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Gut Health & Hormones with Michelle Schneider

"If your hormones aren't balanced, you can be doing everything else perfectly, but you're still going to feel like you're spinning your wheels. We've got to balance the hormones; thyroid,...

INTRODUCTION: Welcome to Qualgen's podcast where we talk about all things health and wellness related, including hormones, pharmaceuticals, health trends and ways you can help better your life.  

Jennifer: Hi everyone! Thank you for taking time out of your day to listen in. Today I am talking with Michelle Schneider. Michelle is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who founded her clinic, Optimal Hormone Health and Wellness in Spring, Texas. Michelle, thank you so much for joining me today! 

Michelle: Oh, thank you for having me. It's wonderful to be here.  

Jennifer: It is! So, what made you decide to start optical hormone health and wellness and what do you do there?  

Michelle: So, there's always a story there. About nine years ago, I was working in primary care, just a traditional practice, you know, just doing what we do. And then along the way I was introduced by a physician to bio identical hormone replacement therapy and so I began training under him and working with patients to help them get their hormones balanced. You know, I was really just blown away and I just began seeing the positive impact that really was getting to the root cause of patient’s symptoms, which in a lot of cases were imbalanced hormones, and how that positively impacted their health. Patients would come in in one way, and then we'd see them on follow up at six weeks later, and they were just completely different people in a good way. Then I started seeing patients improve to the point that they were able to start weaning off of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, ADD medications, high blood pressure, cholesterol medications, all of those things and I thought, well, you know, this can't be a bad thing, people are feeling so much better, they're more active, they're coming off with their medications and I just felt like I had a whole new set of tools in my toolbox. Then, from that experience, I knew I could never go back to traditional primary care. So, I kind of, at that time, was so inspired and so I started looking for a job in the health and wellness field; functional medicine, hormones, anything that kind of dealt with sort of lifestyle medicine, so to speak, and I couldn't find one. And what I found out later is that that's because no one leaves those kinds of jobs, because they're so rewarding for the practitioner and the patients. And so I couldn't go back to primary care, and so I just decided to go out on a limb and open my practice and that was about eight years ago. 

Jennifer: Wow, that's amazing. It's always so crazy, I feel like kind of everyone's story that gets into functional medicine is kind of the same, it's just realizing that you can actually heal people instead of just putting a band aid on the problem, like actually fixing it, it's just so awesome.  

Michelle: Yeah, it really is and it's it really gives you a whole new perspective and it's just it's really a gratifying field to work in.  

Jennifer: Yes, absolutely. So, I know part of your practice is focused on weight loss and I want to get into that in a bit, but something I feel like is talked about quite often these days is gut health. So, can you explain what gut health refers to?  

Michelle: Well, gut health just refers to what we call as the gut microbiome and all that means is that the good bacteria in our gut help keep the bad bacteria in check. And you know, a healthy gut is important not only for digestion, but a lot of people don't realize it, but a healthy gut is important for mood disorders, you know, helping to decrease inflammation, of course balancing our hormones. If we don't have a healthy gut our hormones can't be balanced. And then since 70 to 80% of our immune system is in our gut, it helps support healthy immune system. So, I always tell my patients focus on the gut, get your gut healthy and you're going to be healthier overall.  

Jennifer: So what are some common causes and symptoms of an unhealthy gut and is leaky gut the same thing as an unhealthy gut? 

Michelle: I think the most common cause, the biggest cause, is poor diet, but that's not the only factor - a diet high in sugar, carbs, low and vital nutrients or a vegetables, plant-based foods, stress can also cause your gut to be unhealthy, antibiotic use, alcohol, lack of movement. You know daily exercise or just daily movement, environmental toxins, pollutants and just you know other lifestyle factors like not enough sleep. Even a sedentary lifestyle can affect healthy gut. Symptoms can be a whole host of symptoms.  

Jennifer: Everything?  

Michelle: Yeah. Really. Anything. And so many of the symptoms overlap with unbalanced hormones, but they can gas bloating, belching, frequent stools. I have a lot of times, patients will tell me that they just feel like they have a sensitive stomach, feeling incomplete emptying when patients have bowel movements, abdominal pain, but also you know anxiety, depression, other mood disorders, irritability, mental fogginess, and that's where you come into the overlapping. A lot of the symptoms, you know that aren't what people would typically think gi related, such as the mood disorders and you know the mental fogginess and the joint pain. All those things can be caused by poor gut health overlapped with hormone imbalances, as well.  

