I’m talking with Tracy Cowley, Herbalist, Nutritionist and Naturopath. Tracy helps bloated women who’ve had a gutful of gut ache take control of their digestion.
In this episode, Tracy looks at perimenopause, menopause, ageing, and longevity through the lens of inflammation, insulin resistance and gut health.
She emphasizes the importance of healing the gut lining and nourishing the mucus layer of the gut, using the metaphor of closing and nourishing gates to illustrate their significance, which helped me understand the leaky gut phenomena.
Tracy shares her experience working primarily with women who struggle with chronic gut pain, bloating, and other gut-related issues including SIBO – which commonly presents with bloating and is often accompanied by significant inflammation, joint pain, and weight gain in women.
She challenges the popular health trends that promote extreme measures and restrictive diets, encouraging us to make better choices without the concept of blame.
Join us today as we delve into the world of gut health, women’s hormones, and inflammation with the incredible Tracy Cowley. It’s an episode you won’t want to miss!
Tracy Cowley Naturopath | Nutritionist | Medical Herbalist
Follow her on Instagram @guthealthnaturopath for regular gut health support
Tracy is a Medical Herbalist, Nutritionist, and Naturopath, Tracy graduated 15 years ago and has learned something from every single client she’s treated since, as well as the endless conferences, master classes, seminars and webinars her industry makes available, Tracy is drawn to all things digestion.
Tracy’s passion is working with the gut and women who’ve had a gutful of gut aches! She’s a passionate geek when it comes to the exploding body of research about the microbiome and its effects on mental health and wellbeing.
This year Tracy launched Misery Guts Anonymous, her 12-week signature programme for women suffering from SIBO, bloating, pain and an unhealthy relationship with the bathroom.
Tracy also has 3 hungry boys at home, which has led to a long repertoire of secretly healthy recipes but also a love of working with Mama’s who juggle all the balls and often put their own health last.
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Full Episode Transcript
[00:00:00] Meegan Care: Tracy Cowley welcome. Welcome to the podcast. Tell us all about you and how you help people.
[00:00:07] Tracy Cowley: Thank you for having me. I, I’m a naturopath, nutritionist and medical herbalist. So I, I primarily work with women who’ve, I’d like to say have had a, a guts full of gut ache.
So they’re motivated to make change. And, But they have been struggling with chronic gut pain or bloating, it could be diarrhea, constipation, or it could be any myriad of things, then an unhealthy relationship with the toilet, struggles, just you. ordering from a menu with bed for girlfriends when they want to just have a night out.
So that’s really the primary work that I do. A lot of that centers around a condition called SIBO, which is a subset of, you could call it a subset of IBS. SIBO is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. And so I see a lot of Women primarily with that condition, which mostly presents with that picture of bloating and what I’ve just described.
[00:01:03] Meegan Care: interesting. So you know that I, I speak to a lot of women in midlife. I’m a woman in midlife as well. And and I, You know, seeing what you do really piqued my interest because there’s a lot of gut stuff that comes up for women, particularly, I mean, through our whole lives, but particularly in midlife and particularly in perimenopause.
So what’s that sort of picture that you, you see, like, how does perimenopause affect our gut, gut health?
[00:01:34] Tracy Cowley: Yeah, sure. So, there’s, I’ll be honest from the outset, there’s not a huge amount of scientific literature. And I just want to preface that, preface that everything I’m going to say is actually based on pretty small scale human studies and animal models.
What we know about the real role of, for those declining hormone levels. In gut health, and I think that’s really just the unfortunate reality of a very slowly changing patriarchal medical system. You know, in recent decades, we’ve learned huge amounts about the female microbiome really in relation to birth.
And, you know, now we understand there’s a microbiome in the placenta. We understand more about how we metabolize estrogen, but the focus kind of falls apart after. Fertility. So I think it’s really great that you’re actually bringing this up because it doesn’t get the airtime that it deserves. What we can ascertain from those small scale human studies and the animal studies is that lowering estrogen levels actually decreases our microbial diversity.
So what that means is. The different types of bacteria, the different strains that we have in our bacteria, sorry, in our microbiome, in our gut, and that’s actually associated with inflammation. It’s also associated with weight gain, incidentally and the other thing that comes up, and this is probably what I’m seeing.
More the presenting side of things, the symptomatic side of things in clinic is lowered estrogen levels actually lead to permeability of the gut barrier. So it’s a condition often known as leaky gut and what that means. I can go into that in much more depth and actually kind of describe it. I’m very used to doing that in the clinical setting.
But in a nutshell, it’s allowing the digestive debris bits of bacteria, bits of undigested food into our bloodstream, and that causes a myriad of inflammation and food reactions and, you know, kind of a more of a response to, well, changes in the gut, I guess, as a result of those lower estrogen levels.
