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Improving Gut Health

Written by Laura Roe Stevens

Gut health is key to maintain proper digestion—as well as to ward off a myriad of illnesses. In fact, it is recognized throughout the medical community that gastrointestinal (GI) imbalances can create, or aggravate, a host of symptoms including: migraines, allergies, yeast infections, constipation and/or diarrhea, skin rashes, brain fog or memory issues, and even autoimmune flare-ups.

So what causes the gut to be out of balance? And how can you best reestablish a healthy flora—the balance between the “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria—in your gut? Perhaps your physician or nutritionist has recommended a probiotic for your irritable bowel disease, migraines or other issues? How do you know if the probiotic you choose will be right for you?

We asked David Chung, MD, a Torrance Memorial gastroenterologist, to talk about symptoms and causes of GI imbalance, treatment options and the best sources for probiotics.

What causes the GI tract to not function optimally?

There are microorganisms in our GI tract that help us, and others that do not. The GI tract is a barrier from the outside world. It keeps in check the pathogenic bacteria you can get sick from. If you lose that balance of flora, you can end up getting sick. When the GI tract works properly, it produces beneficial substances that help intestinal cells function properly—and even reduce pain by bolstering pain receptors to modulate our pain perception. A healthy gut can also reduce inflammation, assisting those with irritable bowel, colitis and other autoimmune diseases.

How do you strengthen the healthy microorganisms in the gut?

You want to feed the beneficial microorganisms. A healthy diet—low in sugar, high in fiber, with fruits and vegetables—is important. You also want to reduce stress and anxiety, as there is a brain-gut interaction. When we are stressed with cortisol flowing at high levels, our GI tract is not optimal. There needs to be a holistic approach.

What about probiotics? What are they? Do we need them?

Probiotics are the healthy gut microorganisms you can ingest in pill or powder form. A physician may want to introduce probiotics if there is a clear gut imbalance. There are many different strains of these helpful microorganisms, including B. infantis (which helps with irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea), S. boulardii (infectious diarrhea), Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (traveler’s diarrhea and infectious diarrhea) and Lactobacillus casei (chronic constipation). Not all probiotics are the same, and different strains of the bacteria have different effects.

There are so many probiotic products on the market. How do you know which one to choose?

That’s a good question. I’d say, consult with your physician and/or nutritionist. Many probiotics on the market have different strains of good bacteria. One needs to be selective in choosing a probiotic that will work for the specific condition or symptoms. The good news, however, is taking probiotics is quite safe. With that said, if you have HIV or cancer or are taking immunosuppressant medication, you must consult with your physician.

Probiotics to the Rescue!

After Jane Harris, a 74-year-old grandmother, contracted a flu bug from her grandson two years ago, she began losing weight. The 5’4” slim woman dropped 20 pounds due to chronic diarrhea, weighing in at a mere 89 pounds. She also developed atrial fibrillation and spent two days at Torrance Memorial Medical Center. Many tests were run by a rheumatologist, nurse practitioner oncologist, gastroenterologist, cardiologist and primary care physician. According to Jane, they could find no definitive reason for the sudden weight loss.

Things shifted for the better, however, when she was referred to Torrance Memorial’s Outpatient Medical Nutrition Therapy Department. Dani Rodriguez-Brindicci, MS, RDN, treated Jane for several months, putting her on a probiotic to ease the chronic diarrhea and assisting with her diet.

“After working with Dani for several months, I started to gain weight. She was so understanding and listened to all my concerns and fears,” she said. “I learned so much about nutrition, and after each appointment she recommended new food choices, discussed how often I should be eating and prescribed a probiotic, which I took for over a year. I remember how thrilled I was after I had gained 10 pounds. She explained gaining weight is often as difficult as losing weight. I left each appointment with recommendations, resulting in continued weight gain. When I had gained over 10 pounds, she strongly recommended I go to a trainer and start yoga classes to regain the strength I had lost.”

Jane continued to work with the nutrition department until August 2019, later seeing Debra Nessel, RD, a certified diabetes educator. Today Jane weighs her ideal weight of 110 pounds, eats plant-based meals, no dairy and works with a trainer three times a week.

“Dani and Debra changed my life. I will be forever grateful for their support during a most difficult time in my life. My appetite is now out of control—meaning I am hungry all of the time! This is also very good news! Stomach issues are completely gone as well. These two were like an encyclopedia of nutrition!”

David Chung, MD, is a gastroenterologist and practices at 23451 Madison Street, Suite 290, in Torrance and can be reached at 310-375-1246.

Dani Rodriguez-Brindicci, MS, RDN, is the director of clinical nutrition at Torrance Memorial. To schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Outpatient Medical Nutrition Therapy Office, located in the Torrance Memorial Specialty Center, call 310-891-6707 or visit