For this week’s episode, I had the opportunity to chat with integrative dietitian Bridgitte Carroll. Bridgitte combines food and lifestyle to get to the root of symptoms and helps parents and kiddos resolve health imbalances. Bridgitte attended a mainstream dietitian school but felt like she wanted to learn more. This led her to grad school where she learned about functional medicine. Finding the root cause instead of just treating symptoms was a model of care that really resonated with Bridgitte and she felt inspired to continue learning in order to best serve her clients.
Bridgitte shared that she often focuses on gut health. So what exactly is gut health? It’s the ecosystem in your stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. It’s the balance of bacteria and the integrity of the intestinal barrier. Sometimes, the intestinal barrier is permeable (which is often referred to as “leaky gut”). This means that bacteria, food particles, and other microscopic particles can leak out of the intestine and cause an immune response. Bridgitte explains that this is the root cause of many food sensitivities, skin issues, GI issues, and other immune system dysfunction.
So what causes “leaky gut”? It can be generational (our bacteria is passed down to us from our parents, mostly mom), antibiotic use, pesticide exposure, or lack of fruits and vegetables. In our modern world, it’s hard to avoid exposure to one or more of these risk factors. Bridgitte uses clinical symptoms combined with tests (often stool tests) to help narrow down exactly what’s going on in order to create the most effective treatment plan. She emphasizes the need to treat the individual and doesn’t prescribe blanket solutions or one-size-fits-all diets.
So what sort of symptoms would we see if our kiddo was struggling with gut health? Bridgitte shares that it is often skin issues (eczema, psoriasis), or GI symptoms, or infant reflux, or even food avoidance. She discusses the importance of supporting the microbiome in the first two years and what that looks like in practice. Sometimes, a breastfeeding mom may make some diet changes to help support her nursing baby and get symptoms under control. Simple things like sprinkling some probiotic powder on mom’s nipple before nursing can make a big difference for a tiny baby.
Bridgitte also chats about the vagus nerve. This is a nerve that allows the brain and gut to communicate. This communication can go both ways. Often when we see GI symptoms in kids, we need to look at stressors that may be contributing. The mind-body connection is powerful and stress can manifest with a myriad of symptoms. Decreasing anxiety and supporting emotional processing can be important lifestyle factors for improving overall gut health.
When Bridgitte gets started with a kiddo, she may test their stool and/or their urine. This gives her a picture of their bacterial balance, their parasites (more common than you might think!), and their vitamin status. She also looks at risk factors (antibiotic use, eating habits, high sugar diet) and then creates a plan to support healing. This often includes some level of elimination but Bridgitte works hard at keeping kiddos involved in the conversation and teaching the “why” behind food choices, rather than demonizing a food group as “bad”.
So if we think we may be struggling with gut health, where do we turn to get started? Bridgitte recommends seeking out an integrative or functional practitioner and checking out their website, reviews, and following your gut to find someone that resonates with you. We ended our chat with dinnertime strategies and how to establish healthy mealtime habits.