[00:03:39] Meegan Care: So that was that’s that’s sort of that sort of was my experience going through perimenopause. It was kind of like, well, that food didn’t upset me before, but now over time it is now and it’s and it sort of didn’t matter. Seemingly didn’t matter what I did. It was still sort of the slow kind of creep into more and more difficulty with food with what I was eating in terms of my digestion.
And it’s certainly what I
from friends and colleagues and clients. So the experience is there. And by the sounds of things, you see that picture in clinic as well.
[00:04:17] Tracy Cowley: Yeah. Yeah. If you think about it this way. So if you think about your gut barrier, which is really where I spend most of my time working, You think about like a row of houses that have gates between them, and the gates are what we call gap junctions that kind of connect up ourselves, or in this case the houses, and they keep the street and the house separate.
So they stop what’s going on in the street, which might be in our digestive tract, from getting to the backyard. But if damage happens to those gates, rubbish can fly down between the houses and get into everyone’s backyards. So, estrogen actually strengthens the gates, it’s actually there, in our earlier life, it actually, it’s a bit like the repair man, or should we say woman, in this instance, repairing those gates.
And once we take that away, rubbish can pass through really easily. And so what you’re talking about where you weren’t reacting to something previously, once that rubbish gets in, we start going, like our immune system starts going, hang on, this is now problematic. It forms an immune response to it. And so when it comes into your body again, it’s already primed with an immune response.
[00:05:22] Meegan Care: Holy. So then you’ve got this sort of cycle potentially.
[00:05:27] Tracy Cowley: Yeah, absolutely. And if we don’t work on that. That the strength of those gap junctions or gates in this analogy. Yeah, that’s just a perpetual cycle and the inflammation keeps being perpetuated as well. So we can see knock on effects. You know I talk a lot about the bacteria the, sorry, the byproducts of bacteria that passed into our bloodstream in this leaky gut situation.
So this is a toxic byproduct called LPS or lipopolysaccharide. And as that’s absorbed, it’s now been associated, there’s research connecting it with brain fog, depression, joint pain, skin disorders, raised cholesterol, and it’s even been connected with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. So, I don’t want to freak out your listeners.
I’m not saying that you’re all on track to that. What I’m saying is having that understanding that the role that the gut microbiome plays in our longevity and our long term health and aging successfully. Getting through perimenopausal years successfully, there is a real role in looking after that gut barrier and the diversity of our gut microbiome in that.
[00:06:39] Meegan Care: Yeah, beautiful. Yeah, no, that’s really helpful. And so if I, you know, if I was listening to this podcast and I was thinking, oh, does that, you know, what is the symptoms that I’m experiencing in perimenopause? You know, as a listener, what would that look like potentially?
And I know I’m talking very generally here, but so gut issues, and then you talked about that great analogy with the gates, and so then we’ve got, you know, garbage going through the gates where it shouldn’t, and then it affects our body. So there might be some more food reactivity, but what other sort of symptoms might show
[00:07:19] Tracy Cowley: up?
Yeah so what I’m seeing is often women with quite significant inflammation, and it could present, it could be they had a blood test done and their cholesterol levels are through the roof and they’re thinking, hang on, like, where did this come from? Joint pain is a massive thing that I see that that kind of systemic joint pain that we associate with menopause Well, I’m not saying that the LPS is the only cause of that because there’s lots going on for people as we age But there’s definitely a significant association And then of course weight gain as well you know when you’re in an inflammatory state and also those changes to the microbiome and it’s something that we also You know, we do see a lot of, I think one thing that doesn’t probably get as publicized, but it’s something that I see in clinic and needs to have a stronger mention.
And perhaps, you know, previous speakers for you have is osteopenia and osteoporosis. So that, that, you know, fragility of bone tissue, the. More recent research is really exciting around connecting an unbalanced microbiome and a leaky gut situation. And that LPS that I’ve mentioned as a driver of inflammation.
And the inflammation in turn affecting that bone health.
[00:08:34] Meegan Care: Holy hell, you’re just blowing my mind.
[00:08:37] Tracy Cowley: Hopefully, blowing your mind in a positive, not freaking you right out. Yeah, like, super
[00:08:41] Meegan Care: interesting. That’s super interesting. Because, like, without, without overwhelming ourselves with information, understanding the new research that is Coming through, you know, that’s going to lead to us as women in midlife being able to Really look after our health and champion our health going forward.
So whilst it might Yeah, like what whilst it might feel or seem a little A lot. And you know, some of the things that you’re saying, I’m like, Oh, I kind of understand what you’re saying and I kind of don’t. That’s okay. What’s interesting for me is the, the picture around.
Oh, so this is like, we’ve got inflammation and gut stuff and then hormonal. Cause I see a lot of women with, with health. Challenges. So maybe there’s no diagnosis, but you know, just talking to people and they might have health challenges. There’s a lot of self blame that kind of goes on for women mentally and emotionally.
