Holistic Healthline Interview with Dr. Aimee Shunney
Dr. Aimée is a naturopathic physician in private practice since 2001, currently at Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine in Santa Cruz, California.
She completed her undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University where she graduated cum laude with a BA in psychology and minors in theatre and women’s studies. After several years of working with teens in residential treatment facilities, she returned to school for her postgraduate pre-medical coursework, and then attended the National College of Naturopathic Medicine where she received her naturopathic medical degree. Dr. Aimée continues to pursue additional postgraduate education with the Institute for Women’s Health and Integrative Medicine, International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health, Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, and others. She is licensed to practice medicine by the state of California.
In addition to seeing patients, Dr. Aimée has served as a consultant to the natural products industry since 2011. A dynamic educator, radio personality, and writer, she is on a mission to empower people to take charge of their health with integrative medicine. Whether she is hosting local events, or presenting nationally, her engaging style, emphasis on individualized treatment, and passionate belief in radical self-care make her an audience favorite.
And welcome back to Holistic Healthline the direct line to great health. And we are so thrilled today to have the guest, Dr. Aimee Shunney, who is a naturopathic doctor and actually, she was voted has been voted the best naturopathic doctor in Santa Cruz County in California since 2010. Oh my god. That’s I mean pretty awesome. I mean, particularly a specializes in women’s health, bio identical hormone balancing women with men, menopause issues and thyroid issues and stress men, which woman doesn’t have stress management, as well as digestive health issues. And earlier in Holistic Healthine. Today we had a person call in and ask us or email us ask us was the microbiome and central important part of health? And it was like the perfect question for our guest today. Dr. Shunney, welcome to holistic Healthline
Dr. Aimee Shunney 1:11
Well thanks. Thanks for having me. It’s really great to talk with you this morning.
Dr. Shunney. Yeah, we had this caller earlier asking about the microbiome and is it essential to good health? Can you just for and for any new listeners that might be just tuning into Holistic Healthline? Can you tell them? What is the microbiome? What are we talking about?
Dr. Aimee Shunney 1:37
I know I was like, 20 years ago, when I was in medical school, we we didn’t even really have that term yet. We weren’t even talking about it. We were talking about gut balancing gut function. And as a naturopathic doctor, we were always taught that you always think about the gut first, right? But when I go back, and I really think about what what they were teaching us and what we were learning, it wasn’t so much on our radar that it was the microbiome that was so incredibly impactful. And the science has just absolutely ballooned in the last couple of decades. So, so the gut microbiome is made up of trillions, trillions, okay, trillions of bacteria, fungus, other microbes, viruses in the gut microbiome plays this incredibly crucial role in our health, because it controls not only digestion, as you would imagine, but the way the science has really blossomed in the last few decades. And what we’ve really learned is that it’s not just digestion, that what goes on in the gut, the balance of the microbiome, and all those organisms that live there, is incredibly crucial for every organ system of our body. We now talk about the gut brain access and the gut skin access, the way in which you know, gut affects mood and inflammation modulates the immune system. And what we’re going to talk about today a little bit too, you know, how it affects even even hormones. And of course, the thing about gut health and all of the organisms there, the microbiome is that it’s so deeply affected by so many things every day, it’s such a dynamic organism in and of itself, right. So you know, how our genetics, how old we are, our weight, what we eat, what supplements we take, the amount of alcohol we drink, the drugs that we take, the stress that we’re under the environmental toxins, et cetera, et cetera, every single one of those things, impacts on our microbiome. So we have this very complex dynamic system that we’re learning more and more about every day. And yes, to your listener, it does in turn impact every single organ system in our bodies.
And it seems like, particularly now with, you know, the number of health issues that are going on with COVID, and everything else, as well as just the number of medications, people take the acid inhibitors, all these different kinds of things, it seems like the microbiome is always under attack.
Dr. Aimee Shunney 3:55
Yeah, it’s certainly it’s certainly I think, just like all of us in 2022, and all of the, you know, between the social media and the news and the the access, we’re, you know, the access with the with computers and screens and content, and it’s like, now more than ever, our microbiome is just like us are, you could think about it as under attack. I mean, maybe a more positive way to try to reframe it is just to say that now more than ever do we have to really try to understand what’s going on so that we can take care of ourselves and certainly, in my practice, as a doctor, I am constantly trying to talk to people about the importance of the things that they eat, the situations they place themselves under the supplements and medications that they take, so that they can try their best to support their gut health and the microbiome and create better health that way but yeah, like now more than ever. We are we we have to really work to create resilience, and it helped keep ourselves balanced.
