When I was struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia my gut was a mess! Like, a hot mess! On a daily basis, I experienced nausea, stomach cramps, bloating, stomach pain, and frequent trips to the bathroom which developed into a serious fear of not being able to make it to a bathroom in time (aka toilet anxiety). Gut issues can be so frustrating and also incredibly debilitating. And when you’re already struggling with an anxiety disorder, adding gut issues to the mix only makes things that much harder.
Hannah Aylward is certified holistic health coach and the CEO and founder of HAN. Hannah and her team help people to overcome chronic digestive issues. They work with people who feel like they’ve tried everything and continue to struggle with things like IBS, bloating, gas, reflux, pain, anxiety, brain fog, and the list goes on! In the work she does, she takes a very root cause and holistic comprehensive approach, by looking at things like the gut microbiome balance, the mind-gut connection, and general digestive function. I love Hannah’s approach! And I also love the fact that Hannah sheds light on many things that people often don’t talk about when it comes to gut health.
THE MIND-GUT CONNECTION
Your gut is truly your second brain! Your gut and brain are connected and they actually communicate with each other. Crazy huh? Hence why you’ve probably heard the term ‘mind-gut connection.’ One of the ways the mind and gut is connected is through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve starts at your brainstem and runs all the way down through your stomach and intestines and influences all of your organs along the way.
For example, when you feel butterflies in your stomach, you may not be consuming anything, yet your brain is sensing something which leads to sensations or symptoms in your stomach. This is just a simple example that shows the mind-gut connection. Simply put, whatever is going on in the mind is going to impact the gut, and whatever is going on in the gut is going to impact the mind. This is why gut issues often manifest not only as digestive issues, but also as things like brain fog, anxiety, and depression.
SIGNS THAT CAN INDICATE AN UNHEALTHY GUT
Hannah says, “Because gut health is linked back to over 90% of all disease, it’s going to impact basically every system in the body.” It can impact not only your digestive system, but also your cardiovascular system, your immune system, your reproductive system, and your brain.
The signs and symptoms that Hannah and her team often sees are chronic issues like bloating (even after consuming healthy foods), constipation, diarrhea, food sensitivities and intolerances, skin issues like acne, eczema, and psoriasis, anxiety, brain fog, fatigue, joint pain, hormonal issues, thyroid issues, and really the list goes on!
And although all of these things may be common, it doesn’t mean that they are normal.
IBS - A BS DIAGNOSIS
IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome. And Hannah explains that a syndrome is a collection of symptoms. And with syndromes like IBS, there’s really no identifiable cause. Hannah says that being diagnosed with IBS is basically an exclusion diagnosis. Meaning, you’ve probably had testing like a colonoscopy, maybe an endoscopy, and you’re probably dealing with things like running to the bathroom or constipation (or maybe both), and likely also things like cramping and abdominal pain, but because there’s no identifiable cause you’re told that you have IBS and you were probably not given any clear solutions.
But the important thing to look at is... Why do you have the collection of symptoms that you have? What is causing the symptoms? What broke down in the body to create these symptoms?
Although IBS could be structural, for the majority of people that Hannah and her team sees, it’s more of a gut imbalance.
THE GUT MICROBIOME
The gut microbiome is the composition of the microbes which consists of bacteria, archaea, parasites, fungus. Most are in the large intestine and some are in the small intestine.
Things that Hannah looks at:
Imbalances in the gut microbiome by doing functional stool testing.
How are you breaking down food?
Are you producing enough stomach acid?
Is your pancreas producing enough enzymes?
Do you have adequate bile flow?
Is your liver congested?
And there’s so much more to the story than just the microbial balance! Because you have to ask how you arrived at the imbalance.
So Hannah also looks at:
Did you pick up an infection or a parasite?
Was it due to rounds of antibiotics?
Is it birth control or another medication?
Is it due to an unsupportive diet?
Or stress? Stress is a big one!
This is testing that Hannah runs on all of her students to get at the root cause. And she finds things like…
SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
And it’s not just food, or supplements, or breathwork that is going to do the trick. It’s really about taking a comprehensive look and approach to healing. And yes, it’s more work, but the changes that you can make through this work can be life changing.
START HEALING YOUR GUT
Hannah says to keep in mind that when you’re in the thick of it, acknowledge that your body is so strong and so resilient. You just have to set the right conditions for it to thrive.
01. Take a look at your diet and see where you may be able to make some healthy changes. This can look like bringing in more whole foods (foods with very little and straight forward ingredients, foods with vibrant colors) and also reducing your intake of inflammatory foods.
02. Look at balancing your blood sugar. This looks like pairing the right foods at mealtimes. Making sure that you have an unprocessed carbohydrate, a source of protein, a source of fiber, and a source of healthy fat on your plate. This could look like eggs, with a hash brown or beans, raspberries, and an avocado. What this does is it elongates your blood sugar, which is going to minimize feeling hungry and anxious, and it also supports you getting appropriate nutrients and your gut function.
FOOD SENSITIVITIES AND INTOLERANCES
Taking some things out of your diet, like gluten, can be helpful because speaking to gluten in particular, studies have shown that gluten wears away at your gut lining. Hannah shares that when her clients remove gluten from their diet, they generally do feel better. She also uses functional stool testing to help see how your body is responding to gluten, which can help to make healthy decisions in regards to diet and gut health.
Hannah shares that IgG food sensitivity tests (home tests) just aren’t super helpful because they aren’t showing you what’s actually going on. They aren’t step one (or sometimes even a step at all) in Hannah’s process because these types of tests don’t show you what’s going on in the gut that’s causing the reaction to the foods. It’s not just about the food, it’s about all of the other stuff that Hannah touched on earlier in our conversation - your gut function!
In general, Hannah believes in building a more resilient gut, which is a big reason why she does the work that she does with restructuring the gut microbiome. She doesn’t believe that your diet has to be so limited. She wants you to be able to enjoy foods and not be so restricted in what you eat. She doesn’t want your diet to interfere with your everyday life and lead to awful symptoms, or control what you do or don’t do.
HOW TO CONNECT WITH HANNAH:
Free resources, courses, all the things: Head here!
On Instagram: @hannahaylwardhhc