And I think if we can just sort of take that away, we’re much more empowered. What are your thoughts on that?
[00:09:47] Tracy Cowley: So much. I get really upset every spring when I say all of these. Supposed health practitioners coming out with the spring detox and this idea of repenting for our sins that we have committed.
Heaven forbid that we ate the wrong things. I feel like there’s a really religious background of, like, this cathartic, I must… I must undo my sins, and consequently, it’s often in some pretty horrific practices, like really restrictive diets, or you know, taking things, oh God, even if it’s the gallbladder flush, or some really, some quite outdated practices that I think they, they feed into this guilt and blame and concept.
I’m not saying that. Many people can’t make better health choices, but this idea of like, I mean, when we’re talking specifically about perimenopause, declining hormone levels will affect every single cell, every organ, every system in the body, which helps us to understand why what you’re talking about, you know, health challenges, these symptoms can be head to toe, because if you’re talking about every cell, it is every, it is head to toe.
So. It’s sort of, I would like that blame to be taken away from, oh, I made the wrong choice, I’ve done the wrong thing, and I must therefore do something quite drastic to, to, you know, rectify the situation or to swing the pendulum back the other way. Yeah,
[00:11:15] Meegan Care: yeah, so key, isn’t it? Yeah, there’s a lot of unwinding to be done around you know, around diet culture, around detoxing and all of that kind of stuff.
And even just a tiny bit of research I’ve done of where that’s come from and how that’s come through the patriarchal sort of Control. And then as a business marketed to women bait way back in the early 1900s, from the little bit of research I’ve done, I’ve been like, no fricking wonder we’re messed up around our relationship with our body and our relationship with food.
[00:11:53] Tracy Cowley: It’s pretty scary, isn’t it? You know, that the way that we have been taught to perceive. Health and the massive industry. I’m like, I think it really, it’s so important that we stop and challenge some of the long held beliefs and especially if it’s coming from a company that’s trying to sell you something.
[00:12:12] Meegan Care: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, we are on the same page. That’s so great. So so speaking of so hormonal changes through perimenopause and we know that’s, that’s quite an up and down time. What role does, you know, the food that we eat play in managing, I suppose, but also perhaps on the other side, where it might inflame symptoms that show up in perimenopause.
What’s the role there?
[00:12:39] Tracy Cowley: Yeah, so one thing I do, not with everybody, it’s when, you know, and appropriate with a case take, but you can actually explore food antigen testing, which is a blood test that looks at Whether your body is having an immune response to specific foods. So basically, it’s an opportunity to get on the least inflammatory diet possible while we’re working on healing up that gut lining.
Working on incorporating in the basics around supporting the mucous layer of our gut. And I guess closing those gates and nourishing those gates, you know, to go back to the original analogy. So there is definitely a time and a place where I will send people to have. A blood test to really limit that inflammation.
Yeah, I think as far as, as the food that we’re eating, probably my priority is because it’s coming through a lens of working with someone’s gut. It’s often on reducing down insulin levels, which is a really challenging one when it comes to declining estrogen because of the role that the, the relationship between the two, I guess.
[00:13:45] Meegan Care: So I guess it’s like, you know, cause I think when we’re experiencing those symptoms and there’s a lot of emotional and psychological symptoms that come along with, with perimenopause The first go to can be either exercise or change our food, you know, change what we’re putting in our mouth, right, and that can become really restrictive, and yeah, and that’s not, I don’t, obviously, I don’t think that that’s helpful or healthy on so many levels, mental, psychological, as well as physical.
So, you know, like, as a woman in perimenopause, I’ve got these symptoms going, going on. Where do I start with what I’m eating?
[00:14:26] Tracy Cowley: Oh, great question. Okay. So there’s, there’s different areas that we can work on here. The first thing going back to that comment around the diversity of the gut and the role that that plays in inflammation.
And I know I keep bringing it back to inflammation, but I think we can get really hung up on the hormones of menopause and kind of skip. role of genes, of stress, of insulin, of inflammation. So I often will bring it back to inflammation because that’s what I see so much of, and It’s actually good. I think it’s really fun to encourage a diversity of bacteria in our gut because the way to do that Is just to switch up the groceries every week.
Visit your local farmer’s market or the Asian grocer Get something, heirloom, is that how I say it? And foreign, like try Jerusalem artichoke, try yam, try parsnip Not just living off your standard potatoes and your burger every week Mixing it up and the more that we feed Different foods into our body, it’s different foods into our bacteria and that will nourish different bacteria and encourage that diversity.
It’s so easy and I fall into it too where we just roll out the same five meals every week. You know, you’ve got your nachos and the curry that you make and your roast veggies and it’s Friday we’re having scrambled eggs. You know what I mean? But if you go to, if when you’re shopping, you make a point of this week, we’re trying this.