Jennifer: So, how is the gut health linked to your hormones?   

Michelle: Well, the gut dysbiosis, or just basically means that there's an imbalance in the gut bacteria, in the G. I. Track, and if there is an excess of a bacteria that produces an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase, that can actually convert estrogen back into an unconjugated active form that can be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, and this can lead to hormone imbalances that can lead to something called estrogen dominance, and some of those symptoms that patients might experience if this is occurring include PMS, weight gain, they might have an increased risk of estrogen related cancers, breast/prostate. It can cause endometriosis, mood disorders, and even heart disease.  

Jennifer: Wow. So, if you have that happening, if you fix your gut, would it balance your hormones or do you have to fix the hormones to fix your gut?  

Michelle: Wow, that's like that's the million dollar question. Well, you for sure can't have balanced hormones if you have an unhealthy gut because it's just so critical, it's almost like the gut is almost like our second brain. So, yeah, that's a tough question. What comes first then unhealthy gut or unbalanced hormones? If I had to guess, I would say it all starts in the gut. 

Jennifer: I was thinking to fix that and then if it's still an issue, then you move on to the hormones and see if that works.   

Michelle: Yes.  

Jennifer: So, what can you do to improve your gut health?  

Michelle: Well, diet is going to be number one, but that's not the only factor, you know, I always encourage a diet rich in whole foods, nutrient dense foods, foods, you know, with very high nutritional value and no added junk, so to speak, like sugar. Just adhering to a low glycemic diet. Foods that don't spike the blood sugar, lots of vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and eliminate white carbs, you know, things like pasta, rice, potatoes, all these things are going to raise your blood sugars. 

Jennifer: Everything I love.  

Michelle: Yeah I know! All of us, but once you get them out of your diet you really kind of lose a taste for them after a while. Once you really get used to eating whole foods and real food that you kind of lose your taste for it and you don't even really miss it over time. You know environment, you know reducing toxic exposures, exposures to something called xenoestrogens (a type of xenohormone that imitates estrogen. They can be either synthetic or natural chemical compounds), reducing the use of plastics, especially plastics that contain a substance called BPA, because that is a really strong hormone disrupter. You can reduce your antibiotic use, reduce alcohol consumption and then of course exercise is so important. Daily movement is so important.  

Jennifer: What about probiotics? Like how do they help? I mean do they help I guess is the first question is it worth taking them every day and how do they work?  

Michelle: I think the answer is yes. I really think everyone ought to be on a probiotic because our diets, even someone who eats a very healthy diet has a risk of having poor gut health or not ideal gut health just because of the quality of our food. The quality of our food is just not the same, doesn't have the same nutritional value that it did 30 or 40 years ago. So, I really encourage all of my patients to be on a probiotic. You know I mentioned that most of our immune system is in our gut and now with Covid going on and that's you know I'm supporting the immune system is more important than ever, especially if you're someone who has chronic disease and underlying chronic disease.  

Jennifer: Absolutely. Is there a type of probiotic to look for? Because there's so many on the market now that it's so hard to decide which one to choose.  

Michelle: Well, I think definitely you know choosing pharmaceutical grade supplement and that's typically going to be able to be purchased from a practitioner or sometimes compounding pharmacies will carry pharmaceutical grade supplements. But, I would just say to find one that has as many strains as possible the older that we get, the less diverse our gut microbiota is and so it becomes more important as we get older to support that. I would just say to find one that has as many strains as possible.  

Jennifer: That makes sense. Moving more into the weight loss side of things. What kind of options do you provide at your clinic and how do you decide what will work for each individual?  

Michelle: Well, we offer two official programs and I say that because really at every visit patients get counseled on diet and you know, weight loss, and movement. I can't help myself. It's kind of the way I was wired even before I got into this field, I always kind of, you know, veered in that direction, and did a lot of counseling on diet and the importance of daily movement. But, we have two as I said official programs, one is a shorter-term weight loss program. This one might be for a person that is basically has hit a weight loss plateau or they feel stuck, or they might need to lose a substantial amount of weight in a short period of time maybe because they need to have a surgery, like a knee replacement surgery or something. So that's one program, the other program encourages a slower weight loss of about one to two pounds per week. We have consultation and I develop meal plans based on dietary preferences, their workout regimens, fitness goals. So, that plan is very individualized. What both of the plans focus on is consuming whole food. There's no meal replacement, shakes are okay, but it really focuses on whole foods, nutrient dense foods, foods you have to prepare yourself, because what we're trying to do is establish lifestyle changes that are going to stick part of that is that you have to prepare meals for yourself. So, the patients on both of the programs get a body composition analysis. So we compare the muscle to fat ratio, which is really important because, you know, when we're trying to amp up someone's metabolism through dietary changes we want to focus on fat loss, not just weight loss. We want to retain muscle and lose fat, so that their body composition improves over time and that's going to set them up for the, you know, the best long-term success.   

