Good Health Starts in Your Gut!

7 Key Factors in Digestive Health

                         Dr Megan Bernard

                        Dr Megan Bernard

Did you know that when we were just barely conceived and consisted of only a few cells our nervous system began to evolve from our gut? That’s right, our brain and spinal cord were once part of our “enteric nervous system” i.e. the cells that make up our gut lining. Isn’t that cool! Our brain is made from our gut!


Your gut is not only highly connected to your brain and can influence your mood, decisions, and desires, but it also plays a central role in the health of your immune system, the appearance of your skin, and delivery of nutrients to every single cell in your body. If your gut is off, it’s often reflected in these other systems in forms of disease, disorders, or discomfort.


Let’s dive into 7 particular areas where your gut is intertwined in other aspects of your health.

1. Serotonin

You have more serotonin, the “happy brain chemical”, in your gut than in your brain

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that, in the right amounts, produces a relaxed and positive mood. It also regulates appetite and sleep. Interestingly, 90% of serotonin is made in your gastrointestinal tract, whereas only small amounts are made in your brain.


Low serotonin levels have been linked to increased incidences of depression, and too much or too little serotonin can cause constipation or diarrhea.

2. Microorganisms

There are 10x more microorganisms than cells in your body…and they can control your decisions and mood!

Research shows that people with altered gut flora tend to develop anxiety and/or depression, and that people with anxiety and/or depression have altered gut microflora. In related research, studies in mice that don’t have gut flora have shown that they have an exaggerated response to stress and suboptimal memory function.


Some gut bacteria prefer fat and some prefer sugar. There are theories that your gut microflora can cause you to crave sugar, eat too much, make you feel bad, and alter your taste buds. Makes you wonder, “who’s in charge here?”


If your gut isn’t digesting properly, you’re losing vital nutrients for EVERY cell in your body

If your food is coming out of you with a slight resemblance to the way that it went in, then you’re missing out on a lot of important nutrients that feed your cells, repair your cells, give you energy, and keep you healthy. Your digestive system breaks down your food into tiny molecules and delivers the nutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, etc) to EVERY cell in your body for them to function. If your gut can’t digest properly, then your cells become deficient in important nutrients, leading to symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, nerve problems, and skin issues.

3. Immune Cells

The majority of your immune cells hang out in your gut

Your gastrointestinal tract houses something called the GALT and MALT – your gut- or mucosal-associated lymphatic tissue. The GALT and MALT are concentrated sites of immune tissue and microorganisms found in areas such as your mouth, nose, stomach, and intestines. They are damaged by antibiotics, and nourished by probiotics, prebiotics, and the proper nutrients.  When they are damaged, people are predisposed to infections, leaky gut, celiac disease, food allergies, and associated lymphomas.

4. Leaky Gut

A leaky gut can cause autoimmune disorders

A leaky gut is theorized to be one of the causes of many autoimmune disorders, such as Ulcerative Colitis, Crohns, Multiple Sclerosis, and Lupus. A leaky gut occurs when the small intestine becomes damaged and inflamed, allowing foreign particles from your intestinal contents to cross into the blood, which stimulates an unwanted immune response.

5. Glowing Skin

Your skin is often a reflection of your gut health

Your skin requires all sorts of nutrients to glow. Selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and E are important in anti-aging and for avoiding acne. These nutrients get extracted from food in your gut. If your gut isn’t working properly, it can’t extract the nutrients, and the cells of your skin become less resilient and prone to inflammation.

6. Boss Bacteria

Gut bacteria are the boss of your hormones

The bacteria in your gut help to eliminate inactive estrogen from your body in a bowel movement. Having the wrong bacteria in your gut can cause estrogen to reactivate and recirculate through your body. The recirculating estrogen is bad as it can negatively affect your menstrual cycle, and contributes to an increased risk for fibroids, endometrial cancer, and breast cancer.

7. Probiotics

Furthermore, probiotic supplementation has been shown to improve the transformation of serotonin (happy hormone) into melatonin (sleep hormone), to control leptin (our “feeling full” hormone), and to reduce cortisol (our stress hormone). The right type of probiotics can make a big difference in digestive health.


The many influences that the gut has over the rest of our health are why I start every treatment plan by ensuring optimal digestive function. Not only will it improve many aspects of health at once, it also verifies that the supplements that I recommend for your primary concerns will be properly absorbed and delivered.


