The connection between the gut and brain is powerful, and often not realized by the general public. When Dr. Aleksandra Gioe was faced with severe anxiety, she tried natural solutions like chamomile tea and holy basil. But these supplements didn’t address the more profound roots of her condition: gut inflammation. She also was suffering from bloating and chronic hives but didn’t link these with her anxiety. After just beginning the protocol from Healthy Gut, Healthy You, most notably the low FODMAP diet and probiotic protocol, she has seen an 80% reduction in all of her symptoms. Other patients have seen a reduction in symptoms like brain fog and depression from treating their gut dysbiosis.
Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC: Hey, everyone. This is Dr. Ruscio. I’m here with Dr. Aleksandra Gioe. Today, we’re going to be talking about her success with Healthy Gut, Healthy You and the protocol that it contains. Alexandra, thanks so much for taking the time to share your story and speak with us today.
Dr. Aleksandra Gioe, PhD: Of course. I’m happy to be here.
DrMR: Can you tell people a little bit about your background? The fact that you do have this advanced degree, I think, makes it even more relevant because you have a degree of education tangential to gut health. So tell us a little bit about that before we go into the rest.
DrAG: Yes. Okay, so I did a double doctorate program, a Ph.D. in natural health and an ND. My doctoral dissertation is in cardiac research. I didn’t focus too much on gut health, although now I am much more aware of how important it is. That’s my original background. I was trained, initially, as an acupuncturist. So my interests span all areas of natural health.
DrMR: Great. You come into this as someone who is maybe not highly educated in the niche of the gut, per se, but you have a nice foundation of education that you walk into the conversation with. Tell us a little bit about the symptoms that you suffer with.
The Gut-Anxiety Connection
DrAG: Well, my greatest symptom was anxiety, just unbridled anxiety. I had trouble just driving my twin six-year-olds 10 miles to their ballet class. And I thought, “Something’s really wrong here.” I had searched through so much online. I looked over so many books. Then I came across your book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You, and I started reading it. And I didn’t realize the gut connection to anxiety.
Interestingly enough, I was at two different birthday parties for my twins. They are in two different classes. I went to one pool party on Saturday, and just happened to be asking other mothers, “Does anyone else here have this anxiety?” 9 out of 10 of the mothers were being medicated for anxiety, whether it was Lexapro, Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Valium. The list went on. Then I was at the second party. I was curious. The next day, I did my own little sort of study there as well and, again, the same statistics. 9 out of 10 mothers are medicated for anxiety.
DrAG: I thought, does anyone know anything about probiotics? Or how to help your intestines and how to support yourself? They knew nothing about this.
DrMR: Well, I guess the time is very serendipitous for us to intervene, and get into the importance of the gut-brain connection. This is something I don’t feel like I talk enough about, although it’s something I’m starting to discuss much more. We’ve shared, from the office a few months ago, Harmanjeet’s story of debilitating brain fog. She was a 20-something professional in San Francisco who came in crying that she was afraid she was going to lose her job from this very, very intense brain fog. And within a few months, that was completely gone.
I myself suffered from brain fog, depression, and then this general malaise. Certainly, the gut-brain connection is profound. Yeah, I’d really love to see a lot less Lexapro. I’m sure many people listening to this would agree with me about only using that for, at best, some select cases. Can you tell people a little bit about what, if anything, you had been doing prior to reading the book? Were you trying herbs or diets or medications?
DrAG: Yes. Prior to reading the book, I was trying to use holy basil. I was drinking chamomile tea every morning. I have an office that I drive to that’s over an hour away. I was having anxiety just driving on the highway, so I had to drink chamomile tea. I was really on the edge. I was very anxious all the time. Even just taking a shower, as silly as that sounds, I would have anxiety. And I had no idea there was a gut connection. This is all news to me.
DrMR: Were you having gut symptoms at the same time, reflux, heartburn?
DrAG: Oh yes, I was, but I never put two and two together.
I was having bloating, gas. I wanted to lose 10 pounds. I enjoyed my wine. I grew up in an Italian family. We had pasta every Sunday night. We had our pasta probably at five meals a week, and wine was freely introduced. It was just part of our lifestyle. I had no idea how that was affecting my gut biome. I had no clue of the connection.
DrMR: Yeah. I don’t know if I would say it’s a problem, per se, but it’s an unfortunate situation when people look up natural treatments for anxiety or whatever symptom it is, and they’re trying to naturally treat whatever symptom it is. As great as chamomile and holy basil can be, if there’s a problem in the gut that’s causing that, then those are going to really pale in comparison. That’s, again, another thing that I learned way back. Going back to my story, I tried a whole litany of treatments based upon my symptoms to naturally manage them, and they didn’t really get me anywhere until I addressed the underlying root cause, which was the gut.
