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Green Shield Canada

Episode 20: All About Gut Stuff

In episode 20, producer Sarah Murphy and host David Willows welcome back GSC writer Carley Parekh to the podcast studio to share the research behind her “Gut feelings” article in (g)sc TALK.
And now for something completely indifferent

And now for something completely indifferent

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Episode 20 Transcript


[0:00:14.9] SM: Hello and welcome to another episode of GSC’s Podcast; And Now For Something Completely Indifferent, where we’ll be discussing the hottest topics and trends in Canadian health benefits. I am the producer and editor, Sarah Murphy.

Before we get started with today’s episode, we would like to remind our listeners that the views expressed in this podcast are those of the individual speaking and not necessarily the views of GSC. We may talk about possibly controversial subjects and therefore, reserve the right to potentially offend some listeners, but are apologizing for it upfront.

You can download this podcast from our website at, or subscribe to it from wherever you get your podcasts. We also encourage you to read our publications, the inside story, follow the script, and GSC Talk, which you can also download from our website. Please be sure to follow the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Now let’s get started. Today’s episode is hosted once again by David Willows, GSC’s Executive President Innovation and Marketing.


[0:01:15.7] SM: Hello David.

[0:01:16.6] DW: Hi, Sarah.

[0:01:17.5] SM: We have a milestone today.

[0:01:20.0] DW: I feel we always make up a milestone.

[0:01:21.6] SM: Okay. True. We do that. This is an actual –

[0:01:24.2] DW: We’re desperate for.

[0:01:25.2] SM: - official milestone. We have reached our 20th episode.

[0:01:28.3] DW: 20. They said we wouldn't get to 18. They were wrong.

[0:01:32.5] SM: We showed them.

[0:01:33.5] DW: Yes.

[0:01:34.3] SM: Two more than that. Good job.

[0:01:36.7] DW: I think there's another milestone.

[0:01:38.4] SM: What is that?

[0:01:39.5] DW: This is our first podcast devoted primarily to the topic of pooping. That's not exactly true, but it did come up a fair bit in this very short podcast, I'd say at least four or five minutes were consumed with this particular topic. Do you want to explain why? Defend it?

[0:01:56.8] SM: Well, all of our listeners will have tuned out by this point because you've just said that the entire episode is about poop, which it is not. Also, the word poop is just a funny word. The whole episode is about your gut health, right? Your microbiome. What you refer to as your gut bugs, or gut stuff. Yes, throughout the episode, poop is mentioned a couple of times.

[0:02:17.0] DW: Yes. That warning needs to be out there.

[0:02:19.3] SM: Uncomfortable.

[0:02:20.3] DW: It's uncomfortable. The topic –

[0:02:21.5] SM: Very interesting.

[0:02:22.7] DW: Timely.

[0:02:23.4] SM: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

[0:02:24.4] DW: Important. We have to go places. I feel we're like medical professionals at this point after 20 podcasts talking about health issues, that we can tell people that there's a reason for this and it's good for them to listen to this.

[0:02:38.6] SM: For a hypochondriac like me, this is just – this was an awkward one.

[0:02:42.8] DW: No. You want to go to the washroom and clean your hands after this.

[0:02:46.0] SM: Borax, bleach the whole thing.

[0:02:47.0] DW: Okay, let's not tease people anymore. Let's bring in our colleague Carley and let her talk about poop.

[0:02:52.7] SM: Yeah. Okay, sounds good.


[0:02:58.5] DW: Carley, you came back. This is your second time on the podcast. We are retiring some of our males that have dominated through the first year. Ned and Peter are taking a back seat these days. Well, Peter actually left the organization. It wasn't because we banned him from the podcast. He did retire at age 65.

Carley, you're the new voice that's emerging from the team, the writer of (g)sc TALK. Tell us a bit about the reaction to your first podcast a few months ago, because you're a podcast listener, fan and stuff like that. How did it feel to have entered the world? Did you get any reaction to it? Anybody listen to that?

[0:03:39.1] CP: Well. I mean, I tried to convince my family to listen to it, to which the answer was absolutely not.

[0:03:44.3] DW: Really?

[0:03:45.3] CP: Yeah. I mean, to be fair, I have a 14-year-old teenage daughter. It's trying to get her to do anything is sometimes a challenge.

