Healing the gut with movement and exercise to STOP chronic disease

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Due to their positive effects on clearing inflammation in the body and improving the health and diversity of the gut microbiome, movement and exercise are recommended as some of the most effective tools for healing and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

But in this case, NOT all forms of exercise are beneficial to everyone!
SOME forms of fitness will actually:

  • INCREASE the body’s stress response
  • create inflammation
  • cause leaky gut syndrome and consequently, associated health conditions, you will learn them soon.
     

So let's talk about:

  1. Inflammation, what it is, why it's problematic and what causes it.
  2. How the nervous system AND gut play a role in creating and clearing inflammation.
  3. How movement and exercise INCREASES the health and diversity of the gut microbiome, BUT also has the potential to harm it and why that matters for chronic disease.
  4. What forms of fitness are BEST for beginners and those struggling with chronic disease and how probiotics can also help!

 

I feel very strongly about this topic and feel that it's important for you to know that all the claims I'm about to make are supported by the peer-reviewed literature.
But if learning about that is NOT your jam, you can skip to the summary at the bottom. 
It won't hurt my feelings. 
Here we go!


What is inflammation? 

 Image credit: Innovation Toronto. 

Image credit: Innovation Toronto. 

  • Acute inflammation is a natural, healthy immune response that helps your body heal.
     
  • Chronic inflammation is associated with many modern diseases, including obesity, diabetes, Alzheimers, coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease, cancer, chronic fatigue, inflammatory bowel disease, fatigue and a whole host of other conditions! (Harvard Health, 2006)
     
  • Chronic inflammation occurs when the body creates an inflammatory response to a non-specific, perceived threat.
    “The white blood cells swarm, but have nothing to do and nowhere to go, and they sometimes eventually start attacking internal organs or other necessary tissues and cells”. -Dr. Scott Walker, Gunnison Valley Hospital in Utah.
     
  • Chronic inflammation negatively impacts the central nervous system whose job it is to help clear inflammation. When left unchecked, the sympathetic nervous system has to work overtime, all of the time, which leads to high blood pressure, insulin resistance, muscle and body wasting, and cardiovascular mortality (Pongratz and Straub, 2014)
  • When chronic inflammation is suspected, doctors can test for C-reactive protein levels (CRP), which increase when the body is inflamed.
     
  • Gut distress and chronic inflammation are related for a number of reasons, largely the gut is home to the enteric nervous system AND 80%  of the immune system.

What are common signs of chronic inflammation:

1. Lots of belly fat-I’m not talking gentle relaxed, soft bellies here-which I love (folks are too obsessed with six-pack abs), but rather growing fat storage around the middle.

2. High blood glucose levels-blood sugar imbalances, loss of insulin sensitivity.

3. Digestive problems like gas, diarrhea, bloating, or constipation.

4. Chronic fatigue or exhaustion.

5. Skin problems like eczema or psoriasis, or your skin is red and blotchy.

6. Allergies.

7. Puffy face, or puffy bags under your eyes.

8. Gum disease-see Dr. Lin’s The Dental Diet-FASCINATING!

9. Depression, anxiety, brain fog

10. Erectile dysfunction in men, pelvic floor dysfunction in both men and women.

 

The gut and its relationship to inflammation


One extremely common source of inflammation that is being linked to more and more chronic health conditions  (diabetes, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, PCOS, autism and more!) is gut dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad microbes) of the gut leading to erosion of the mucosal lining of your gut, aka-leaky gut syndrome. 

The intestinal epithelium is the largest mucosal surface in the body.

 OralWellness.com

OralWellness.com

It is the barrier between the rest of the body and the food, fluid and air that comes in from the external environment.

This barrier’s job is to be selective about what it allows to pass through into the blood stream and internal environment of the the body. 

 Image credit: goodfoodeating.com

Image credit: goodfoodeating.com

When the epithelium is compromised by toxins in your environment AND food, stress, gut irritants, antibiotics that kill good bacteria, other pharmaceutical drugs, pathogens, etc.,  it erodes (leaky gut syndrome) which allows toxins, food particles, etc. get into the blood.