Vegetable. I can’t even pronounce. Let’s say, or, you know, just something that your body doesn’t get a lot of you’re already promoting a diversity of bacteria. And then this becomes more important as as we age. And those estrogen levels aren’t supporting that diversity, which, for whatever reason, that’s what we understand.
That’s what the rodent studies tell us. It happens. And of course, we can try fermented foods. There’s me. So there’s kimchi. There’s sauerkraut. Please get a book. Cautious recommending them because as I mentioned at the beginning, I treat so much SIBO. And the worst thing for SIBO is to throw fermented food in because you’ve got this overgrowth of bacteria earlier on.
We don’t want to encourage it. So just grain of salt on everything I say through a filter. But if we’re trying to promote that diversity, it’s foods and it’s not sexy. It never has been, but fiber is so big when it comes to supporting women in perimenopause because fiber is what What creates that diversity, but also fiber will help with healthy insulin and lipid levels.
Lipids in this case meaning your, your cholesterol levels. So, strategically using fiber, and it doesn’t have to be grandma’s bran muffin, you know, it can be. The beauty of lentils and chickpeas, having hummus on the regular, you know, it can be do you know, leftover potatoes are like a superfood for our bacteria, they freak out and love it, but like, if we’re eating spirulina, it’s our superfood, well, that’s pretty old fashioned of me to say, but you know what I mean, like, there’s certain foods, I’ll go back to the Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, these kinds of things, these fibers, I don’t They, they, they were so unsexy that we’ve actually had to remarket them.
We’ve rebranded them as prebiotics now, but in reality, fiber is so key and critical to long term health gains for, for women at all ages and stages. But in that perimenopausal picture, when we are working on specifically that diversity and richness of a microbiome to support that. Reduction of inflammation.
[00:17:56] Meegan Care: Yeah. Amazing. And I think it’s like, because when, when we are in that phase and we’re maybe struggling with our vitality, our energy, we might feel okay one day and really shit the next. And you can’t kind of pin it down to what’s going on. It’s I know in my case, I just wanted something to fix it.
You know, what is, what is, what’s going on and how can I fix it? But it’s kind of like how we tend to our, our garden. And if we do have a vegetable garden, you know, the body’s the same. It’s like introducing that diversity and nourishing and supporting. And then over time, I guess you start to see the changes.
[00:18:33] Tracy Cowley: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I think I’d say one other thing that sort of sprung up when you were talking about one day feeling so rubbish and, and you know, the next day, like just having that unpredictability and yes, there’s that rollercoaster of hormones. It’s not like this nice steady decline that you just gradually get used to, like it’s all over the place.
And when you look at those charts and see that numb, the, you know, that, that flashing up and down of estrogen. But one thing that did spring to mind is quite critical and really useful is focusing on balancing blood sugars because insulin plays a really key role in, in our mood and our weight in in our response to.
The world, I guess you could say, so what I’m looking at is with my clients is, you know, it’s really easy for us to start the day, skipping breakfast, which is already going to throw your cortisol levels up. You know, there’s been this huge focus on intermittent fasting, which time and a place, but perimenopausal woman I see doing really well on it because stress and cortisol are huge.
And then second to that, they grab the latte when they do get to work. Or, or maybe it’s the long black because they’re trying to prolong that fast. Then there’s the inevitable morning teas. Like, how many office workers talk to me about these morning teas that just show up? And there’s pressure.
I mean, especially my, my clients that work in hospitals. They seem to be endless there. And then you’re, you know, grabbing some sushi on the run for lunch and you get home and you’re having, you know, that gin and tonic or the glass of wine. And. Basically, those blood sugars have just peaked and dropped and peaked and dropped and peaked and dropped and I’m going to come back to fiber But the other thing is protein is so critical and for that matter fats The way to balance our blood sugar is to couple each of those carbohydrate hits with protein fat fiber any of those all of those are actually going to slow that glucose Entry into our blood which will slow the insulin response.
Insulin is a storage hormone. It wants to get sugar out of the bloodstream quickly. So you feel a plummet in energy, a plummet in mood, like you said, I feel shit today. But it will also, because it’s a storage hormone and it’s getting it out of the blood, it’s storing it. We know this as fat storage or adiposity.
So, you know, really taking Empowering yourself to look at a meal and go, okay, so I’m going to have this from the morning tea. I’m choosing that cupcake, let’s say, but I’m also going to go and have the protein powder I keep in my top drawer or the handful of almonds or the avocado that I’ve stashed into my handbag on the way out the door.
You know, I’m not saying that every meal has to be considered, but there are really quick, easy ways that we can support that blood sugar and I see that make a massive difference. I don’t even treat anyone for mood. Disorders until I balance their blood sugars because I can’t I don’t know what I’m working with, you know You can feel anxious and depressed and angry very quickly.
