Exploring the Gut-Brain Axis: Your Questions, Answered, Part 2 

Learn more about the gut-brain connection in this Q & A with Dr. Jane Oelke, ND, PhD. Explore more on-demand webinars here. 

Q: Does pickle or sauerkraut juice added to my daily green smoothie work, or does it need to be consumed separately? 

A: Pickle and sauerkraut juice can be added to other foods or smoothies, as long as the food is not processed with too much added sugars. 

Q: Can you ‘‘overdo’’ it when it comes to making changes in your diet? How would you feel if you did? 

A: Yes, you definitely can overdo it when making changes. When we make changes too quickly, we can have a detox reaction like a headache, indigestion, or bloating. Start making dietary changes slowly and give yourself at least 5 days of a diet change to see how it goes. With avoiding gluten, it actually takes at least 21 days to get the full benefit to see how you feel without it. 

Q: Is red wine helpful for the gut? 

A: Red wine is not helpful for the gut. It usually has too much sugar and alcohol to be beneficial. Alcohol kills the good gut bacteria. 

Q: Can you please repeat how you prepare apples? 

A: I like baked apples – coring and slicing organic apples (keeping the skin on) and putting them into a glass plate and baking for about 30 minutes, with a little cinnamon. Or you can make stewed apples by putting the apple slices in a pot with water covering 1/3 of the apples and slowly simmering them until the skin softens, and it is almost like applesauce. You can eat the equivalent of ½ to 2 apples per day to lower lipopolysaccharide endotoxins in the gut. 

Q: Regarding sugar alcohol, what about xylitol? What artificial sweetener can you recommend, especially for diabetics? 

A: Xylitol is not easy to digest. I only recommend stevia as a good alternative to sugar for diabetics. 

Q: What were the oils that you said were okay, and why? 

A: Seed oils should be avoided along with canola oil, soybean oil, and palm oil. The best oils to use are olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. Seed oils cause inflammation and weakness in the blood vessels. Good fats help create a healthier cell membrane for nutrient absorption. 

Q: Would you count most meat as an organic food? 

A: No, it depends on what the cow or chicken eats. There can be pesticides in the muscle of the meat. There are organic meats available because of what the animals eat. 

Q: How can the U.S. make food more affordable? 

A: The U.S. allows too many toxic ingredients in our foods, and so should get rid of many of the chemicals they allow. I don’t think that will make the food more affordable. We need to purchase whole foods, which in some cases are less expensive than some processed foods with packaging. 

Q: Is apple cider vinegar beneficial to gut health? 

A: Apple cider vinegar can be beneficial to gut health because it is made from fermented apples, so it is a prebiotic. It is helpful for indigestion when added to water as a drink. Don’t drink it straight. Usually, I recommend 1 Tablespoon in at least 4 ounces of water as a good ratio. 

Q: Can I add fermented liquid to my green shake (pickle juice), or should it be consumed separately? 

A: Yes, you can add fermented liquids to a vegetable shake. 

Q: With budget cuts to schools, how can we make school lunches healthier? 

A: We need to make school lunches without glyphosate in all the foods causing gut health issues for children. We need to stop allowing all the processed food in plastic containers that leach into our foods. Schools are subsidized by processed food companies. We need to go back to real whole food choices only. Moms Across America is a group I follow that are trying to get school lunches to be healthier. 

Q: How can providers be empowered to help their clients to really get on board with changing their diet to improve mental health when there are so many challenges? 

A: Clients need to have a reason why they want to be healthy and eat healthier. Too often changes come after another person experiences a challenge, and they don’t want the same thing to happen to them. If you can help them, see that they do feel better with even a small change, then more progress will be easier. Clients get motivated to make more changes when they see benefits from current changes. 

Q: What would you suggest as a practical starting point for someone who suspects they are totally out of balance? 

A: I would ask – What feels out of balance? Digestion? Fatigue? Energy? Then ask what one symptom change would be a priority to make a difference in their health. Then find a habit or lifestyle change to make that symptom improve. 

Q: Is sprouted whole grain or sprouted high-fiber bread better than non-sprouted for breads? 

A: Sprouted bread is a little easier on the gut, but it is still made from wheat. Also organic is better than any bread with pesticides or GMO’s. So organic sprouted grain bread is better. 

Q: What do you suggest I replace my homemade whole wheat bread with for sandwiches? 

A: Wheat is very hard to digest since we don’t have the digestive enzyme to do it. So, it causes a little inflammation every time we eat bread. There are other options for bread. I make a flaxseed bread for a pizza crust. Also look at almond flour bread recipes. 

Q: What prebiotic foods are not innately gas-producing? 

A: Start very slowly adding prebiotic foods, even just a teaspoon at a time. Also adding aloe vera to soothe your gut lining can reduce irritation there. Gas comes from fermentation of foods in the stomach and small intestine, so digestive enzymes may help reduce gas build up. 