What did you learn from the book? And what did you start doing to unravel your symptoms and lead to the improvement you’re seeing?
Calming Inflammation with Diet and Probiotics
DrAG: Well, I learned a little bit about grains and dairy, how to reset my diet. I was eating the wrong things. I didn’t realize the impact of fruits. Every day, I was getting hives, and I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t know what histamine intolerance was. I had to learn all of this on my own. Your book really was the first step in the right direction. It was like a revelation. I thought, “Oh, my gosh. This is what I need. This is what’s going to help me overcome,” but I didn’t realize the true significance of the anxiety, the brain-gut relationship. It’s becoming more clear every day I live it. It’s had the most profound effect on my life of anything I’ve tried.
DrMR: Awesome. Were the dietary changes enough to get you all the way there, or did you have to escalate…?
DrAG: No. I’d say I’m 80% there. I’m doing the probiotics now. I started with the Just Thrive. I have to tell you, I took one Just Thrive pill, and I immediately felt anxiety being relieved. I thought that was interesting that, within 24 hours, that could occur. How much could that have helped my gut in 24 hours? I was a little surprised at that, but then I read I had to be a little cautious if there was dysbiosis, using soil-based probiotics, so I went ahead and went with GutPro. That’s what I’ve been on now for about three months.
DrMR: Okay, so you started off with a diet. Did you use just the general paleo diet? Did you end up using the low FODMAP or–
DrAG: I started with low FODMAP. That’s what I started with and, actually, that improved my histamine reactions.
DrMR: That’s been published. One study, as we’ve talked about before on the podcast, produced an eightfold decrease in histamine levels when someone went on low FODMAP. This is one of the reasons why I start people with low FODMAP before going to low histamine.
The low histamine diet, while it can be helpful, in my opinion, it is more so an end phase, more symptom-based consideration. Just for the audience, histamine is a compound found in foods and in bacteria and also a byproduct of immune system activation in your gut. When people have dysbiosis in their gut and that’s also causing inflammation, then that can really kick out a lot of histamine. Histamine does function as a neurotransmitter, and it can be one of the molecular mechanisms behind things like brain fog.
A low FODMAP diet will starve these overgrowths. And when the overgrowths are starved, there are fewer bacteria to directly produce histamine, and there’s less irritation to the immune system in the gut because of that dysbiosis. So there’s less immune system mediated or released histamine. You really get this one-two punch for reduction of histamine when using a low FODMAP diet. That’s what you noticed. How long did it take to notice the change? Was it within a week?
DrAG: Well, probably about 10 days. I’ll tell you, it’s very powerful because I was admitted to urgent care three times last year with hives covering my whole body. They would look at me. I called my father once to come and get my kids. The ER doctor looked at me and my father said, “He looks scared. He doesn’t know what’s wrong with you.” They sent me to an allergist. The allergist said, “You’re only allergic to cats. That’s it.” They didn’t understand what was wrong. People need to be educated about this gut connection.
DrMR: Well said.
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You got about 80% of the way there from low FODMAP. Is that correct?
DrAG: I would say yes.
DrMR: Roughly? Okay.
DrAG: I was incorporating that, the Great in Eight, just starting. I’m not actually reintroducing foods yet. I’m still just at the support with the probiotics. I’m at the initial stages, but I’m already seen dramatic improvements.
DrAG: I’m devoted. You’ve got me.
A Simple Probiotic Protocol
DrMR: Great, well, this is always nice to share what I would term a more simple case with 80% improvement from the low FODMAP diet. There’s a good likelihood all you’ll need to do is go through the probiotic protocol. The probiotic protocol does introduce three different probiotics, one from each category, a lactobacillus-bifidobacterium blend, a soil-based probiotic, and then also a Saccharomyces boulardii. Now, have you brought in one from each three of these categories yet?
DrAG: Just the first two, but again, I’m just a little cautious because I don’t know if I can go back to the soil-based just yet. I just want to make sure everything else is intact before I work it that way.
DrMR: Sure. How long were you on the low FODMAP diet? One of the concepts I discuss in the book is, if you’re in the dietary phase (step one) and you’re seeing improvements, you stay on the diet until you see your improvements plateau. Some people may plateau, as in your case, at 80%. That’s very important to know, going forward. If you plateau at 80%, then you may only need a small push from the probiotics. And you get to 100%, and you’re healed. It took you about 10 days to see that improvement.
DrAG: Oh, I’m staying on it, yeah. I’m still doing it.
DrMR: All right, so you’ve continued on. Are you still seeing improvements, or do you feel like you plateaued?
DrAG: Oh, absolutely. Every day I’m seeing improvements. My hives went from 30 a day on my body to maybe one every other day now.
DrMR: Great, and then about how long have you been on a low FODMAP for?