I mean hangry. It’s a term in and of itself, right? Yeah, so balancing blood sugars is critical for women at all ages, but even more so When we’re talking about that declining oestrogen.
[00:21:51] Meegan Care: Yeah, so I found that through perimenopause I was more sensitive to the the blood sugar fluctuations and I you know, I’ll put my hand up to say that I did try intermittent fasting for a while and you know Some days it was actually okay, but then I would be say with a client and I’d be hungry Like at the quarter past there, and I wouldn’t finish till the hour.
And by that stage, I was fricking starving. And then when I did eat food, of course, what would happen? Cause I hadn’t eaten for that longer window and I was so much, but also I was so tired, became so tired afterwards because I had that, that rollercoaster. And I just found through experimenting or listening to my body that.
It’s actually that regularity of timing that that’s as well as those easy add ins that you’ve talked about, which is such a great tip. So simple, but so useful. Is timing important in terms of our meals?
[00:22:44] Tracy Cowley: Oh my gosh, you’re talking to a SIBO professional, so absolutely. But you talked about with intermittent fasting.
There is definitely a time and a place, but you might be interested to know that the vast majority of research that has been done on intermittent fasting and the benefits is done on men. Young athletic men for that matter. So applying that to, you know, all and sundry is it, it should, we need to stop having that approach of one size fits all.
And also take into consideration the level of stress that perimenopausal women are under is, is huge. It’s. It really needs to be recognized and, and coming from so many different areas, you know, whether it be that they’re at the height of climbing in their career or whether it be that the kids are teenagers and they’re not getting any, like the parents aren’t getting them, the women aren’t getting any sleep because the kids are up all night or out all night, or I don’t even want to go there.
My kids aren’t that age yet and I’m terrified. I don’t want to spy on them. I can tell you some stories. I’m sure you can, but I prefer not to hear them. You know, and often there’s divorces in the mix or, or deciding there’s a huge career change on the horizon, or I’m, I realize I haven’t been saving for retirement.
I mean, I could go on and on, right? But we understand that that stresses are really real in modern society. And when we intimate and fast, when your blood sugars drop. Where it actually has the potential to drive that cortisol level higher. So you’re actually worsening that situation. And it’s so common.
I also see people don’t just admit and pass. They go, well, can I still have my coffee? Yep. Sure. As long as it’s black. So then we shoot them up even higher. You know, it’s just this recipe. You asked me about Timing’s Everything when it comes to digestion, you will yeah, you’ll never hear me say that you should be grazing on food to keep your blood sugar level.
We should be able to fast overnight. I don’t call 12 hours intermittent fasting. It’s just not getting up for a midnight snack. Like, come on, if you can’t make it through 12 hours, then you need to eat more protein. Done and dusted. That’s, that’s a pretty quick fix. But. In terms of timing, so what I focus on a lot in clinic is something called the migrating motor complex, which is it’s effectively, I like to use the analogy of if you imagine that you didn’t clean your kitchen after breakfast, you just walked out the door after 90 minutes as a bare minimum, a maid comes in and cleans your kitchen for you as long as nobody walks into the kitchen, if so much as a cat, or let’s say if so much as a milky cup of tea, If anything comes into the stomach, that clock gets reset.
The maid won’t clean it. And so that cleaning process, that migrating rotoconflict strips. The upper digestive tract of all of the residue of bacteria, of food, of anything undigested and moves it through. It’s like a nerve impulse that, that wriggles down your upper digestive tract, your stomach and your small intestine and gets rid of anything that sits in there.
If you’re eating all the time, if we’re grazing consistently, so, you know, you get to meal and you’re having your cup of, sorry, you get to work, you’re having your cup of tea, you’re snacking on your bowl of almonds or your corn thins, or, you know, just a bit here and a bit there, then you’re not going to ever get that benefit of the migrating motor complex, which isn’t necessarily pertinent to you.
Perimenopausal woman. That’s just across the board. That’s what I, I’m promoting is please everybody take a break. Stop eating all the time. That’s so critical. And trust me, you don’t want to be on the, on the end of SIBO where you’re having to come and contact me because it’s not fun for anybody.
No one wants to be experiencing that level of bloating and discomfort that they’re having to treat. Yeah, I think that’s a tangent in terms of talking about timing, but I get very passionate about it because people will have this idea that six small meals a day will stabilize their blood sugars or something like that.
But ideally I’m wanting to see a three to four hour gap between meals. And
[00:26:54] Meegan Care: it’s a simple fix, right, you know, that we can incorporate into our life.
[00:27:02] Tracy Cowley: It doesn’t cost anything. There’s no supplement involved in that. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:27:06] Meegan Care: And speaking of, of supplements, I know that that’s in our, in our quick fit cult, quick fix culture.
