The Gut-Brain Connection. Probiotics.

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By Holly Pellham Davis

Many of us can relate to the feeling that our gut has a mind of its own, often over-ruling the main processing unit above our shoulders. But, what would you say if I told you that our gut is often referred to as the “second brain?”

The gut is an extension of the brain connected through the enteric nervous system. The two work together to create a balance of hormones, bacteria, enzymes, and some 40 neurotransmitters. In fact, more than 90% of our bodyʼs serotonin, 50% of our bodyʼs dopamine, and 70%-90% of our immune system, is found in the gut. Simply stated, if the gutʼs not happy, our entire body is not happy (or healthy) and more prone to a variety of problems, conditions, and disease.

The root of all disease is inflammation. The immune system and gut flora have a symbiotic relationship. When our gut flora (microbiota) is imbalanced (more bad than good) we have Dysbiosis which disturbs waste removal in the GI track and leads to inflammation (increase in cytokines) and cancer.

This microbiota or gut flora is absolutely essential to our health. At birth, we are given vital bacteria through the birth canal that become the signal to activate the gut immune system. For babies delivered by C-section, they must depend on bacteria picked up from the skin and other surfaces, therefore having a completely different community of bacteria (in the body) sometimes leading to colic, increased risk of asthma, allergies and obesity. Frequently, those same children are prescribed antibiotics more often through life, compounding the root of the problem. But, they are not alone. Many of us suffer from imbalances in our gut bacteria. It is a battle of Good vs Bad.

Some Causes of Gut Microbiota Imbalance:

  • Use of antibiotics
  • Consumption of processed foods, genetically modified foods, and sugar
  • Illness
  • Stress* (See CRF below.)
  • Chlorine in water.
  • Drinking large quantities of coffee or alcohol (or both)
  • Aging
  • Taking H2 Inhibitors. These acid blockers can be devastating to the gut and can actually perpetuate the problem. Instead, talk to your doctor about treating GERD with high potency probiotics and take a digestive enzyme to restore balance. You should also cut processed foods and eat mostly dark green leafy vegetables.

What are the signs/gut feelings (no pun intended) that something is wrong?

  • Abdominal pain
  • Visceral pain — inflammation, bowel disease, GERD, kidney stones, endometriosis
  • Constipation
  • Cravings
  • Foggy memory, mood swings (an inflamed gut = inflamed brain)
  • Trouble sleeping/insomnia
  • Release of CRF (corticotropin releasing factor) — Often a result of chronic stress, the release of CRF can lead to changes in paracellular permeability, leaky gut / leaky brain (antigens leaking out into the bloodstream), toxic liver overload, irritable bowel syndrome, and systemic disease.

Now that we have a snapshot of what can go wrong when you have bad gut health, letʼs look at some things we can do to make it right.

Keys to Gut Brain Wellness:

  • Eat a diet rich in organic plants, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, some whole organic grains, and eggs. Superstars include: avocados, freshly ground flaxseeds, and omega 3 rich foods.
  • Avoid food additives, artificial colors and dyes, preservatives, refined sugars, pesticides, genetically engineered foods, and MSG. They all alter gut microbiota and can damage the intestinal wall.
  • Decrease exposure to environmental toxins — drink pure, clean water ( de-chlorinated and DBP free), breathe clean air, avoid toxic household chemicals, and remove plastics and styrofoam from your home & office.
  • Increase Omega 3  and decrease Omega 6.
  • Exercise.
  • Decreases stress to aid in the release of beneficial hormones and weight loss (bonus!).
  • Get adequate sleep, ideally at least 8 hours of per night. Your ability to sleep well will increase with good gut health.
  • Reduce Stress! This is absolutely vital for gut health and whole wellness. Volunteering, meditation, yoga,exercise, massage therapy, journaling, support groups, and gardening are all great ways to reduce stress and nurture your soul.

Probiotic Supplements
While not a cure-all, you can also help improve gut health by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement every day. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a supplement:

  • Look for one that is encapsulated and extended release which allows the bacteria to pass through stomach acid.
  • Choose one with multiple strains- most contain 10-12. The more strains the better.
  • Look for numbers that reference how many cells at best by date (not manufacture date).
  • Do NOT take probiotic supplements within one hour of hot drinks or heated foods. The heat will kill the cells. This includes the popular suggestion to take probiotic with hot lemon water.
  • For anyone in a “gut wrenching state,” you may want to look into prebiotics and digestive enzymes. They are a tremendous help and support for gut health.

Probiotic Foods
Including probiotic foods in your family’s daily diet is another way to help promote good gut health. Probiotic foods include: miso, oats, wheat bran, legumes, chicory, banana, dandelion greens,blue-green algae, kimchee, garlic, onions, pickles, tempeh, sauerkraut, beans, flax seeds, leeks, artichokes, Kefir (fermented dairy), and yogurt. I’ll dive  into a few of these foods below.