Bloating, heartburn, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation can be managed with the correct supplementation, nutritional interventions, and lifestyle changes. Getting to the root cause at the same time as managing symptoms is how we would tackle your case. If you’re looking to optimize your energy and to stop worrying about where the closest bathroom is, then get in touch with me by phone (902-429-1427) or book online here. I look forward to working with you!

Dr Megan Bernard ND

'Helping You Live Better'


Burger Week 2018

4 Tips To Surviving Burger Week! 

It’s BURGER WEEK in Halifax! Pubs, restaurants, and diners alike open their doors for food fanatics to feast on their cow, chicken, turkey, or tofu burgers loaded with special sauces, tomatoes, bacon, lettuce, and cheese. If you look closely, there may even be an option for a gluten-free bun. It doesn’t get much better than this – an entire meal that you can fit in your hand for a very reasonable price, and they’re raising money for Feed Nova Scotia. Also, no dishes for you to wash.


I’m utterly embarrassed to admit that I have never participated in a Burger Week, but I intend to continually make improvements in my life and I have just downloaded my 2018 Burger Week passport:


Yet, despite my excitement at the abundance of sauces and cheeses that lay ahead of me, I can’t help but consider the bloating, heartburn, and burping that may result from a daily meal plan of burgers. However, I’ve come to the realization that my naturopathic medical school education can be put to good use here, and I’ve compiled a list of four necessities that will get me through Burger Week with more enjoyment and less after effects, and I’d like to share it with you.


1. Digestive enzymes

Digestive enzymes are responsible for the breakdown of food into the smallest size required to pass into your cells so that they can be a part of the biological processes that result in energy production. Carbohydrates (ex. buns, fries, and veg), protein (ex. meat, cheese, and tofu), and fats (ex. cheese, sauces, and meat fat) all require digestive enzymes to make fuel for your body.


You’ve probably heard of lactose intolerance? Well that’s due to a lack of lactase, which is a digestive enzyme responsible for breaking down milk sugars (aka milk carbohydrates).


A digestive enzyme supplement taken before a meal can augment the enzymes that your body produces naturally in order to decrease the amount of work that your body needs to perform. Digestive enzyme pills help to decrease bloating, burping, and other forms of upset stomach by improving the breakdown and digestion of the contents of your burger meal.  


2. Get the salad

To be honest, burgers aren’t all bad. They have a lot of protein and often come with a slice of tomato or two. But to really balance your meal, skip the fries or deep fried sides and ask for a salad or veggies. Burger Week is about the burger! Let it shine on your plate next to the shimmer of a French onion salad dressing. Besides, the extra fiber in your vegetables will help to bind up the bad cholesterol and unhealthy fats in the meat and allow you to have a more favourable bowel movement so that you’re cleaned out and ready for the next day.


3. Have a glass of water

Avoid drinking your calories and ask for a glass of water instead of a pop or beer. Water will help to combat the bloating, headaches, and fatigue that often occur due to the intake of a lot of salty food. Water will allow your burger to move smoothly through and out of your digestive tract. In addition, it will cleanse your palate so that you can truly taste your burger.


4. Heartburn

A full stomach stretches the stomach muscle and puts pressure on your LES (lower esophageal sphincter), which is the ring of muscle that keeps stomach acid from entering your esophagus. If the LES can’t close, then acid “refluxes” into your esophagus and gives you that burning feeling that you get with heartburn.


Taking the time to really chew and enjoy your burger, along with taking the digestive enzymes, may help to prevent some of the heartburn. But if that’s not enough, then taking a DGL chew (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) before and/or after meals can help to soothe the esophagus and protect it from the stomach acid. You can pick up DGL chews at a health food store, Walmart, or even most health food sections of the grocery store. As a nice bonus, there are chocolate-flavoured options, which can help to curb your desire for a dessert.


If you find that post-Burger Week your digestive upset will not go away, or if you’ve struggled with digestive problems even before Burger Week, I have plenty more information to share with you. I’ve successfully assisted my patients with managing symptoms of heartburn, IBS, and IBD (Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis) and together we have greatly decreased their discomfort and signs of disease. If you have digestive concerns and are looking for ways to regain control and to improve your quality of life, give me a call at Agricola Holistic Health and we can discuss a plan of action and what you’ll experience under my medical care.