There’s that sort of sense of all I’m experiencing this. What do I need? Do I need magnesium? Do I need this? Do I need that pill? Do I need what? What’s your, what’s your take on that for, for women?
[00:27:24] Tracy Cowley: It’s a hard one, I would say, in terms of answering that question, because, you know, as I mentioned, it can affect, like, there’s no convey about.
People don’t experience the same things. Do you know that 85 percent of women will actually experience symptoms of perimenopause? Which just makes it a huge industry for supplement companies and, you know, the wellness industry. I’d probably say, if you’re looking at treatment, like if you’re really wanting to make some changes, go get a full rundown of bloods from your GP or your naturopath, whoever your health professional is.
Find out if you’ve got raised inflammation markers, find out about your cholesterol, address what comes from those. If you’re talking specifically about hot flushes and night sweats or headaches or mood swings, there’s just such a range of products and the quality, I think, really ranges as well, unfortunately, I mean, in New Zealand, regulations, a whole nother conversation for another day, but looking at dosage on what you, what you do buy and probably not being quite so generic
if you’re confident in reading scientific studies. looking into the dosage that has actually been researched to get success for your symptoms. So for instance, let’s say you want to take sage because you’re experiencing night sweats. See what you can find online. I’m not talking about blogs. Go PubMed or Google Scholar, and say, and see the quantities, because oftentimes the quantities are significantly higher than what you’re going to pick up at the chemist’s warehouse, and you might dismiss it as not getting results.
When in reality, you needed to take twice as much or, you know, the quality of that product. It might not have been actually the medicinal form that was that has the research behind it. It’s a really hard one to answer because the number of symptoms that a woman can experience is so vast, which is probably why I whittle it down to focusing on inflammation in a really big way.
But I do, I do want to point out one thing that I think gets really undervalued. I see a lot of women in clinic who have been prescribed vitamin D because as they approach menopause without declining estrogen levels. There is concerns around osteoporosis. So you know, I, I celebrate that Pharmaceutical companies and that GPs are acknowledging the relevance of nutritional support in that respect.
However, when a woman or anybody for that matter takes high dose vitamin D without vitamin K27 Also being prescribed. So, vitamin D is important for the stimulation of osteoblastic cells to release a compound called osteocalcin, but that’s in an inactive form. Vitamin K27 is required to activate that osteocalcin and then actually put the calcium in the bone.
Excess vitamin D leads to excess osteocalcin, which then leads to a deficiency in K27. But K27 also removes calcium from soft tissues, and the reason that is so critical is because calcium in soft tissues translates to calcium in blood vessels, which is a calcification of blood vessels, and that’s the part that becomes incredibly dangerous for the cardiovascular system.
So I find it really concerning that women are being prescribed high doses of vitamin D in order to preserve their bone health. But not actually considering whether or not they’re actually getting that activated form of osteocalcin to put it into their bone. And potentially actually lending, leading them down the path of cardiovascular disease.
So in terms of a supplement, if you are on vitamin D, I would go out and get yourself a vitamin K27. Absolutely. And also request or demand that your GP is checking your vitamin D levels. You know, not just being on it and shrugging your shoulders and saying, Oh, well, I’m menopausal, so I have to be on this.
But I do, I see women who have been on it, you know, the one month dose, like, you know, the take it once a month dose. For years and years, and we have no idea what their vitamin D levels are. So it’s really critical that you… But they are measurable, right?
[00:31:35] Meegan Care: Absolutely. Blood test.
[00:31:36] Tracy Cowley: Yeah. Absolutely. As long as you’ve got a supportive GP.
[00:31:41] Meegan Care: Worth their weight in gold.
[00:31:43] Tracy Cowley: Aren’t they just? Yeah. Indeed. And if you don’t, get a
[00:31:48] Meegan Care: new one. Yes. Yes. But still, we can, we can seek and doors open. Wow. That’s so interesting. I had no idea about that. Around vitamin D. Makes sense though, right? Because we take something like that in isolation, but of course Yeah body doesn’t work that way.
[00:32:08] Tracy Cowley: We really don’t. Everything works in the team effort. And if you take one thing Yeah, you’re throwing out of balance everything else. It’s yeah. Yeah. I’m not saying that the vitamin D is bad I don’t want you to stop taking it, but I just want you to look further and deeper into it. Yeah.
[00:32:26] Meegan Care: Yeah yeah, definitely heard that from you are there any sort of misconceptions or myths around?
Gut health and or perimenopause that you want to shed some light on.
[00:32:41] Tracy Cowley: I guess one misconception I see in my clinic is, is the timeline and you probably have spoken about this. You know, with other, other speakers, but this idea of how long it should or will last, you know, the natural transition of perimenopause can actually last anywhere from three months to 10 or even 12 years.