Yogurt: We’re firmly in the midst of a yogurt craze with food giants eagerly jumping on the bandwagon in the name of “health.” Any yogurt containing excessive sugar, artificial flavors, colors, toppings/mix ins should be considered a dessert or junk food, as any benefit received from the small amount of bacteria it may contain is voided by harmful additives. I prefer Stonyfield Greek Plain Yogurt for my family.

Fermented Drinks: My husband gags when he sees me take a swig of Eden Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar . I admit, it takes some getting used to, but being a long time Kombucha Tea drinker prepared me for the intense flavor. The list of health benefits of fermented drinks like vinegar is vast, including: aiding in alkalinity/ ph balance, improving digestion, encouraging skin health, possessing anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory  properties, aiding in weight loss, and helping to reduce blood sugar levels. It can even be used as a mouth wash! The Kombucha story is a bit more complicated, as each maker touts their brew to be best, but remember the integrity of fermentation (raw culture) is what creates the good bacteria. Look for lines that clearly state specific strains contained and all ingredients. Also beware of high sugar content (double check the servings per container). A brand I enjoy is High Country. I love the ginger, and my son fittingly adores Wild Root. For moms out there wanting to create their own “mothers,” there is an easy starter kit.

Fermented Foods: Fermented foods have been a staple in ancient cultures often being referenced as the root of good health and survival. Miso, sauerkraut, kimchee, tempeh are examples of some of those foods. Try them out!

At the end of the day, I think momʼs advice to “listen to your gut” has taken on a deeper meaning on our ongoing journey to wellness, donʼt you?

Stay tuned!

XOXO, Holly



I am still hearing about the recent "News Reports" stemming from the Stanford Review comparing Conventional and Organic Foods on your health. All of the papers, news casts, tweets and posts have been popping up declaring that "Organic foods are no more nutritious for you than Conventionally grown foods!" It has many people wondering if they have been duped into paying more for organic foods and others disheartened believing that their efforts to provide the best for their families was all for not... Well, take heart... as suspected, there is a lot more to this study than its headlines. The Stanford review was a meta-analysis study, comparing data from some previous 223 studies. The research varied greatly, conditions were not controlled (ie: crop, soil, region, domestic, import etc) and "publication bias could have been present."


Perhaps the most troubling is the exclusion by the researchers of certain nutrients that are known to be higher in organic foods! Over the years, at least a dozen other research groups have conducted similar studies comparing Organic vs Conventional with 60% of them finding Organic foods to be higher in nutritional value than conventional foods. (According to analysis by Charles Benbrook, Professor, Washington St. University) Polyphenols (antioxidants) and other beneficial compounds were found to be consistently higher in Organic produce, due in part to the plants ability in a natural organic field to fend off attacking insects by increasing their natural defenses. Which leads us to the most important reason to choose organic foods, PESTICIDES. Organic produce is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides.


Organic meat and poultry are grown without antibiotics, (the study did site 33% reduced risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Organic meats) growth hormones, feeds containing animal byproducts , GMO's and pesticides. The Stanford Study found pesticide exposure risk to be 30% lower in Organic produce and two studies showed urinary pesticide levels "significantly" lower in children eating an organic diet. Why didn't THAT make headlines? Pesticides (especially organophosphate insecticides) are known to cause neurological and developmental problems and pose their biggest threat to children. Of course, we can not overlook the parents of those children either as you simply can not separate the effects of exposures both parents have had and passed on to their children through DNA mutations and cellular modifications which may lead to other disease and cancer.

Perhaps this breakdown below scoring pesticides in produce will give you a little more insight. Origin is also a huge issue with pesticide levels and could make these numbers increase even more. Commonly, imported produce is higher in the number of pesticides, thereby increasing exposure. Keep in mind, most pesticides are fat soluble, so they store in the fat cells of the human body and can stay there indefinitely. Take a look at a few of these comparisons and you decide, which is better for you? Organic or Conventional?


*Charles Benbrook’s Dietary Risk or DRI (Dietary Risk Index) compares the average pesticide levels to the maximum that the EPA deems as safe. For example, a conventional apple has a DRI score of 27 compared to the Organic Apple's score of 1.

Other Top comparisons:

Conventional Strawberries 48 vs Organic 1
Conventional Sweet Potatoes 41 vs Organic 7
(With Root veggies, Soil is crucial. My note)
Conventional Celery 23 vs Organic 0
Conventional Lettuce 16 vs Organic 0


by Holly Pellham Davis, Clean Fresh Living, Inc.
*DRI Adapted from analysis by Charles Benbrook, Professor WSU. Numbers can vary year to year. Residue Data from USDA Pesticide Data Program.


Photo by D Moms.          The most important meal of the day? Breakfast. (With coffee for mama, natch.)


By Holly Pellham Davis


We are well into the moans and groans of waking early in the start of this new school year. Blurry-eyed kiddos have been stumbling out of bed, wondering why school has to start so e-a-r-l-y; what’s for breakfast; and where the mate to their favorite pair of shoes is? But that doesn’t have to be the run down du jour. Take advantage of this long weekend and change the course of the day by implementing a few keys that will unlock the doors to a successful day for all.