I spend up to 90 minutes with my patients in their first appointment getting to the root of their discomfort and exploring easy ways to start making changes. Still on the fence? I offer complimentary 15 minute consults by phone or in person.


See you at the pub!

Dr Megan Bernard ND

Dr Megan Bernard ND

Dining out!

Via: Jessica Roy, Registered Dietitian  

To say that you will never eat out in order to eat healthy is unrealistic and probably unpleasant! A lot of socializing revolves around dining out, and there is nothing wrong with that. Where the problem MAY be, is what you are choosing when you are dining out.


Here are some tips to think of when you are dining out:

Manage your portions

Most restaurants and fast food places have very large portion sizes. It doesn’t mean you have to eat the full meal. Ask for extra vegetables and have the option to split a meal with someone

Avoid super sizing or adding “extras” (sautéed mushrooms and onions, bacon, extra cheese, etc.).

Get informed

  1. Ask how the food is prepared: Are the vegetables steamed? Grilled with oil and butter? Added salt? Fried? Baked with added oil? Is there sauce on the meat? Is the chicken breaded? What are the options for dressings?
  2. Look ahead: If you know where you are going to eat, check the menu online and call to ask questions about food before you go so you are well prepared. This will help you make the right choice when you go to the restaurant so you do not feel lost in trying to keep track with your healthy eating habits

Making Healthier Choices

  1. Ask for more vegetables: substitute fries or other unhealthy side dishes for a salad or steamed veggies.
  2. Choose baked, broiled, or grilled meats/fish
  3. Go for the whole grain option when you can: ask for whole grain bread, brown rice, whole-wheat wraps, etc.
  4. Reduce sodium – Avoid smoked/cured meats and ask for low sodium soy sauce.
  5. Be careful at salad bars: choose fresh greens, raw vegetables, fresh fruits, chickpeas, low-fat or fat-free dressings and avoid cheeses, marinated salads, pasta salads
  6. Sauce on the side please!: Sauces, condiments, spreads, and dressings can add an alarming amount of calories to your meal. Ask for sauces on the side so you can have control of how much you add to your meals. Also ask for a lower calorie version of a sauce or dressing when you can.
  7. Drinks: Avoided sweetened beverages such as iced tea, pop, juice, or lemonade. Opt for unflavoured sparkling water, low-fat milk, water, or a diet soda (if you really want one. Limit your alcohol consumption to 1-2 when you eat out.

Examples of different styles of eating to incorporate more vegetables and less calories!

Ask for steamed vegetables as a side
Instead of a mashed potato, ask for it baked and top it off with some salsa
Instead of a whole plate of fries, substitute half with a salad

Ask for extra peppers and onions with fajitas
Get extra salad with tacos or burritos

Ask for extra vegetables in your pasta dish and less pasta noodles
Instead of pasta, opt for an option that includes meat with a side of vegetables and a starch as a healthier alternative
Instead of a rice or pasta side dish, ask for a double portion of vegetables
Ask for extra tomato on bruschetta and leave out the cheese

Have a small Greek salad as a side dish with your meal
Go for sides such as green beans or roasted seasonal vegetables
Try some yemista (baked vegetables stuff with rice and herbs)
Middle Eastern

Opt for tabouleh or fatoush (salad with cucumber, tomato and peppers) as a side dish
Try authentic baba ganoush (eggplant dip) – limit to 1-2 tbsp as it can be a little higher on the calorie count
Ask for grilled vegetables with your meal

1. Ask to replace some of the noodles with extra vegetables
2. Try a vegetable dish such as eggplant, Chinese broccoli, or bok choy
Try mango or papaya salad!
Order pho with extra vegetables
Try a seaweed salad or cucumber salad instead of fried tempura
Order vegetarian sushi roll to get some extra vegetables in your meal
Order dishes with gobi (cauliflower) or saag/palak (spinach)
Try authentic indian vegeables like bhindi (okra) or baigan (eggplant)
Try matter paneer (peas an cheese dish)
Try a new leafy green, callaloo (similar to spinach)
Get a side of steamed cabbage or cooked plantain
Choose dishes that have pineapple or sweet potato
Regardless of the vegetables or dishes that you choose, be aware of the added oil, butter, sauces, condiments, or dips that are being added on or to the side of the vegetables (this is where calories are most often hidden – sneaky they can be….)

For more information or further questions about dining out, please email me at
Happy dining!