[0:03:53.1] DW: Oh, I was thinking even your parents and stuff like that, that they were shutting their –

[0:03:56.2] CP: No, no. Truthfully, I actually forgot to tell them. I did hear from one colleague. I had one colleague out of the thousand people that work at GSC that came up and said she loved it, so that was good. I don't know what that says about my success as a podcaster.

[0:04:09.0] DW: That's all the affirmation we need. If she's saying it, I'm sure everybody was thinking it.

[0:04:12.9] CP: Yeah, I hope so. I hope that was the reaction. It's a weird thing though, I have to say hearing your voice.

[0:04:17.7] DW: No, it is uncomfortable.

[0:04:19.0] CP: It’s strange. Yeah.

[0:04:20.2] DW: We don't sound like we think.

[0:04:21.2] CP: Yeah. Yeah.

[0:04:22.3] DW: I've gotten over it. Today, you're going to talk about another interesting, trendy medical topic that is featured in our latest edition of (g)sc TALK and that is the microbiome. More vernacular terms, the e-mail that led us to this, I called it gut stuff. You're going to talk about our gut.

[0:04:45.0] CP: About gut stuff. Yeah.

[0:04:46.6] DW: Tell people what the definition of microbiome is and how that attaches to gut stuff.

[0:04:53.2] CP: I'm going to try to do this as succinctly as I can, because there's a lot of information about the microbiome. The microbiome is an incredibly complex collection of around 100 trillion bacteria and fungi and protozoa and other organisms that live in your digestive system. I like to call them gut bugs, because it just makes them sound a little less gross when you're talking about them.

[0:05:22.0] DW: You think so?

[0:05:22.8] CP: Bacteria and fungi don't get a good rap. They're really important. Everyone's collection of gut bugs is different and it's in a state of constant – it's constantly changing. It's always, always different depending on your environment. There's a lot of different factors that influence the makeup of your microbiome; some you don't have any control over, like your DNA and your age and your sex and that stuff. Most of it, you do have control over. Things like what you eat, where you live and just your day-to-day goings on of your life, like your life experience.

All of these little gut bugs, so they have so many important jobs in the body and they interact with actually nearly every cell in the human body. They produce vitamins and amino acids that our cells don't produce on their own. They play a role in building and maintaining your immune system. Then they also break down any toxic stuff that goes through your digestive tract, or also they protect you against foodborne and waterborne diseases. They're pretty important.

Research in the last decade or so has skyrocketed their status in the medical community, because they found that the microbiome actually has a wide range of links to our health and well-being, everything from our metabolism, to your appetite and inflammation, allergies and even your mental health. Researchers are really, really excited about the links between these different aspects of your health, in particular, the links between your gut and diseases, both in predicting disease and also in treating it.

[0:07:01.5] DW: When I read the article for the first time and I knew that this was – I knew at the highest, so it was a trendy topic and what's happening in your gut is so influential, but I didn't really understand it probably. After reading your article I said to you like, “Okay, it's almost like we have a second brain in our stomach. That's how influential this is.”

[0:07:20.6] CP: Yeah, just a statement.

[0:07:22.8] DW: What are some very specific examples of how gut health impacts other parts of our health and impacts other diseases per se?

[0:07:34.3] CP: I mean, there's so much research happening right now. It was hard, even when I was writing the article to pick out ones that felt they gave a good picture of what's going on. Some of the ones that I found particularly interesting and also surprising, one of them was there's a lot of excitement around the links between your gut microbiome and degenerative brain diseases, so like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

They're looking at using the microbiome again, not just to diagnose, but also the potential to use the microbiome to support treatments that you would use for those diseases, maybe even to slow them down. It's not necessarily a cure that they're looking at, at the moment anyway, but being able to make some substantial advances in that area.

Another one that I found really interesting is around autism. They've found there's a lot of really great evidence around autism and being able to use the microbiome to influence the symptoms and the behaviors that are associated with autism to treat them. They're actually using – and I'm sorry, because now I'm going to have to talk about poop, but they're using fecal transplant.

[0:08:44.2] DW: That’s six minutes into this. Hold on.

[0:08:47.3] CP: I know. I know. Now this is my reputation. I was the first person on the podcast to talk about poop. Anywho, so they're actually using fecal transplants to – and I'm not sure, actually is the lack of knowledge, on my part, I don't know if they've started human trials yet, but they've shown that fecal transplants are very successful in helping reduce, or stabilize some of the behaviors of autism. That was really, really interesting.