If there is anything I have learned through years of studying wellness and using my own two children as “lab rats” it is we all need: to prepare well, to sleep well, and to eat well. Let’s break it down…



1. Prepare Well
Preparation has several different components:

  • Be organized. Teach your kids how to keep their tools and materials in order. Have them list assignments, responsibilities, and deadlines on a handy, durable calendar that can easily be referred to every day and night.
  • Get it together the night before. Homework papers, signed papers to return to school, after school bags for dance, soccer etc. They can even prepare a small snack for the next day by washing an apple ahead of time and putting a tablespoon of nut butter into a stainless or glass container so that they next morning all they do is grab it out of the fridge. I also make certain lunch items the night before or do “prep” work to shorten my lunch making time in the mornings.
  • Plan it. Have your kids lay out their entire outfit (even under garments) the night before, that way if the tennis shoes were left out in the yard, they can return safely inside before the sprinklers come on. This rule alone saves us lots of panic and drama in the morning — two things no one needs any time of day.


2. Sleep Well
Lack of sleep is a serious health risk that the majority of school aged kids are suffering from today. Inadequate sleep leads to changes in metabolic mechanisms, decreased brain function, inability to focus, hormonal abnormalities, depression. It can effect a child’s growth, personality and put them at higher risk for other diseases later on in life like: Type 2 diabetes, heart and lung disease, obesity, hyperthyroidism and chronic pain. The good news is lack of sleep is somewhat easy to remedy. Here’s how:

  • Stick to set bedtimes. Structure, both day and night is key to good sleep. Set your child’s waking time and bed time to be the same everyday, seven days a week. Begin by selecting at a wake up time that allows time for a healthy breakfast and time to get dressed and ready for school (usually an hour to hour and a half pre departure time). To determine an appropriate bedtime, calculate back 9-12 hours depending on the age and specific needs of your child.
  • Turn it off. Turn off anything with a light screen (computers, i-anythings, Nooks, Kindles, televisions, Xbox) within 2-3 hours of bedtime. If you have older children that do homework on a computer, make it a house rule that they must complete that work right when they get home from school. For my 10 and 12 year old, the school week means absolutely no electronics of any kind and no TV. They have to schedule computer work time with me based on their specific school assignments. The light of the screens as well as the activity, especially a tense video game, stimulates the brain. Use of these devices within 2-3 hours of bedtime signal a reduction in hormones like melatonin. It’s also important to cut out ambient light or night-lights and place alarm clocks on the opposite side of the room facing the wall.  Studies have proven that light exposure at night for as little as 4 weeks, increase cytokines, which causes inflammation. Studies have also linked nighttime light exposure to increased risk of Leukemia in children.
  • Dedicate a workspace. Do not allow children to do homework or “work” in bed. This sets them up for a future hard to break habit and sends the wrong message to the body. Prepare a dedicated workspace for them with plenty of room to lie out their materials, free of distractions and clutter. This includes bedtime reading where they are reading to themselves. Have a designated reading chair or create a comfy, fluffy place with fun floor pillows (just ensure they have a good light source). Another useful tool is to have a writing pad for them by their bed if suddenly they remember something to do for the next day or have a spontaneous idea, they can note it and have it the next day with little stimulation to their brain.
  • Get physical. A busy body during the day leads to good rest throughout the night. Know and evaluate your kiddo’s activity level everyday. If they have a day when they didn’t run around the play ground for 30 minutes or have PE class, have an after school activity plan to provide vital exercise. Be ready for action with jumping rope, jumping jacks, riding bikes, walking the dog, jumping on the trampoline, playing basketball, dancing to music they select. Get them moving. They will rest better, sleep better, grow better. and feel better. Optimal time for exercise is at least 2-3 hours prior to bedtime.


3. Eat Well
It all begins with “Breaking the Fast,” i.e. breakfast. Study after study shows one of the greatest ways to increase health is by eating a nutritious breakfast within one hour of waking, containing lean proteins (eggs, quinoa, hemp hearts, nut butters, plain non-fat yogurt) accompanied by organic berries and fruits and pure water to drink.  It doesn’t take much time to prepare, and the healthy rewards are well worth it.

Skip all pre-prepared, packaged “oatmeal” labeled cereals, pop tarts, bars, and bologna. The chemical cocktails in the ingredients list tell the rest of the story. Also, keep cereals to less than 7 grams of sugar per cup (dude, that’s still a lot) and free of high fructose corn syrup, corn sugar, GMOs, and artificial dyes. There should be no numbers and all capital letters in food labels, i.e.: BHT. Breakfast shouldn’t come with a health risk. Benefits of a healthy breakfast include: better performance in cognitive skills; better ability to focus; reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity; and overall improved performance. Starting the day with a good breakfast also leads to better food choices throughout the day.


Just as we “Learned Everything We Needed to Know in Kindergarten,” these three keys open doors to health and wellness, no matter what grade we are in. After all, kids learn most from the ultimate teacher, the one right under their own roof.

Wishing you a joyful, healthy and successful school year.





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