These toxins and food particles (that often look much like our own proteins) can be attacked by the immune system causing a chronic immune and inflammatory response in the body, like food sensitivities and eventually the many chronic diseases filed under autoimmunity. 

Our gut microbes are also in strong communication with our nervous system.

In 2017, Zhu et. al., reported that ,

“Disorders in the composition and quantity of gut microorganisms can affect both the enteric nervous system and the central nervous system (CNS), thereby indicating the existence of a microbiota-gut-brain axis. Due to the intricate interactions between the gut and the brain, gut symbiotic microorganisms are closely associated with various CNS diseases.”

The microbes living in our gut talk directly with our nerve cells to control the brain and it's response to NUMEROUS stimuli. 

Since the gut, immune system and nervous system are intimately involved in mediating chronic inflammation and also profoundly effected by fitness and exercise, let's talk about the how to use fitness training to HEAL and nourish the body WITHOUT pissing off the immune and nervous system, shall we?
 

Movement and Exercise Piece



Research shows that the health of the gut AND reduction of the inflammatory response can be improved with certain types of routine movement and exercise.

American adults who engaged in frequent physical activity are better able to clear inflammation than adults who live a more sedentary life.

 Kettlecise 

Kettlecise 

For example, a 2010 study with eighty-two patients found that in type 2 diabetics, (key term coming up) long-term high intensity resistance and aerobic training reduced inflammatory markers over the course of a year (independent of changes in body weight, meaning activity was the key factor). (Balducci et al, 2010

Numerous studies have shown that sedentary individuals have a different gut microbiome than active ones (Allen et. al., 2017, Cronin 2017) and that routine exercise modifies the composition of the gut microbiome creating significant differences in the community of microbes of active individuals vs. sedentary. 

In fact, Bressa et al. 2017 found a significant correlation between the presence of specific species of microbes, fat-loss, body composition, and physical activity!

This means that there are certain microbes that live in the guts of leaner more active individuals AND that by growing our daily movement practices we can affect what bugs are there AND increase the diversity of the microbial community that lives in us and helps us maintain our health!
 

But what kind of exercise is best for the gut?

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This seems to vary somewhat with the individual.

For example, a highly trained athlete or individual with lots of exercise experience is better able to recover from the stress of high intensity and strenuous exercise. They can routinely attend Crossfit, HIIT, participate in Triathlons and providing they consume enough nutrition and take time to recover, they will not experience negative health effects.

A beginner, on the other hand, someone that has historically been sedentary, individuals with over-taxed immune or adrenal system and leaky gut, or is sporadically consistent with exercise, will not respond well to fitness that is too intense and does not allow for adequate recovery time. (Barton, 2017)


These folks are better off turning to more from moderately challenging exercise like weight training, movement and mobility training and routine walking. 

If they desire to be able to engage in high intensity fitness classes like HIIT, Crossfit or Metabolic Conditioning, then they should TRAIN for that slowly and give themselves adequate time to recover between intervals AND workouts. 
 

You see,  strenuous (relative to the individual) exercise diverts blood flow away from the gut and can increase leakiness of the gut lining, immune system activation, stress the kidneys and other forms of stress on the body. (Clark and Mach, 2016).

Unfortunately, the popularity of high intensity fitness classes for beginners or individuals that have been sporadic in their exercise practice or are already struggling with chronic inflammations can be counterproductive and harmful. 

While initially folks will perhaps see an initial drop in pounds, this is often followed by a strong inflammatory stress response that leaves them susceptible to injury, fatigue, and experiencing STRONG cravings, gut distress and a frustrating lack of physique change.

If you struggle with symptoms of leaky gut syndrome (food intolerances, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.) then you are going to want to be vigilant about your workout intensity AND recovery time. Prioritize STRENGTH training to increase your fitness and gradually work to improve your conditioning and cut down on your recovery time. 


To see an example of a training program appropriate for someone that wishes to build strength, increase their fitness, and improve their metabolic flexibility WITHOUT stressing their body, get my gut-nourishing Strong Guts and Butts Movement Protocol here

 

Using probiotics to aid recovery and fitness

While exercise has been shown to improve the health of the gut, probiotic supplements and probiotic foods are ALSO important for recovery and health!

