Listen to Your Gut!

Naturopathic doctors know that symptoms don’t present in isolation, and that whole person health is important for every patient. A big part of how your body functions is through the organized, diverse and interactive  “gut” that takes in food and removes waste. Literally, that’s what the gut does, but there is so much more.

Naturopathic doctors are especially interested in the microbiome or the entire environment that lives and evolves and interacts throughout your body and especially in your gut. In a compelling and intricate dance, our bodies are filled with many microorganisms including viruses, fungi, and bacteria. The gut provides a home for these microorganisms or microbes, primarily in the intestines and on the skin. The way we interact with these microbes is often referred to as gut health, and it has strong implications for the health of our overall bodies and minds.

Learn more about the gut from these licensed naturopathic doctors. Dr. Gran explains more about the neurons and the microbiome.

Our digestive tracts are lined with a network of neurons

Our digestive tracts are lined with a network of neurons, called the enteric nervous system, that is so extensive it has been nicknamed, “the second brain.”  In fact, many of the neurotransmitter communication molecules that are active in the brain are also active in the gut. Eighty-five to ninety-five percent of the body’s “feel good” brain chemical, serotonin, is found in the bowel!

This may explain why many pharmaceuticals that modulate this neurotransmitter (SSRIs like Fluoxetine Hcl ) can cause digestive side effects.  Research is consistently pointing to the immense influence that gut health has on our emotional wellbeing. And visa versa.  Those “gut-wrenching feelings” and “stomach butterflies” are common expressions for biological interactions at work. Our GI tract is sensitive to emotion, and our emotions, in turn, can trigger symptoms in the gut. Disturbed-gut-microbiome has been studied as an independent risk factor for anxiety. The bacteria that reside in our digestive tract also play a major role in our hormone synthesis and our body’s immune response.  

Understanding the gut-brain connection enables new approaches to the treatment of both GI and mood disorders by getting to the true root cause of a patient’s complaint.

Danielle E. Gran, ND

Danielle E. Gran, ND is an integrative doctor and healthy aging expert specializing in hormone restoration therapy and regenerative medicine in Los Angeles, California.

But how do naturopathic doctors know how to treat gut health? More than a simple plan to eat a healthy diet, NDs use science and detailed patient interviews to help navigate the gut-brain connection. Dr. Saunders helps us to navigate the gut-brain axis.

(Learn more about the advanced nutrition training naturopathic doctors receive in our FAQ series online.)

Navigating the gut-brain axis

We know that the gut-brain axis is a bi-directional pathway using hormones and neurotransmitters to communicate between our central nervous system (brain) and our enteric nervous system (gut). For example, we know that stress and sleep have an effect on mood and mood disorders. The same is true for how stress and lack of sleep can affect dysfunction of every gastrointestinal organ, which can result in conditions ranging from IBS, upset stomach, constipation, hemorrhoids and more.

In addition to the shared hormones and neurotransmitters that moderate this communication between our gut and brain, we have a third player in the mix, our microbiota, which has led some to call it the microbiota-gut-brain axis. This expanded axis gives rise to the notion that bacterial residents may also play a role in neurological and neuropsychiatric disease, as well as gastrointestinal dysfunction. Although further research is critical to better understanding, literature exists to support a relationship between the microbiota and challenges as diverse as autism, drug addiction, Parkinson’s, depression, ALS, Alzheimer’s, stroke and IBS, to name just a few.

“All Disease Begins in The Gut.”


Microbes in our gut can synthesize numerous neurotransmitters including GABA, melatonin, serotonin, and acetylcholine. These neurotransmitters can act locally on things like intestinal motility or they can be absorbed systemically and communicate with the brain and the immune system. Everyone knows that serotonin is made in our brain, but it’s less well known that an estimated 90% of it is synthesized by specific microbial species in our gut. This highlights the importance of species diversity in each individual and suggests that certain microbes may influence the expression of disease.

Dee Saunders, ND, MS

Dee Saunders, ND, MS, is the associate dean of residency and the chair of graduate medical education at the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM). She is a board certified naturopathic physician and medical researcher whose research includes a study exploring the relationship between small intestine bacterial overgrowth and intestinal permeability, food hypersensitivity and autoimmunity. She teaches neurology and mental health and is the course director for gastroenterology at NUNM. Dr. Saunders works with patients, students and residents as an attending physician in the NUNM Health Centers and a clinical assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University.