Jennifer: And how long do you think someone needs to be in a program like that before it does become a permanent part of their lifestyle?   

Michelle: I would honestly, I would say at least 6-8 weeks, and then that is going to establish the habit, I should say. And then continuing that, you know, the consistency is what's so important for the long-term success. I would say if someone has made the changes and they're still doing, you know, our recommendations that, at 3-6 months, I think they've made the lifestyle change. By that time they're going to receive so much positive reinforcement, that it's going to hopefully encourage them even more to continue. And, you know, and I always tell patients - I mean, we have to live, everyone's going to have birthday parties and anniversaries and weddings and opportunities to eat bad foods, but it's just, it's all about planning and being prepared and eating clean, you know, 80% of the time and its ongoing. And the other part of that is, just you know surrounding I encourage patients to surround themselves with like-minded people with similar goals because they're going to be so much more successful if that's the kind of talk that they're hearing throughout their day and encouragement, you know, if everybody's kind of headed in the same direction, that's kind of be easier to stay on course.   

Jennifer: Absolutely, there's that quote or the saying where it's you become the six people that you surround yourself with, and I think that's true for so many aspects of life, I mean, especially that because of somebody's going out all the time and eating out or whatnot, I mean, that's kind of what you're going to fall into as well.   

Michelle: I agree, I totally agree. It doesn't mean, you know, that you can't have fun. My husband and I still have a blast, but we are, you know, over the last several years, I mean, our kids have gotten older now and, you know, we had to sort of reestablish like, okay, well what are we both interested in? And it's kind of evolved into that's kind of our past time and we work out together and, you know, we try to keep each other on track with regard to food, but we still go out and have fun and, you know, have our fair share of meals where we eat out, but we just don't sort of let that sabotage us, you know, kind of get back on track and so that's what I encourage my patients to do, it's not about being perfect, you know, you just try to just do better than you did the day before, you make progress and you know, little steps.  

Jennifer: Absolutely. Have you found any connections between balanced hormones and weight loss?  

Michelle: Oh, absolutely. If your hormones aren't balanced, you can be doing everything else perfectly, but you're still going to feel like you're spinning your wheels. We've got to balance the hormones; thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol. You got to get all those balanced before you can hope to be successful in any weight loss journey for sure.  

Jennifer: And is there anything additional you would like to add?  

Michelle: We're all getting older, myself and my husband included and, you know, everybody wants to age healthier and, you know, live a life full of vitality and I, just like my patients, want to remain active and healthy into our old age. So, I'm always on a quest to learn how to improve my patients’ lives our lives, mine and my husband, my whole family's life. And, you know, I just learn so much from my patients and I guess the biggest thing that I want them to take away is that, you know, I'm on this journey with them and I'm not perfect either. I'm still learning every day and, you know, like I said, they, my patients teach me a lot and, you know, they inspire me to keep, keep doing what we're doing. It's not that my patients come in to see me and I know all and I'm, you know, dictating with this, you know, plan for them. I truly am on this journey with them and you know, I slip up, you know, eat bad, just like everyone else. And I try to just after I do that, I try to just get myself back on course and lo and behold, you know, when I find myself feeling draggy or fatigued or you know, just not feeling like I'm can focus, you know, that's when I think, okay, it's time to step back and look at my diet and where am I letting some of the bad stuff in? And you know, I clean my diet up and guess what? I start feeling better.  

Jennifer: It crazy, it’s so hard, but it makes so much sense.  

Michelle: Yeah, it does. And it all goes back to surrounding yourself with like-minded people who encourage you and can hold you accountable.  

Jennifer: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much again for joining me for more information on Michelle visit or you can find her on Facebook at Optimal Hormone Health and Wellness. Thank you everyone for listening. Please make sure to subscribe and follow us on social media to stay up to date on Qualgen. Thank you again, Michelle! 

Michelle: Thanks so much for having me. It was wonderful.  

Jennifer: Absolutely. Any time. 

Disclaimer: The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on Qualgen’s website and podcast are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.  

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