Intestinal microbes reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Individuals with a more diversely populated gut are better able to recover from exercise and manage stress.

 

Research is now being conducted on how the use of probiotics (good bugs for your gut) and prebiotics (food for your good bugs) can be used therapeutically to aid athlete’s  nervous systems, mitigate their stress response, decrease inflammation and in some cases even avoid harmful conditions like exertion heat stroke! (Armstrong, 2018)

“Preliminary experimental data obtained from studies using probiotics and prebiotics studies show some interesting results, indicating that the microbiota acts like an endocrine organ (e.g. secreting serotonin, dopamine or other neurotransmitters) and may control the HPA axis [THIS IS YOUR CENTRAL NERVOUS RESPONSE] in athletes.” (Clark and Mach, 2016).

 

“In athletes, the administration of different Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains might help maintain a state of general health, enhance immune function, improve gut mucosal permeability, reduce oxidative stress and obtain energy from plant-carbohydrate sources.”  (Mach and Botella, 2016).

Summary time...

Movement and improved fitness are the keys to reducing your risk of developing or recovering from many chronic diseases because of its positive effect on the immune and nervous systems stress and inflammatory response.

The key is to choose the BEST forms of movement and training for your current state of health and fitness ability.

The lowest risk forms of training that will increase health and fitness are leisure walks, mobility and natural movement coupled with routine strength training.

Supplementation with probiotics and prebiotics is being shown in the literature to aid recovery and reduce inflammation because of it’s positive effects on the gut, nervous and immune systems. 

In short, if you are “out-of shape” or battling chronic disease, start walking, lift some heavy objects, move all of your body in all the plains, eat probiotic foods and give yourself adequate time to recover between training sessions.

Grab my MOVEMENT protocol, complete with daily natural movement training AND strength training!
 


 

Also, I read a ton of science to write this article. References below. 

 

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Sarah Smith is a personal trainer, level two Russian  Kettlebell Instructor, postnatal fitness specialist and pelvic floor and gut health advocate working online and in Raleigh, North Carolina. 
She specializes in helping women online and in-person feel strong, confident and capable in their bodies!

Sarah is a mom to three boys and one English Bulldog. She loves soil, coffee and not folding laundry. 
Check her out on social media
here or get on her email list!! for more content!

 

 

Allen, J.M. , L. J. Mailing, J. Cohrs, C. Salmonson, J. D. Fryer, V. Nehra, V. L. Hale, P. Kashyap, B. A. White & J. A. Woods (2017) Exercise training-induced modification of the gut microbiota persists after microbiota colonization and attenuates the response to chemically-induced colitis in gnotobiotic mice, Gut Microbes, 9:2, 115-130, DOI: 10.1080/19490976.2017.1372077

 

Armstrong LE, Lee EC, Armstrong EM. Interactions of Gut Microbiota, Endotoxemia, Immune Function, and Diet in Exertional Heatstroke. Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018;2018:5724575. doi:10.1155/2018/5724575.

 

Barton, Wiley & Penney, Nicholas & Cronin, Owen & Garcia-Perez, Isabel & G Molloy, Michael & Holmes, Elaine & Shanahan, Fergus & Cotter, Paul & O'Sullivan, Orla. (2017). The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level. Gut. 67. 10.1136/gutjnl-2016-313627.

 

Barton, W. et al. The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level. Gut, doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2016-313627 (2017).

Bilski J, Brzozowski B, Mazur-Bialy A, Sliwowski Z, Brzozowski T. The Role of Physical Exercise in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. BioMed Research International. 2014;2014:429031. doi:10.1155/2014/429031.

Bressa C, Bailén-Andrino M, Pérez-Santiago J, González-Soltero R, Pérez M, et al. (2017) Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women. PLOS ONE 12(2): e0171352. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0171352

 

Clark A, Mach N. Exercise-induced stress behavior, gut-microbiota-brain axis and diet: a systematic review for athletes. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2016;13:43. doi:10.1186/s12970-016-0155-6.