Q: I thought aloe vera could also have harmful effects? 

A: Too much aloe vera can straight from the plant can be very strong. Usually aloe vera juice or extract is not too concentrated to be harmful. 

Q: Do you think fish/seafood are good to eat, or do they contain too many heavy metals? 

A: Fish and seafood do contain many heavy metals especially fish from fresh water lakes or the Pacific Ocean. Fish like salmon wild-caught from the Atlantic Ocean can be okay. 

Q: Will teas with licorice root also help? 

A: Teas with licorice root can cause some heart issues due to potassium depletion if not deglycerrized. DGL Licorice does help with soothing the gut lining by reducing inflammation and increasing mucus production. 

Q: Did you say our body can’t break down any gluten? 

A: Yes, we do not have the enzyme to breakdown gluten, so every time we eat gluten foods we create some inflammation. 

Q: Do you have advice for decreasing mesalamine for colitis. 

A: I don’t have experience with trying to decrease the use of mesalamine. 

Q: Are physicians looking at gut-brain health when patients come in for physicals? 

A: Usually, physicians do not address brain-gut health with patients. I believe they know that serotonin is created in the gut, but don’t have any solutions on what to do about balancing serotonin or GABA. Brain-gut health is becoming more well-known in the past year, so we can watch and see when it becomes more important. 

Q: What is the cost of the Wheat Zoomer blood test? Does Medicare or insurance pay for this? 

A: The Wheat Zoomer blood test by Vitality Wellness measures wheat peptides, gluten sensitivity markers, intestinal permeability markers like zonulin, gliadin, and actin, along with celiac disease markers. I am not sure if it is covered by insurance. The cost of the complete Wheat Zoomer test is $259. Just the intestinal permeability part is $190. You can look online to see a sample report. 

Q: Under common neurotransmitters, I missed the function of acetylcholine. Would you please repeat?  

A: Low acetylcholine affects memory, creativity, learning ability, remembering names and faces, response time to figuring out tasks, and spatial orientation. Acetylcholine chloride is the neurotransmitter that helps neurons connect to communicate better. 

Q: How does chemotherapy affect gut health? Often affects CBC. Is this bad for the gut? 

A: Chemotherapy drugs cause oxidative stress in all the tissues due to the chemicals. So, chemotherapy will affect gut health as another toxin in the blood that needs to released. 

Q: Do you have to have a doctor’s order for those labs, or is that something you can request yourself? 

A: The basic labs – Complete Metabolic Panel, Lipid Panel, and CBC with differential, along with a Vitamin D test can be done without a doctor’s order. I have my clients use the Ulta Labs link on my website to order those tests and other tests we may want to do. To do the Wheat Zoomer test, a provider needs to add their NPI number and can create an account to offer that test with Vitality Wellness. 

Q: How are serotonin and GABA deficiencies diagnosed? Are there blood tests that can be ordered? 

A: There is a serotonin blood test from Ulta Labs available, but usually we look at symptoms. Symptoms of low serotonin are social withdrawal, loss of interest in doing what you used to love, aggression, poor sleep, and poor digestion and absorption. Low GABA is also usually found by symptoms of hypersensitivities to odors, noises, and an underlying feeling of constant anxiety. 

Q: Where is the best place to start, dealing with many mental health issues – anxiety and depression and wanting to clear the mental fog? 

A: I would look at movement, diet, and sleep as most helpful lifestyle habits to use in improving mental health. I also look at living in integrity with consciousness of choices. Doing what you know is good for you will make you feel better mentally. 

And look for opportunities in your life to uplift others and have gratitude for what you have. Living in with intention in what we do, and want, will help reduce mental stress. 

Q: I have a son with GERD. An EGD has been done but can’t find anything. I have asked about his anxiety level, but he denies any anxiety. What would you recommend to help manage those symptoms other than diet? 

A: Have your tried aloe vera juice, or bone broth in his diet? Look at a Food Acid/Alkaline Chart to make sure he is not eating too many acid foods. Test his saliva pH at least an hour after meals to see if he is acidic with a low saliva pH of less than 6.4. Anxiety can come from a stomach acidity imbalance. 

Q: Why is polyethylene glycol not a good option for daily use? What is the danger in taking it daily?  

A: Polyethylene glycol is a toxic chemical made from a combination of ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol which are found in brake fluid and antifreeze. It is used in many other products and many people are sensitive to it. Polyethylene glycol causes many skin reactions when in products that contact the skin, and can cause seizures, tremors, headaches, and anxiety when consumed internally too often. It is not allow in products outside the United States and is not FDA approved for use as a laxative especially for children. 

Q: What laxative is best if needed for chronic constipation? 

A: I personally like Cascara sagrada, an herb that improves peristalsis gently. It is better than Senna for long term use.