DrAG: I’d say for about six and a half, maybe seven weeks probably.
DrMR: Okay, great.
DrAG: Well, I fell off over the holidays.
DrMR: I’m sure, yeah. That makes sense. So great. Again, your case really does illustrate what I would term a simpler case. We’re seeing the majority resolution of symptoms with just some dietary changes. You’re still improving about six to seven weeks in, which is great. What I’d recommend doing here would be to continue on the low FODMAP diet, at a minimum until you plateau and then reevaluate. If you plateau at around 80 to 90% improvement, then time simply may be the only thing that gets you the rest of the way there.
Usually, I say about 70% is where I look at the cutoff. If you’re plateauing around 70%, or you’re just curious how much better you could feel, that’s when you can step into step two more fully. Or you’re already integrating a little bit of step two. I’m very confident that, given your response to diet, going through the well-rounded probiotic protocol in the book—and making sure that you stick to that protocol, trying one from each category, and giving that some time—will probably get you the rest of the way there.
In your case, what’s likely happening is there was dysbiosis. That dysbiosis was causing histamine intolerance, amongst other things, and the histamine intolerance was causing the hives. It’s well-documented that histamine intolerance can cause hives, and also some of the neurological symptoms like anxiety. Now, the low FODMAP diet, as we discussed, can lead to an eightfold decrease in histamine. Great, yay.
Now, we can also get more of an antihistamine effect with probiotics. We have to be a little careful, because not every probiotic is going to help everyone all the time. Which is, again, why I break them down in the book into the three different formulas and have people try one of each. Also, there are a number of studies published on other histamine-mediated conditions like urticaria, like hives, showing that probiotics can, in fact, improve those conditions.
It’s exciting to just see you have all this potential ahead of you with just a simple probiotic protocol, which will probably get you the rest of the way there. Great. This has been fantastic. I’m so happy that you’ve seen these results. Is there anything else that you want to share? Anything else that you learned from the book or lessons?
DrAG: No. I just want the general public to know that this is a life-saver. If this has such a dramatic improvement in my lifestyle, I just imagine so many other people out there are missing this. I don’t know how we get it into the hands of the masses. I would stand on the tallest tower and share this with people because I think it’s so important. I didn’t realize how many women were suffering from this anxiety. And they don’t know the gut-brain connection, as I didn’t until I discovered it firsthand. For me, this has been monumental in my life.
DrMR: Great. Well, we are not the tallest tower, but we are a tower! So, hopefully, this will help announce it to an array of people. One or two things I just want to ask you in closing. One of the things that I notice with some books that talk about diet is, a very hard line is given on diet. And sometimes that can create more anxiety in someone. I’m wondering, did you find it easier the way that the diet was couched in non-absolutist terms?
DrAG: Oh, yes. You could pick and choose what you were going to eat. You could make up your daily menu based on a variety of things. You weren’t just isolating everything. I thought it was very helpful. For me, my biggest challenge was avoiding grains and dairy. Once I understood why I was eating what I was eating, to reduce inflammation, to reduce histamine response, I got it. I was devoted. And I said, “Well, this is the way the rest of my life’s going to be. I’m just going to focus on what is going to help my gut.”
DrMR: Perfect. Like you mentioned earlier, you’ll go into a reintroduction later, and you’ll figure out what your personal relationship should be with gluten, grains, and dairy. You’ll likely to be able to tolerate some. You may not be able to go out and have a huge bowl of ice cream, three slices of pizza, and a beer with no repercussions. But what you’ll be able to do is have a diet that’s absolutely suitable. You’ll probably be able to have your occasional dietary excursions with little to no repercussion. And it should be a very doable dietary plan in the long-term. Especially once you get over this hump of gut healing, your gut’s stronger and more resilient.
DrAG: Well, the beauty of it is, once you get into this, it just doesn’t change how you think about food. It changes how you feel about it. I don’t have the cravings for chocolate every day that I used to have. I don’t have the cravings for a beer, which I did every once in a while with a cheeseburger. I don’t have those cravings anymore. So that really takes a lot of the work out of it. It makes it a much more accessible, easy program to integrate.
DrMR: Perfect. Well, you’re preaching to the choir here. I’m so appreciative for you sharing your story, and I’m fairly certain this will help many, many women and men (because this also applies to men) who are suffering from any kind of litany of neurological symptoms. Yes, give your gut a look because there’s a very high probability—not a guarantee, but a high probability—that what’s going on in the gut could be causing what’s going on in the brain.
DrMR: If you get to the root of that, you don’t need to be going on sleeping pills or antidepressants or what have you. Fantastically well said. Anything else that you want to leave people with as we close?
DrAG: No. Thank you for today. I was happy to be here.
DrMR: Awesome. Thank you.
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