If you’re finding weight loss to be a challenge, you might first want to check your gut. The body’s ability to burn energy efficiently – and shed pounds – is inextricably linked to gut health.
To get the full details, healthy gut tips, and parse through weight loss trends and medications, we consulted a Functional Medicine expert, Dr. Alexandra Davidson, DNP, FNP-C, of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center. (You may have heard of Eleven, Eleven’s founder, Dr. Frank Lipman!).
Dr. Davidson is passionate about helping individuals facing various health conditions from gastrointestinal disorders, SIBO, and leaky gut, to autoimmune disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cardiometabolic dysfunction, among others.
Q+A with Dr. Davidson:
Veracity: How did you become involved with functional medicine?
Dr. Davidson: My interest in functional medicine started much like many others in this field – driven by my personal health challenges. After struggling with Chronic Lyme Disease, gut problems resulting from extensive antibiotic use, joint pain, fatigue, and more, I became increasingly dissatisfied with conventional medical approaches and treatments. Recognizing that there had to be a better solution to achieve optimal health, I delved into exploring alternatives. As I became acquainted with functional medicine and discovered the potential of lifestyle changes to transform my well-being, I became fully convinced of its value and was inspired to help myself and everyone around me!
V: What is ‘gut health’ and why does it matter?
DD: “Gut health” has become quite the buzz word as of late but put simply, our gut health lays the foundation for our overall health and wellbeing. Gut health pertains to the balanced function of the gastrointestinal tract, encompassing the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. It involves a diverse ecosystem of microorganisms - bacteria, viruses, fungi - known as the gut microbiota. Our gut microbiota impacts digestion, immune system regulation, nutrient absorption, and mental well-being.
V: What are the symptoms of poor gut health?
DD: When there is a gut dysbiosis, or imbalance in the gut microbiota, this can lead to a variety of health issues as common as bloating or gas or more complicated like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Other common gastrointestinal disorders that may result from gut dysbiosis include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Imbalances in the gut microbiome have also been associated with systemic issues such as autoimmune diseases, obesity, diabetes, anxiety/depression, and hormonal imbalances.
V: How does this relate to hormones?
DD: An imbalance in the gut microbiota affects hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, and thyroid hormones via the gut-brain axis. This imbalance can hinder nutrient absorption, essential for synthesizing various hormones, potentially leading to hormonal disruptions and impacting overall endocrine function.
V: How can gut health hinder weight loss efforts, even when you’re eating a healthy diet and getting adequate exercise?
DD: The balance of different types of bacteria in the gut can influence how efficiently you extract energy from food and how your body stores fat. Imbalances in the gut microbiome have been linked with weight gain and changes in metabolism. Also, the gut microbiota balance or dysbiosis can influence hormones related to hunger, satiety, and fat storage. Thus, imbalances in these hormones can affect your appetite and cravings, potentially leading to overeating and weight gain. So if you are hitting a weight loss plateau after consistently eating right, exercising, and sleeping well - treating your gut microbiome may be the answer to your weight loss plateau!
V: What are some diet fads/trends and medications, like Ozempic, that could ultimately be harmful to your gut health and in turn, your hormones?
DD: I am not a fan of juice cleansing - the premade juices and even the ones made at home typically lack dietary fiber and tend to spike blood sugar. This lack of dietary fiber can disrupt the gut microbiota and affect hormones that are involved in appetite regulation. I recommend that my patients eat whole, low glycemic fruits like berries (instead of juicing) to provide healthy fiber and more balanced blood sugar levels throughout the day.
One diet “trend” I am a fan of is intermittent fasting! It has been associated with various health benefits, including weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced risk factors for chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, some research suggests that intermittent fasting may promote cellular repair processes and support brain health through mechanisms like autophagy and the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) - making it a great tool for anti-aging and longevity!
Medications that are notorious for throwing off microbial balance are proton pump inhibitors, NSAIDS, antibiotics, oral contraceptives, and some antidepressants. While these medications are sometimes medically necessary, they are frequently over used/prescribed and taken for too long! I urge my patients to minimize the use of these drugs when possible as a way to keep their microbiome happy and hormones well balanced.
Regarding the GLP-1 agonists, like Ozempic or Mounjaro, these drugs were initially intended to treat patients with Type 2 diabetes. These medications are now more commonly being used for weight loss. Research on the effects of these medications is ongoing - but what we do know is how they work - they work by directly mimicking GLP-1, a hormone in the body that controls blood sugar and appetite leading to increased feelings of satiety, subsequently reducing food intake, and leading to weight loss in many individuals. Although we have seen significant weight loss results from these medications there is potential for them to impact our gut microbiome and metabolism as they impact blood sugar control and changes our ability to absorb nutrients. Changes in nutrient absorption impacts our overall metabolic environment and the composition of bacteria living in our gut.
V: Why you should focus on a 'natural & holistic' approach weight loss rather than harmful dieting + harsh medications. How can we heal through a root-cause approach and in turn get results?
DD: Simply put, if you want sustainable weight loss there is no “quick fix” - it needs to be a true lifestyle change! Using a root cause approach to improve diet, physical activity, stress management, sleep, and engaging in mindful eating can make all the difference when it comes to shedding unwanted weight and keeping it off! Of course, I recommend working with a functional medicine provider and/or integrative nutritionist because this is not an easy feat and having support makes a huge difference in patient success.
V: What’s your take on Berberine?
DD: I love Berberine! Research suggests that berberine may be helpful for blood sugar control, weight management, cardiovascular health, gut health, liver health, has anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidant activity, antimicrobial effects, and may even be neuroprotective! Although people are calling berberine the “natural ozempic” I unfortunately do not see it impacting weight loss in the same way as the GLP-1 agonists. That being said, it does have various benefits and patients should discuss how they may benefit from it with their functional healthcare provider!
V: What about ‘Metabolaid’ the botanical blend in our new supplement Metabolism Ignite?
DD: I believe that supplement formulas, including Metabolaid, may have promising potential to help wean patients off medications like Ozempic or simply to boost satiety. Patients report feeling less hungry and find it helpful to curb cravings as well.
V: What are 5 ways to build healthy gut bacteria? (and reach all your health and wellness goals!)
DD: Hard to pick only 5 but my top tips would be:
1. Eat a Diverse Diet: Consume a wide range of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, to provide a variety of nutrients that nourish different strains of gut bacteria. Try to buy organic and/or from a farmer’s market when you can to avoid dangerous pesticides and antibiotics.
2. Increase Fiber Intake: Prioritize dietary fiber from sources like legumes, vegetables, nuts, and seeds as it acts as a prebiotic that fuels the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Always remember to eat your stalks & stems - this is where a lot of the fiber is!
3. Incorporate Probiotic-Rich and Prebiotic-Rich Foods: Incorporate foods containing live probiotic cultures, such as yogurt, kombucha, and miso, to introduce beneficial bacteria directly into your gut. My favorite prebiotic foods include: onions, garlic, radishes, asparagus, and jerusalem artichokes.
4. Reduce Processed Foods and Artificial Sweeteners: Minimize consumption of artificial sweeteners and highly processed foods, as they can negatively impact gut bacteria diversity and disrupt the gut microbial balance.
5. Manage Stress and Sleep: Practice stress-reduction techniques and prioritize adequate sleep, as chronic stress and poor sleep can disrupt the gut-brain axis and affect the composition of gut microbiota. Finding healthy ways to unwind can help support microbial diversity!
Dr. Alexandra Davidson