I just don’t think that’s really spoken about in terms of when women are looking for treatment options. And what they’re coping with and also choices around HRT and, you know, understanding, I think, in New Zealand, we have a real culture of she’ll be right. And kind of shuttling it under the rug, like, Oh, no, I’ll just ignore that for a little bit longer.
But having that understanding that you could be looking at 10 to 12 years of a transition and an evolution of symptoms. I think it’s really important that that gets raised that you know, the length of time that, that some women can be looking at. And also, I’d probably say. It’s really important that we don’t just focus on hormones, that You know, that’s a bit of an outdated medical model, but successful aging is also about the role of stress and genes and inflammation and insulin, and we need to take a whole person into consideration, so it’s not just hormones, and it’s not just food, but it’s lifestyle, it’s sleep, it’s movement, it’s medications, environment, it’s their mental, emotional well being, and, you know, having that more broad approach to it, rather than going, oh, it’s just about my estrogen, and well.
Then assuming once I’m through this, everything should be right, I would prefer that we approach it from, from an inflammation perspective, because that’s actually more empowering if you actually look into what we can do for inflammation in terms of dietary changes, in terms of lifestyle changes, there’s a lot more there than there probably is in terms of, you phytoestrogens and what else do we have when we go on a Google search.
[00:34:42] Meegan Care: So that inflammation is a doorway to understanding the picture of where our body’s at right now and also where, where we’re headed. Yeah, that’s, that’s really helpful. And Yeah, I think you’re right around the perimenopause thing, and I know going through it myself, it was like, well, I just actually need to get these symptoms handled, and then I’ll be back to what I was, but , if we can take that broader view around, well, this is, yep, this doesn’t feel good, this feels pretty bad right now, but this is also an opportunity to really consider, well, Oh.
How do I want to be in my life? How can I support myself going forward? As I am entering this, this next stage, what’s going to be truly helpful here for my, my wellbeing over the next, however many decades I’m, I’m on this planet.
[00:35:36] Tracy Cowley: Yeah. I love that empowered approach of, of making choices of what, what actually serves me right now and what will serve me going forward.
[00:35:44] Meegan Care: Which is great and I’ll add a caveat to what I just said because actually when you’re in the middle of all those symptoms, like that’s really hard to get to, so it’s like, well, what do we need to do to, to bridge from if I’m feeling really bad, I’m really actually struggling to go to work and keep my relationship, you know, on talking level or whatever it is what, yeah.
I think for women to get that support so that they can sort of bridge and lift their health up enough so that then they can get to that place of probably what I was referring to before when we can think more broadly about our life. Yeah.
[00:36:24] Tracy Cowley: Are you asking me if I have the silver bullet to fix people? To fix everybody and menopause.
I’d be a lot richer if I did have that. Yeah, girl.
[00:36:38] Meegan Care: Yeah, that’s been really helpful, because I guess inflammation, if we’re looking at that picture, it’s it’s straightforward to track, right? We can see our inflammatory markers changing, and you can get a clear picture. When you have worked with women and with those perimenopause symptoms, what’s the sort of timeline for them in terms of, obviously, it’s You know, it’s not on and off.
It’s not bad, then good. But what am I looking at? A couple of months, three months, six months? What’s my sort of timeline if I’m, say, working with you to improve my health and improve the inflammation in my body to decrease it?
[00:37:21] Tracy Cowley: Yeah, I think because I see everyone through the lens of gut health, that’s probably a focus for me.
So the women that come to me, whatever life stage they’re at, they’re usually quite consumed and controlled by gut issues. So often the symptoms are, are really focused around that. And, What success looks like to me is a freedom from that control where their gut controls their mind. And I think that relates to menopausal women or perimenopausal women, I should say as well that, you know, their symptoms control their mind and they feel at the whim.
So for me, it’s having that freedom, like I mentioned before, you know, that you can just order freely from the menu when you’re out for drinks with a girlfriend or that just, I guess, experiencing less pain. And a big one would be joint pain. That kind of, that is a marker for success for me. It’s not just about those blood tests, but it’s when women say, Hey, I can actually go out and exercise because that was who I was.
I used to go hiking. I used to go biking and I couldn’t do that. And in terms of a timeline, I mean, how long is a piece of string? A huge, there’s going to be a huge variation in SIBO. I usually get relief in my clients within the first three weeks, meaning they get a break from that bloating, but that’s because we’re making massive diet shift and no longer feeding the bacteria, but that’s not a sustainable long term.
Target that that is really just a let’s get some quick relief and beyond that, the work then begins. And I would say anywhere from 6 months to a year. Like, I don’t want to give anyone false hope when we’re making. It’s a funny one. When we’re making changes with the microbiome, we can see change happen in 12 hours to the balance of our microbiome.
But we can also, you know, when we’re looking at healing something, unless we’re addressing what’s causing it so for instance, if we didn’t do that testing to understand which foods are driving inflammation, it’s going to be a lot slower and it’s kind of pushing shit up hill to be fair. So there’s, yeah.