Cronin O, O'Sullivan O, Barton W, et al Gut microbiota: implications for sports and exercise medicine Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 11 January 2017. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-097225

Harvard Health Letter, Inflammation: A unifying theory of disease. April, 2006. (Link

Núria Mach, Dolors Fuster-Botella, Endurance exercise and gut microbiota: A review, Journal of Sport and Health Science,Volume 6, Issue 2,2017,

Zhu X, Han Y, Du J, Liu R, Jin K, Yi W. Microbiota-gut-brain axis and the central nervous system. Oncotarget. 2017;8(32):53829-53838. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.17754.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digestive distress when traveling??!! Check out my strategies here!

The reason why these tips work so well to keep me feeling good and vibrant when I travel is because they are imitating the pattern of my real life at home!
This is how I live to maintain good gut health and feel vibrant and mostly good in my body!

At home to care for my gut I move often! I mostly eat foods that feel good, don’t create a lot of inflammation or irritate my gut, these are my staples!
I routinely take probiotics and magnesium and I get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. 

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Two days into the job, I realized how much our fitness and athletic performance is tied to our unique female anatomy and how being one of the only female coaches was going to mean I better have some tampons and pads handy 24/7.

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Five Ways the Pelvic Floor and Gut Impact One Another

1. Gut dysbiosis and elimination

 http://gonatureswellness.com/2017/01/10/dysbiosis/   

http://gonatureswellness.com/2017/01/10/dysbiosis/

 

Gut dysbiosis is when there is an imbalance in the presence of beneficial and pathogenic microbes in your gut. Gut dysbiosis can cause a number of negative symptoms, but one of the most common is diarrhea

The frequent elimination and inflammation that occurs when one is experiencing frequent bouts of diarrhea irritates not just the rectum, but the entire pelvic floor. 
The increased incidence of elimination leads involves straining that puts consistent and persistent downward pressure on the muscles of the pelvic floor and like any muscle, they can fatigue and become weak from CONSTANT pressure. 

For those of you that don't know, weak pelvic floor muscles are not as effective at supporting the pelvic organs (rectum, bladder and uterus (if you have one)).

Weak pelvic floors can also cause urine and fecal leakage. 


2. Poor nutrient absorption and depletion of spleen Qi. 

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The microbes that reside (or are supposed to reside) in your gut have the amazingly important responsibility of harvesting energy from the food that you eat.
I know you've been walking around giving yourself and your body credit for this incredible job, but sorry. Your body has LONG been outsourcing it. 
There's even research to suggest that the efficiency of nutrient absorption AND how the fuel is used  (is it being used as energy or stored as fat) is determined by specific strains of microbes. Citation

Poor nutrient absorption disregulates the metabolism which frequently results in cravings, consuming more calories than necessary and high BMI in patients, ALL of which can play a role in elimination struggles and pelvic floor dysfunction. 

Additional, a lack of nutrient absorption in the gut ALSO contributes to reduced elasticity, tension and recovery of muscles. 
Weak muscles and lack of tension/elasticity contributes to the incidence of pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic organ prolapse. (Citation)



But what's even more amazing (to me) is that the first step in the nutrient absorption process is DIGESTION. Digestion begins in the mouth with teeth and saliva. It continues in the stomach thanks to enzymes and acid. And then continues in the small intestine.


 In Chinese medicine, pelvic organ prolapse is associated with a depletion of spleen energy. The health and balance of the spleen (yang) is directly related to the health of its yin, the stomach. 

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When the stomach (part of the gut!) is dysbiotic (remember that means that good microbes are absent and bad ones are present)  it produces less acid and inefficiently digests food. 
Inefficient digestion and low acid conditions allow pathogens that should otherwise be killed and starved in the stomach to thrive and survive on the undigested foods. 

Inefficient digestion negatively impacts nutrients absorption while the impaired health of the stomach ALSo negatively impacts the spleen...

"One of the most common patterns found in western people is something we call Spleen Qi Deficiency. This can arise from any number of reasons but a poor diet mixed with irregular eating patterns and stress is a common way to develop this pattern. Spleen qi deficiency involves symptoms such as poor appetite, bloating (particularly after eating), weakness of the arms and legs, fatigue and/or loose stools.