Understanding how the gut-brain connection works, and how your GI tract can impact your overall health is the first step. The next is learning to take care of your gut. Check out these tips from Dr. Biller.

Tips for a healthy gut

As a naturopathic doctor, I emphasize that healthy gut flora is critical to overall health and wellbeing. Every day, each meal is an opportunity to use #foodasmedicine and to stimulate optimal gastrointestinal health through the following behavior interventions:

  • Mindful eating by developing healthy eating environments, knowing your body’s hunger signals, consciously chewing your food, and enjoying meals in the community or with family around the kitchen/dining table.
  • Eat organic when possible or use the Environmental Working Group (EWG) guidelines for the ‘Clean Fifteen’ and the ‘Dirty Dozen’.
  • Eat seasonally, most fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables retain more nutrients than canned, long distance shipped hothouse, or frozen fruits and vegetables.
  • Fiber is your friend, fiber is what helps our body make and maintain good bacteria. Your gut bacteria, in turn, affects your body’s overall health.
  • Use antibiotics only when necessary as antibiotics ‘kill’ both good and bad bacteria in the gut.
  • Use a mantra before each meal, “I eat to nourish, energize and heal my body!” Personalize it and make it your own.

As always, consult a local licensed naturopathic doctor when making any changes to your diet, behaviors, or lifestyle.

Erin Rhae Biller, ND

Using a multitude of tools, Dr. Biller assists with a wide spectrum of health issues using the body’s own healing potential and natural effective treatments. She is the first naturopathic doctor in the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) fellowship program. She practices in California, Arizona, and telehealth globally through video conferencing.

There also any number of at-home remedies that naturopathic doctors recommend, from ginger teas to hot water bottles to the castor oil pack. Dr. Frodermann, below, describes this soothing and anti-inflammatory treatment.

Recall the castor oil pack

For all distresses of the belly – from heartburn to constipation, from IBS to IBD, and for simple complaints of bloating to PMS-related GI disturbances – my most commonly prescribed naturopathic remedy is the abdominal castor oil pack. A ten to 60-minute application of a flannel soaked with high-quality castor oil placed over the whole of the abdomen, topped with a mild heat source like a warm water-filled hot water bottle, this treatment is the ultimate de-stressor and purifier.  Many folks hold tensions from their life in the solar plexus area. For others, weak digestion, food reactions, or improper elimination block the path toward healing and increased vitality.

Using the Castor Oil Pack daily, or on alternate days, gently changes compromised patterns held in the gastrointestinal organs. While engaging in this deeply healing therapy, I encourage an unoccupied mind while reclining and practicing belly-breathing techniques, mindful meditation, or listening to calming music with eyes closed. These are my preferred complementary techniques I recommend my patients to practice while ‘packing’.

My only restrictions while using the pack are: avoid all work-related tasks, stressful conversations, screening or drama TV. As the GALT (Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue) houses around 70% of the body’s lymph tissue, and together with the spleen and liver, these organs are critical to health.  They are tasked to cleanse blood and lymph, integrate nutrients, and eliminate waste, in which the castor oil pack is known to assist. Thus, reclining with the castor oil pack is my most preferred gentle, yet deeply holistic rejuvenating therapy. While initially resistant to using the pack, clients are invariably amazed at how this simple therapy has improved their health and well-being.

Sheila M. Frodermann, MS, ND, DHANP, CCH

Dr. Sheila M. Frodermann is a licensed naturopathic physician, a board-certified classical homeopath, and a certified Bowenwork practitioner. She is the co-founder and director of
Providence Wholistic Healthcare, the oldest naturopathic medical clinic in Rhode Island, where she holds her private practice. She continues to serve on the board of Rhode Island Association of Naturopathic Physicians (RIANP) after dedicating ten years in executive board positions while fighting for licensure of naturopathic doctors, which was achieved in 2017.

INM's team is made up of naturopathic doctors and health journalists.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.