Cancer, there's a lot of stuff out there around supporting, or improving the benefits of cancer treatments, so it's the microbiome and cancer treatments working together to make them more effective. Mental health is another area where there's a lot of promise. There's a really strong connection between your gut and your brain, and so there's a lot of evidence that mental health will be a big area where they can perhaps improve the efficacy of mental health treatments that are out right now by supporting them with treatments to your gut as well. Then the last one which I'm a – I'll mention, but with a word of caution is around obesity.

The reason I have a word of caution is because people are already trying to cash in on this. Everybody's trying to figure out how to lose weight. There are some people that are already trying to claim that they can help you lose all sorts of weight by diagnosing, or whatever your gut. I guess, the caution there is that the research in this area is still so early.

It's such a complex – I mean, a 100 trillion organisms. It's so complex and the way that it interacts with your body is so complex. They're really just at the forefront of understanding and being able to even think about treatments. It's probably going to be a while before we see anything on that front. Yeah, just so many cool things happening in that area.

[0:10:30.4] DW: Okay. Just everyday life. For those of us who think we're generally healthy, but not really, what can we do normally in our lives just to be healthier in our gut? I'm guessing some of these, we're going to have heard before in other conversations.

[0:10:53.3] CP: Yeah, we're beating a very familiar drum here. I guess to provide a little background, so again, so early in research, we don't really know what specific food does what to your microbiome. There are some general understandings about the microbiome. One thing that they've realized is that a diverse range of organisms, gut bugs in your microbiome is good a thing.

They've generally found that healthy people have a lot of diversity and people who aren't as healthy don't have as much diversity. That generally is because first of all, I mean, your gut bugs, they have so many important jobs, that the more you have of them, the better.

[0:11:29.2] DW: What does diversity mean in this sense? Different kind? Eating different kinds of stuff.

[0:11:33.6] CP: Yeah. What they found is that people who are considered in the healthy microbiome range have around 250 different types of organisms. People who are on the opposite end of the spectrum, a little bit less healthy, are around a 150.

[0:11:48.0] DW: That's linked to diet.

[0:11:49.4] CP: Well, it's linked to a lot of different things. Diet is definitely perhaps the most important. You want to, as far as diet goes, obviously you just want to make sure you're eating a lot of different things, right? You want a lot of different types of gut bugs, then you need to be eating lots of different foods that are going to feed those different gut bugs. If you’re always eating –

[0:12:07.6] DW: If you only have McNugget bugs, that’s not good?

[0:12:11.5] CP: Right. One of the interesting things I think in this is that there are links, or there's evidence to show that your gut bugs, or microbiome actually tells you what to eat as well. If you have a lot of a particularly bad bug that loves McNuggets, then it's going to tell you that you want to eat more of the McNuggets. It's interesting, because sometimes we think that we have cravings and that just comes from us. In fact, it could actually be your microbiome telling you what to eat.

[0:12:40.1] DW: It's not my fault that I love McNuggets. Somebody that lives inside me.

[0:12:43.6] CP: I don't mean to absolve people of responsibility for what they eat.

[0:12:47.2] DW: See, Sarah? It’s not me.

[0:12:48.5]  SM: Yeah, right.

[0:12:50.7] CP: Yeah. I mean, that's a little true, right? I think it's helpful. It's interesting, since I've written the article that now I do think about that where I'm like, “Oh, where is that craving coming from? Is it that I actually want it, or is it just that I eat Timbits a lot and I really like Timbits, and so my gut bugs like Timbits too.”

[0:13:06.1] DW: I have a very classy gut bug that wants fine French wine.

[0:13:10.8] CP: Yes.

[0:13:11.9] SM: I share that one.

[0:13:12.5] CP: Yeah. I also have that bug. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, general rules are eat lots of different types of foods. Probiotic foods are good. Prebiotic foods are good, so lots of fiber-rich foods. Raw foods are very high in fiber as well. Then also, try not to eat the same thing all the time. I'm totally guilty of that. I'm terrible. I always would go down to the food court, get the exact same thing every day. Now I'm trying to not do that.