As spleen qi deficiency continues to progress a subsequent pattern may develop called Spleen Qi Sinking. This pattern is essentially the same as spleen qi deficiency but with prolapses of the stomach, uterus, anus and/or vagina along with frequency or urgency of urination. This pattern shows a more internal weakness where the body can no longer hold the organs in place."  (Reference) 

Come on! Now tell me THAT isn't interesting and a perfect illustration of how the health and wellness of the pelvic floor and gut are intricately intertwined!

Citation

 

3. Gut microbiome determined muscle wasting and insulin resistance

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The pelvic floor is this amazing system of muscle, ligaments and fascia at the base of your trunk that stabilize and support your body!
In order to effectively do it's job, these muscles and ligaments need to have some bulk, elasticity and resilience. 

Sarcopenia, the progressive loss of muscle mass and strength is associated with aging, cancer and other diseases but it's also highly correlated with inflammation, chronic infection and malnutrition caused by imbalanced gut micro biomes deficient in legacy keystone strains of microbes.

"One recent animal study suggests a relationship between muscle wasting and alterations in the gut microbiome. Muscle wasting induced by a model of acute leukemia in mice was reduced by orally supplementing the mice with specific Lactobacillus species.(44) The Authors suggest that gut micro- biota may influence muscle physiology through altering amino acid bioavailability; influencing metabolites such as bile acids; and modulating production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.(42)"
(Citation)

In 2015 Maranhao et.al., evaluated the relationship between insulin resistance  and pelvic floor strength. 

They found that in their small sample group that as insulin resistance increased, strength of pelvic floor contractions and ability to recruit all the muscles of the pelvic floor decreased.

We know that the gut microbiome plays a significant role in the development of insulin resistance therefore this is yet another way in which the condition of the gut microbiome could impact the health of the pelvic floor.  (Citation)

Citation

4. Anxiety and mood

 https://www.boredpanda.com/anxiety-comics-funny-illustrations-gemma-correll/

https://www.boredpanda.com/anxiety-comics-funny-illustrations-gemma-correll/

The research is in, the oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, endorphins are all neurotransmitters that control stress, anxiety, mood and behavior whose production by the body is MEDIATED by the bugs in your gut.
Stress, mood and anxiety are responsible for increased pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic organ prolapse symptoms.
Citation

The peer-reviewed literature is ALSO showing that the psychological state of an individual contributes to flare-ups of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

IBS is highly associated with pelvic floor dysfunction because of the strain and pressure that bouts of diarrhea and constipation place on the pelvic floor. 

Citation

 

5. A hypertonic (too tight) pelvic floor

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Over-recruiting the pelvic floor muscles via exercise or every day life makes for too tight pelvic floor muscles and results in pelvic floor dysfunction.
You can imagine that since your pelvic floor stretches from your bladder to your rectum if it was too tight it could make you feel urge to urinate frequently AND could make elimination difficult. 
Health routine bowel movements and urination rely upon the pelvic floors ability to relax. 
When the pelvic floor is overly and consistently tight, then elimination habits are disrupted and trouble starts. 

The colon is where water is resorbed or absorbed by the stool, depending on what is necessary to create healthy, easy to eliminate stools.
When overly-tight pelvic floor muscles make it difficult for waste to be excreted,  one becomes constipated. 
Besides being uncomfortable and causing straining to the pelvic floor, constipation ALSO negatively impacts the gut. 
When stools remain in the colon for too the toxins that are supposed to be excreted begin to accumulate. The accumulation of these toxins leads to intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome) in which the mucosal lining of the intestines breaks down and begins to allow various substances to leak out of the gut into the blood stream. 

Constipation can also mean that metabolized hormones in the stool are hanging around (causing hormonal imbalance and inflammation) preventing the body from making fresh new hormones!
 

Citation Citation

 

So there you have it!
If you didn't consider the pelvic floor and gut to be two parts of the body that were impacted one another AND your whole body strength BEFORE you read this article, then hopefully you are beginning to see their connection now!