So it did talk you’re talking about, again, trillions of these Yeah, critters crawling around. How do you influence that by like, you know, you take a probiotic everybody, even the mainstream now everybody’s keen on probiotics. So you add kind of like a, it’s to me, it’s like adding a drop of water in a lake. Like, how do you make a difference? You got trillions of these critters crawling around and you add a probiotic.
Dr. Aimee Shunney 5:32
Now, it can seem like a little like a drop in the bucket. Right. And certainly, I think the way the supplement industry has largely addressed this issue is, you know, that we’ll just pick, you know, a couple strains of bacteria. And we’ll just provide mega doses of these freeze dried organisms. And, you know, throw them at this organism, which has become this, you know, basic container for all of these organisms. I mean, you think these bacteria are smart, right? I mean, they’ve kind of evolved us to carry them around everywhere we go, right. It’s pretty amazing. But yeah, so So you know, the industry is like, take these mega mega doses of probiotics, and I agree with you, it is a little bit like, you know, it’s like, it’s a drop in the bucket, literally. So So I, in my mind, the way if we really want to influence what’s going on with the microbiome, and we want to influence health, we have to think about it in a more holistic way. So I do want to be before even let’s just talk about probiotics. But But obviously, we can go backwards after that and talk about, you know, there are dietary and lifestyle things that we can do to influence what’s going on in the gut, too. But when it comes to probiotics, I think what we have to we have to consider is how can I create more diversity in the gut, right? If there’s trillions of organisms, and I don’t want to just give one or two species at mega mega doses and cross my fingers and hope for the best. What I want to do is create an environment that is going to feed and grow all of these beneficial bacteria in a balanced way. And so you may have heard of something called prebiotics. prebiotics are the things from our food, the breakdown products, from our food, the fibers, the poly phenols, the vitamins and nutrients that break out from our food, also called prebiotics. And in turn, those will feed the probiotics or the bacteria that we know that are so important in there, we tend to really think about the probiotic bacteria. But here’s the thing that I think a lot of people don’t necessarily get, and I’m not sure that I really got in school either. And that is that the importance of those bacteria is actually what they make for us. It’s not just their presence in the right amount and the right ratios. It’s what do they make for us. And Dr. O’Hirra’s, for example, probiotic that I love, which contains all of that food base as a prebiotic to feed the gut contains some of those bacteria and the probiotic and then contains the post biotic what they call post biotic metabolites, which I think is an ingenious word, which is what those wonderful bacteria make for us, B vitamins, vitamin K antioxidants, like glutathione, anti microbial products, right. So when you want to influence the microbiome, a probiotic really isn’t enough, what you need is all the good stuff to feed the bacteria prebiotic, you need the probiotic Sure. But hopefully, just the presence of the prebiotic helps your body feed more of your healthy bacteria. And then you need all that good stuff, that post biotic stuff that they make. The cool thing about, O’Hirra’s, and I know you guys love this product, too, is that it contains all of those things. So in my mind, it’s not even really a probiotic, right? It’s, it’s like a whole gut support system. And something like that is actually going to go in and create better balance alongside of course, you know, dietary lifestyle choices and things that you can do to to, to influence your microbiome as well.
And I think you made a key point when you said also, the Dr. O’Hirra’s also helps your own good bacteria in the digestive tract to help them thrive and to you know, proliferate and function better?
Dr. Aimee Shunney 9:25
Right? So when we were talking about what kind of is the more common probiotic support in the industry, just these mega doses of a couple species? We used to, we used to call those tourists, right? It’s like so you’re just taking tourists, they just come in, they have some influence that they spend their money, they have some influence in the environment, but then they they leave, you know, the vast majority of them don’t actually move there, wherever it is that they’ve traveled right. And when it comes to actually creating change in a person’s health and in a body’s health, we actually want some of these probiotic or bacterial tourists to stay Right, well, how do we get them to stay, we stay, we get them to stay, because, you know, they’re coming along with all of the things that help them grow and thrive. And so I love that, you know, I came across Dr. Heroes right after I graduated from med school in 2001. I was in a health food store in Fairfield, Connecticut. And I was just where I did my residency. And I was, I was looking at the probiotic shelves, and I picked up the O’Hirra’s, and I was like, this is this is different. This is different than everything else that’s on this shelf, it’s shelf stable. I’m gonna have to refrigerate it. Wait a minute, I thought I had to refrigerate all of these little organisms. Well, I don’t, right. And then it’s like, okay, this has this actually has the food for the bacteria. And it’s actually got all the good stuff that it made to actually support our own system. In my mind. I thought to myself, Okay, this is really interesting. It’s different. And I’m, I’m I’m intrigued. And then it’s fascinating. And 20 years later, you know, here I am talking about O’Hirra’s, and watching how the industry has actually moved. You know, you see lots of different companies starting to come up with similar ideas, right for how to get in how to feed the gut, we’ve got a whole industry of prebiotic supplements, you know, looking at how do we grow diversity in the gut. It’s really cool. What O’Hirra’s is doing and has been doing, you know.