Aside from diet, diet being one of the most important things; antibiotics, which I'm sure is something that we have talked about as an organization before. Antibiotics are overprescribed, overused. The thing about antibiotics is that in the process of wiping out all the bad bacteria and bad stuff, they're wiping out all the good stuff too.

[0:14:00.8] DW: If overused.

[0:14:01.7] CP: If overused, totally. There are times where you have to take an antibiotic. If you do, then again, just think about what you're eating afterwards to try and encourage those good bacteria to take up residency again. Yeah, using them when you don't need them, maybe not a great idea.

Another thing that I found really interesting is also cleaning products. Our society's obsession with being super clean and having – that kill 99% of germs mantra is actually maybe not super healthy and they've actually found some links between people who live or grow up in really, really clean environments with lots of strong cleaning agents, that they tend to have more allergies, autoimmune conditions, things like that. Make friends with dirt. Just embrace a little bit more dirt in your life. Yeah, not to say that you shouldn't wash your hands anymore, but yeah, just don't worry about everything –

[0:14:57.3] DW: A limit.

[0:14:58.0] CP: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I think in general, harsh cleaners are bad for other reasons as well. Maybe look at using things that are a little bit more gentle in your home. The other ones are getting back to that connection between your mind and your gut. Your gut influences your mental health, but also taking care of your mental health can also help your gut as well. There's a strong back and forth between the two.

Then the last one that I found a lot of evidence for obviously is just your physical health as well, right? This is where we come back full circle on the whole this is stuff we've talked about quite a bit that yeah, taking care of your physical health, making sure that you're sleeping, you're eating, all of that stuff, it's all good for your microbiome as well. Yeah, that was the roundup of the evidence.

[0:15:45.7] DW: Okay. People can see this article that's just been posted on our website (g)sc TALK. Before you go Carley, I think we would like one more poop story. Sarah and I actually debated whether I can use a more adult word for that, but we do believe that a lot of parents gather their children around to listen to this podcast, so we would be very careful –

[0:16:05.0] CP: It’s PG-rated.

[0:16:05.6] DW: Yes.

[0:16:06.6] CP: Including my 14-year-old daughter. Yeah.

[0:16:07.9] DW: You said she does not listen at all. Tell us the story that didn't make the cut of the article that you think is maybe interesting and shows the –

[0:16:15.9] CP: You’re smiling, because you know what it is.

[0:16:17.4] SM: I don’t.

[0:16:18.4] DW: Yeah. Sarah hasn’t heard it.

[0:16:19.6] CP: Sarah hasn’t heard it.

[0:16:21.1] DW: Where could the science be emerging?

[0:16:24.0] CP: I really tried to find a place to fit this into the article, because I just – I'll just cut right to it. The world of professional cycling, we know has a rich history of doping scandals. The new frontier that they're really concerned about is what is being dubbed poop doping. Similar to the fecal transplants I had mentioned earlier, the idea is that because the microbiome, there is evidence to say that it can affect athletic performance as well. Now they're trying to engineer people's microbiomes by ingesting, or I'm not sure how exactly they're ingesting it, but –

[0:17:03.3] DW: You said poop pills. I want to believe they’re poop pills.

[0:17:05.9] CP: I think they're poop pills, to try and improve their performance. Yeah. I know, Sarah's face says it all. I'm sorry to the listeners. They can’t see it, but –

[0:17:12.8] DW: No, that’s amazing. If there was ever any argument about to what length athletes will go and what won't people do to win, the answer is nothing. No, we've reached the threshold now where people will do anything to win the Tour de France. Thank you for that. I think we should end –

[0:17:29.3] CP: You’re welcome.

[0:17:30.3] DW: - on that. That should be ringing in our listeners’ ears for the rest of their day. We'll see you back when the next (g)sc TALK comes out. Thanks.

[0:17:36.7] CP: Sure.

[0:17:37.5] SM: Thanks. Bye.


[0:17:42.3] SM: Thank you to our listeners for tuning in to another episode of And Now for Something Completely Indifferent: A Canadian Health Benefits Industry Podcast.

To be sure to get feature episodes, please subscribe to this podcast wherever you get your podcasts, or visit our website at\podcast to download.

As a reminder, we talk about these issues consistently in our publications, which are available on our website, as well as on social media, so be sure to follow the conversation. For today’s episode, please be sure to check out our fall issue of (g)sc TALK.

Thanks for listening, and we’ll talk again soon.