B Yourself: Kenda Rigdon


 

Right in the Gut

Microbiologist Ph.D. reveals how gut health is LINKED to overall health

Name: Kenda Rigdon

Age: 41

Profession: Researcher/Educator/Blogger

Hometown: Hoover, AL

What sparked your interest in research? I have had an interest in scientific research ever since I read the book, “The Hot Zone” in high school. For me, it’s like working to figure out a jigsaw puzzle with some of your best friends, but the reward is that you can potentially save lives.

Other than your research, what is your passion? My passion is to educate others about how gut health directly impacts overall health. I want people to understand how diet and lifestyle can either build a healthy or an unbalanced gut and this, in turn, affects all other body systems.

How do you incorporate a healthy diet at home with your children? Ha ha, with a lot of bribery and manipulation! No, just kidding. This is a tough one, as every mother knows.  I try to educate them about good choices and better choices. I have taught my kids that sugar and sugar substitutes are to be avoided and that we should only eat a limited amount. They understand what sugar does to the body. Our entire family drinks a lot of water and not much else. They also know why we try to “eat a rainbow” of fruits and vegetables every day. We all take a daily probiotic and liquid fish oil serving.  Kids learn the most by what they see. If they see you eating healthy and exercising, they will learn to behave like you do. In the end, they still need a chance to be kids, too!

What is the best diet you recommend to combat inflammatory diseases such as autoimmune disease? Research is just starting to link certain dietary components with the growth or decline of certain gut microbes. Since this is new information, it’s hard to give a definite “equation” for feeding a healthy gut. Studies have shown that a high animal protein diet has been linked to Irritable Bowel Disease. A low-fat diet has been found to increase the genus Bifidobacterium, which tends to lower blood glucose and total cholesterol. Fiber and resistant starches (also called prebiotics) feed the good bacteria in your colon. They use this food to make products that give you vitamins, energy, essential amino acids and more. Studies show that Omega-3 fatty acids help to repair holes in the intestinal lining, like those found in people with leaky gut. Finally, artificial sweeteners have been found to increase Bacteroides (just like a high-fat diet) and reduce the helpful bacteria, Lactobacillus reuteri. The important thing to know is that a new diet can alter the types and amounts of bacteria in your gut within 24 hours, but it returns to your individual “normal” 48 hours after that food is stopped. The only long-term change in the gut microbiome comes from years of a dietary change.

What is leaky gut and what are the symptoms? “Leaky gut” is the modern term to describe the condition of having small holes in the walls or lining of your intestines. Microbes and food that normally stay inside the tube are able to “leak” out into your bloodstream. This is where your immune system “sees” them and attacks. This is called inflammation. If you don’t repair the holes, the leak isn’t fixed and the inflammation doesn’t stop. This is called chronic inflammation. Research has shown that this leads to many various diseases and disorders.

Does research prove that autoimmune diseases are caused from inflammation in the body more than just inherited genetics? For years, this has been a “chicken and egg” question. Autoimmunity is a state of chronic (long-term) inflammation. Does the autoimmune disease cause the inflammation, or the other way around? Research has found various differences in the species and amounts of certain bacteria in the guts of patients with autoimmunity. It seems that they suffer from an unbalanced gut environment. This can cause inflammation and further damage to tissues and organs. Current research is looking into this. We just need more information.

Is there a way to test our microbiome?  If so, what does it reveal? Yes, isn’t that great!? You can send a fecal sample in to companies like UBiome. They will analyze it and send you a report about the bacterial families and species that were found in your sample. You can see if your gut has many different bacterial species or if you are lacking. (The more diversity, or species of bacteria, the healthier your gut tends to be. For example, a typical healthy American has around 800 species of bacteria living in their gut. A person who is considered obese typically has around 400 species of bacteria).

How can epigenetics affect the length of our life? This is a great question! Most people do not know about the field of study called epigenetics. In the past, we have assumed that we simply inherit certain traits from mom and dad’s DNA and that’s the end of the story. Now, advances in an area of research called epigenetics have revealed that certain environmental factors can turn your genes on and off, like a light switch. What does this mean? It means that potentially whatever you smoke, eat, drink, etc… may be able to “flip a switch on or off” in your DNA. Even genes that protect you from cancer.  We now know that there are longevity genes that can be flipped on just by fasting from food for a period of time. Your health choices during your reproductive years can also affect diseases that your children and grandchildren may get. Your diet has an essential role to play in this. The great news is that you have control over your diet!

Can you explain the relation between the gut and the brain and how it affects serotonin levels? Research has shown a clear and definite link between the brain and the gut through the vagus nerve. In fact, studies have found that people who have “leaky gut” usually have “leaky brain.” So, what happens in the gut also affects the brain. It has been found that depression and anxiety are linked to an unhealthy gut. Serotonin is the neurochemical that makes you feel happy. Research has found that about 90% of serotonin is made in the walls of your intestines. Serotonin is made from the amino acid, tryptophan. Melatonin, which helps you sleep, is also made from Tryptophan. For this process to work like it should, foods containing tryptophan would be digested by the microbes in your gut so that your intestinal walls can make serotonin. The serotonin would then be available for use.

So we can get “Right in the Gut” are there any lab or at home tests we can take to discover our gut issues ? As of now, not to my knowledge. But, this is also something that should be left to your doctors and dietician. Some situations are serious, even life-threatening and should be monitored by professionals.

According to many experts, leaky gut can result in numerous and widespread health problems, including:

  • Autoimmune reactions and diseases
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (including IBS and ulcerative colitis)
  • Learning disabilities, like autism
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Asthma
  • Skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis
  • Arthritis and other body aches or pains
  • A higher chance for developing diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in mood, weight and appetite

 

What compelled you to start a blog on gut health? For years my passion has been to teach pre-nursing and biology students the importance of the gut microbiome. One day, I noticed their response. After my lecture, many of them were texting mothers, fathers, aunts and friends about the new information they had just learned. They were excited to share it with people who needed the help because of a disease/disorder they were suffering from. It dawned on me that education about the gut microbiome needs to move beyond the walls of the classroom. So many people are suffering. So many have lost hope. It breaks my heart. That’s why I began writing easy-to-understand blog articles about the gut microbiome (www.rightinthegut.com ). If I can connect the dots for people and they can begin to understand even the basics of how important their diet and lifestyle is to their health and that of the generations after them, maybe they will change what they eat and give their body a chance to heal.

What are your future plans? My next step is to form a Non-profit with the goal of educating our state of Alabama, and others, about the importance of gut health. I want the information to be easy to understand.  I want people to have hope again. I have learned that what you value, you protect. In our country, we have not valued gut health because we have not been taught to. If this is something you feel passionate about also, please feel free to contact me to see how you may be able to play a role.

Motto: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss

How can readers follow you? My blog is www.rightinthegut.com. Email: rightinthegut.com@gmail.com. Facebook: rightinthegut.com  Twitter: @KendaRigon.

 

 

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