey protein isolate, which is derived from milk. If it’s pure whey protein, it shouldn’t have much lactose. For vegan athletes, we recommend pea protein. L-glutamine. This abundant amino acid, produced by the body and also found in food, may heal the lining of the bowel and help with IBS symptoms. A recent medium-sized randomized controlled trial found 5000 mg doses (about 2 teaspoons) of L-glutamine three times daily improved IBS symptoms and intestinal permeability, the so-called leaky gut. Larger trials are needed to confirm this data. L-glutamine is a safe supplement and an option for IBS treatment and potentially for leaky gut. Make sure you take a pure L-glutamine supplement with no other compounds. Remember: If you have IBS and you stop eating all food, your symptoms will improve dramatically. The bacteria wouldn’t have food, but neither would you! When your gut doesn’t work as hard, your symptoms dissipate, but a restricted diet is not a good long-term plan to control IBS. If you continue an overly restrictive diet for more than a few weeks, you may become deficient in macronutrients and micronutrients. The standard recommendation for more restricted diets is to reintroduce foods slowly within two to six weeks after starting the diet. There is no one answer to the question of which foods to reintroduce first. This depends on the restricted diet you were on and what you were eating. The most important thing is to regain balance in your diet, which may require the help of a dietitian or nutritionist. Exercise makes IBS better. Exercise increases blood flow to all organs, improves motility of the gut, and helps regulate bowel movements. Extreme exercise may be unfavorable to the gut due to a reduction of oxygen to the gut, but routine exercise is good for IBS patients. Studies of IBS patients show exercise assists in maintaining regular bowel habits. Exercise has the added benefit of releasing stress and, of course, provides many other health benefits.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Microbiome Connection Part 4

The Microbiome Connection Part 4: by Mark A. Pimentel

If you have lactose intolerance, within a few hours of drinking a glass of milk or eating ice cream or cheese, you may experience bloating, abdominal distention, and pain and diarrhea symptoms, as well as a feeling of fullness (satiety) and discomfort after eating (dyspepsia). When you avoid lactose-containing foods, the symptoms are relatively controlled. This is what scientists call a clear 1-to-1 relationship: one element is directly related to the other element. Once you know the cause of the symptoms—lactose in certain foods— the simplest solution is to avoid those lactose-containing foods. This “avoidance of lactose-containing foods” became one of the first restrictive diets in the world of IBS. However, you may discover that certain foods low in lactose are okay to eat; for example, aged hard cheeses have less lactose. Parmesan and Asiago cheeses also tend to be less provocative. If you love cheese, you can probably eat the above-mentioned cheeses. Just as with lactose intolerance, if you know you have fructose malabsorption, you may have already figured out how to avoid fructose. However, some symptoms may still remain, and this could be an indication that you also have SIBO. Unlike lactose, there’s no enzyme to break down fructose. Known as fruit sugar, fructose can be absorbed but it’s a slow process. After it’s transported with glucose across the small intestine epithelium (mucosa) into the bloodstream, it’s metabolized by the liver. Fructose malabsorption, formerly called dietary fructose intolerance, occurs when cells on the surface of the intestines are not able to absorb fructose efficiently. Fructose comes mostly from fruits, such as apples, pears, grapes, mango, and watermelon, and some vegetables, including sugar snap peas. It’s also found in honey, agave nectar, and in many processed foods that contain added sugars. In fact, the consumption of fructose from high-fructose corn syrup increased more than 1000 percent from 1970 to 1990. This rise in consumption has likely led to an increase in fructose malabsorption and intolerance. Eating a large amount of fructose can increase the water content of the small intestine and can alter the motility of the intestines. In addition, sugar alcohols, called polyols, naturally found in apples, pears, cauliflower, mushrooms, and snow peas, can also slow absorption and increase the water content along the length of the small intestine. If you experience digestive symptoms after consuming fructose, you may be affected by fructose malabsorption. Fermentable carbohydrates composed of short chains of fructose with a single attached glucose unit are known as fructans. Fructan intolerance may coexist with fructose malabsorption or it may be the underlying cause of your symptoms. It’s roughly the same principle as with fructose. The cause of fructose malabsorption is similar to that of lactose intolerance in that the issue involves your body’s ability to break down the bond between two sugars. Regular table sugar is a disaccharide combination of fructose and glucose. We have a transporter to move glucose across the mucosa, but we don’t have a good transporter for fructose. Humans can’t absorb fructose well unless it’s combined with glucose. This process is called co-transportation. The fructose ends up in the colon and causes bloating, or bacteria in the gastrointestinal system find the fructose first and ferment it, again causing bloating. The author believes that SIBO plays a significant role in gluten or wheat sensitivity, as foods containing wheat are highly fermentable. If you have SIBO and eat wheat, you will have symptoms. Many of our SIBO patients think they are gluten-sensitive and go on a gluten-free diet, and they do feel better. When we remedy their SIBO, their intolerance to gluten and wheat goes away. As with all sugar and carbohydrate intolerances, SIBO is often a contributing factor. Gluten sensitivity is a vague diagnosis, at best. If you go on a gluten-free diet and restrict your carbohydrates, you’ll likely feel better. If you go on the authors low-carbohydrate, low-fermentation eating plan, you would also get better and you’d have fewer restrictions. To improve upon diet therapy for IBS, researchers devised a comprehensive restriction of fructose, lactose, fructo-, and galacto-oligosaccharides (fructans, galactans), and polyols (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and maltitol), termed fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols or “FODMAPs.” When poorly absorbed, FODMAPs draw fluid into the small intestine, leading to symptoms of abdominal distention, and they also augment the passage of fluid and fermentable material into the colon. FODMAPs are naturally found in wheat, rye products, legumes, nuts, artichokes, onions, and garlic. The degree of malabsorption with FODMAPs differs with each person, so there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach. The general recommendation of a restricted FODMAP diet is to keep it short-term, initiating a full elimination for two to six weeks with the aid of a licensed dietitian. Your tolerance to a low- FODMAP diet may differ from someone else’s, so it’s important to tailor the diet to your particular needs and then gradually reintroduce foods containing FODMAPs back into your diet. Please be aware that a low-FODMAP diet can change your micronutrient intake. You should avoid long-term use of the low-FODMAP diet in order to avoid micronutrient deficiency. Over time, your microbiome may shift in a bad direction with the low- FODMAP diet. The microbiome of your stool becomes less diverse, and it’s well recognized that having lower microbiome diversity is an unhealthy situation. If you’re on a low-FODMAP diet for a long time, you may be malnourished and consequently your microbiome is malnourished as well. The low-FODMAP diet is not easy to follow. If you decide to try it, don’t do it on your own. You need to be under the care of a health-care professional or, preferably, a GI dietitian who understands the diet.