The body never ceases to amaze and fascinate me.

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Sarah Smith is a trainer, lifestyle coach and postnatal fitness specialist that specializes in helping women feel strong, confident and capable in their bodies!
Her specialties include kettlebells, gut health and optimization for fitness goals, pelvic floor health and function and making fitness fun! Check her out on social media here or email her!
 

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Greetings from snowy Raleigh, North Carolina!

We woke up to a wintery wonderland this morning and while this former New Englander isn't a huge fan of wintery weather, I secretly think the snow today is rather beautiful. 
 


This winter I've been taking more time to write. 
In fact, I'm going back to my microbiology roots and talking about the gut microbiome and its influence on metabolism and whole body strength. 
My new project is called "Strong butts and guts: increasing whole body strength with microbiology and natural daily movement"...or something like that..



For those of you that don't know, before I was a trainer, I worked in microbiology, first on the health front at the National Institutes of Health, then as environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona and finally finished with a masters in soil and agricultural science at North Carolina State University. 
I. LOVE. MICROBES. 


My husband has been a pest management professional  and self-proclaimed "bug geek" for close to 15 years now and the other day I realized,
"Oh my goodness, I'm totally a bug geek too!" 
Just a different kind of bug....the microscopic kind!

The amazing thing is that I never ever ever would have thought that my love for microbiology would be SO RELATED to my job as a trainer and lifestyle coach. 


But we are learning more every day about the far-reaching influence of the trillions of microbes that live in our gastrointestinal system (the gut). 



Nutrient absorption, to metabolic regulation, cravings, energy, sleep, muscle synthesis, hormonal regulation (very important for both metabolism and building lean muscle) the gut is an INTEGRAL part of all of these functions of the body. 
 


One of the biggest issues that we are facing in modern life is that lack of movement, little time outdoors and the Standard American Diet are all killing the ancestral strains of microbes that have been evolving with us since the beginning. 
These strains are designed to keep us alive and well and fully functioning, because we are engaged in a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial!


They keep our bodies running like a top, we provide them with a safe place to live, aka, food and shelter. 

BUT these strains of bacteria (many of which derived from the soil, we inoculated ourselves by being outside and eating foods that were grown in the dirt) are not happy. 
In fact, they are dead (or close to it) in many a gut!

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Herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, oral contraceptives, many prescription medications, loads of processed sugar, food additives (like guar and xanthan gums), and artificial sweeteners (Splenda!) are killing off the good guys (dubbed "Gut Guardians" by Dr. Grace Liu) in our gut microbiome,  and leaving room for nasty ones that historically were kept in check by the guardians. 


Consequently we are seeing more and more food sensitivities,  autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel syndromes and diseases (which by the way are symptoms, not medical conditions), chronic fatigue, inefficient metabolisms, mental emotional health conditions....and the list goes on. 

 

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My interest was peaked when I realized that the pelvic floor is strongly impacted by the gut, makes perfect sense since they are neighbors!

So I have launched a whole research project into better understanding how our lifestyle, and nutrition habits are impacting our guts and how our guts are impacting our abilities to build strong bodies!


AND logically, I'm writing an ebook on the topic. 

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I'm not totally out of depth here, I am a published author in a bunch of other super obscure topics (look to the right!)
But never have I ever written something about which I feel so much passion. 

So, e-book is coming. 
As part of my Inner Circle you will be learning about how your gut is impacting your body and ways to get it on board with you and your personal goals. 

Today I am sharing a link to a recent blogpost that I wrote on the interactions between the gut and the pelvic floor. 
 

 

 


It's written to coaches and trainers, and I know that some of you are that!
BUT it's about all of us, so don't skip it if you don't work in fitness. 
YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS STUFF in order to protect yourself and possibly even get to the bottom of some chronic health issues that you've been ignoring!

The post is mostly about diarrhea, constipation, bloating and how irregular digestion is negatively impacting our pelvic floor, potentially causing pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence of ALL kinds. 

I'd love for you to check it out here and leave comments!

This effects us all!