There’s just such a wide variation in terms of what response we’re going to get. I have clients who have quit their jobs and made career changes or have, you know, maybe begun doing ocean dips first thing in the morning, that kind of thing, like really taken control of. Stressors in their life, which are a huge contributor to menopausal symptoms, to gut health symptoms.
And then I have women who just want to take the supplements and carry on status quo and recognize that they’re under massive stress, but I can’t do anything about it kind of mentality. So I really hesitate to put an answer to that because every woman and their willingness to make changes to their life is different.
If you wanted to go all in and say, yep, I’m going to completely revolutionize. I’m going to chew 20 times before I swallow. I’m going to wait four hours between every meal. I’m going to take these supplements religiously. Even the nasty tasting herbal bitters that Tracy seems to think are right for me, then I would expect to see results within months.
But it’s never a straight road. Healing journeys are so bumpy, aren’t they? Then there’s detours and tangents and, you know, traffic jams. Yeah,
[00:40:39] Meegan Care: absolutely. Absolutely. It’s good to get a an overarching kind of view and a realistic one as well, though. But there is. There is much that we can do to support ourselves been really helpful talking to you today, Tracy.
Thank you. If you wanted to, you know, what’s one last thing you’d want to share or, or offer somebody who’s listening? What, what are some sort of final words you’d want to leave them with?
[00:41:09] Tracy Cowley: I feel like I’ve been really pessimistic and given some really negative views. But there is actually, you know, this, this understanding that we are getting our heads around in terms of that lowered microbial diversity and the impact that has on gut health and, and that, you know, gut permeability picture.
There is so much that we can do to improve that, and it doesn’t need to all come from a bottle, you know, and cost us money. There are really real shifts that we can make to support it. And I guess I would like to pass on the, ah, there’s sort of, it’s so much I’m trying to find the nutshell or, you know, understand what that nugget is to, to pass on.
I guess reaching out and asking for help. I think it’s great that we’re in a time and, you know, generation where it’s normalized to say, Hey, I’m struggling and this is crap and I’m not enjoying this part of my life and not feeling supported. And I think it’s really important that you say those words and find the support.
And if. If it means going to see Megan and having those conversations, then do that. If it means that gut health is your primary concern, then see someone like myself. If it means you know, if you’re really struggling day by day with hot flushes and night sweats, then, then, you know, seek out a herbalist or naturopath that specializes in this area.
There is so much support out there now. But you do need to go and speak to some people who really aren’t just trying to make a quick buck off you, you know, who actually really specialize in this area. Yeah, I hope that that’s empowering at the end of feeling like I’ve said lots of, it’s hard, it’s hard kind of messaging.
[00:42:55] Meegan Care: Oh look, if anyone’s listening to this and they’re in perimenopause and they’re experiencing those symptoms, I think more likely they’re going to feel like somebody’s seeing them and meeting them where they’re at. Because whilst we are in that generation where we’re starting to be much more open around menopause, thankfully, so, so good, so many women are still struggling quietly, you know?
And, and just trying to hold it all together. So I really appreciate your honesty and your transparency. And because it’s from that place that we can then actually, like you said, exactly like you said, ask for help. You don’t need to do this by yourself. Yeah. Yeah. So how can people get in touch with you if they’re interested in finding out more about how potentially you can help them with their own health journey?
[00:43:50] Tracy Cowley: Sure I’m on Instagram and my handle is at guthealthnaturopath and I’m primarily putting up information around women, like I said, women who’ve had a guts full of gut ache. I just really, that’s the majority of what goes up there. I have a website, newleafhealthclinic. co. nz and yeah, I am starting to run programs.
So at the moment, I’ve got my first woman going through a program called Misery Guts Anonymous, which is a 12 week program that takes people out of bloating and gut ache and back into having that freedom to have their minds back, have their guts back, have that opportunity to just live their lives. So I think the way that most people will find me is gethealthnaturopath on Instagram.
[00:44:42] Meegan Care: Beautiful. Thank you, Tracy. And I’ll put the links to the show notes. So if people are interested, they can just go and find you through those links if they can’t, or find you on Instagram. It’s been a really amazing education for me. I actually, I feel, I feel inspired and, and I don’t know why I want to say revived.
I think it’s just that, that freshness of getting back to basics, getting away from all of the you know, all that. Cause I research perimenopause and menopause online. How many fricking lose the meno belly, belly fat, eight week detox BS. Do I see now because now they’re following me around. So what I want to say, what I want to say to wrap up is that thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your just, you know, fantastic professional approach to helping people with their gut health.
Really appreciate you. Thank you, Tracy.
[00:45:45] Tracy Cowley: Oh, Megan, you’re too kind. It’s really great to chat and hope we get to connect again soon.