It’s such a unique formula that it differentiates from all the others. And all in combined in one tiny little capsule, we need to take a quick break, and when we get back, there’s some terms that are being used. Now in the natural health world as far as probiotics, gut brain access, gut skin access is the different things that are floating around out there. Want to talk about that a little bit. When we get back, we’ll be back in a moment with Holistic Healthline and our special guests Dr. Aimee Shunney will be back in a moment. And welcome back to Holistic Healthline, your direct line to great health. And our special guest today is Dr. Aimee Shunney, who is a naturopathic physician currently at Santa Cruz, integrative medicine in Santa Cruz, California. And she’s sharing with us her expertise. And Dr. Shunney again, there’s there’s been terms being thrown out there now. The gut brain access the gut skin access. And there’s also another term that I don’t think a lot of people are familiar with the estro bolo. Can you help us with this?
Dr. Aimee Shunney 12:32
Absolutely. So yeah, I mean, you know, when it comes to gut, brain, axis, gut skin, gut mood, you know, you’ll hear these things, you know, thrown around, I think gut brain is one that maybe a lot of your listeners have heard. So it’s basically just alluding back to what I was saying in the beginning, what we both were saying in the beginning, which is just the the gut and the gut health, basically, through the way in which the gut communicates with the circulatory system. So you know, through liver health, digestive health through the gastrointestinal barrier, what the gut what the gut is doing health wise, what the microbiome is doing balance wise, is going to impact what’s going on the rest of the body, we know that the health of the gut greatly impacts anxiety levels, depression levels of cognitive function, the likelihood somebody will develop PTSD, these kinds of things are, you know, related to what’s called the gut brain access. So you know, what goes on in your gut really does impact your immune system, inflammatory levels, what your skin’s do in your mood. And we also talked a little bit about how it’s really affecting the way in which we make hormones, there’s actually a part of the gut microbiome. So it’s, it’s a grouping of those bacteria that we were talking about earlier, called the a strobe shalom, which is not something you order in an Italian restaurant, right. And this is a collection of bacteria in the gut, which is capable of basically metabolizing and modulating or balancing the amount of estrogen that’s circulating in the body. So it’s really the bacteria in the gut, that are managing all of the estrogen that’s being produced for men and women. By the way, this is not just a women’s health issue, the gut the bacteria in the gut manager and the strobe alone is crucial for our estrogen levels. And of course, you know, in both men and women, estrogen plays many vital roles, obviously, for female reproductive function, but you know, for everybody, it regulates body fat deposition, it is important for cardiovascular health, cognitive function, bone health, so replication, estrogen or estrogen receptors in every system of the body. So it’s really not just about sex and reproduction. So if you think about it that way, then if we’ve got dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the microbiome in the gut, that That is absolutely going to cascade over into the way in which we are producing and managing our hormones. And if estrogen production is disrupted, if there’s too much, if there’s too little, it can, you know, effect all of those processes I just mentioned and promote the development of certain diseases and conditions. So yet another reason to really make sure that our guts are happy and healthy.
Dr. Shunney, the everybody’s microbiome is unique, right, like a fingerprint where we all get this different bound?
Dr. Aimee Shunney 15:36
How does a one product help all these different biomes? balance out?
Dr. Aimee Shunney 15:44
Yeah. So I mean, there are predictable ways that our microbiomes get out of balance. And you’re completely right, that I liked that you use the term fingerprint, I mean, it is something that is really unique to each of us. And as I kind of tried to describe in the beginning, it’s not only is that unique to each of us, but even in each of us, it changes all the time. If you travel and go to a different place. If you spend a lot of time at somebody’s house, you know where you’re working, right, any environment you’re in, is going to impact your microbiome, what you’re eating, you change your diet, you, you know, it’s summertime, and you really focus on the local produce, and you really change your diet, that’s going to really impact you so, so it’s so dynamic and so easily affected and so unique to each of us. However, there are certain ways in which we can predict how somebody will fall out of balance. And if you go to certain types of doctors offices, naturopathic doctors, holistic, Doc’s integrative doctors, even testing that you can do to look at what, you know, not obviously, not every species, but you know, you can look at say, maybe 25, very common organisms, we expect to be there and see what they look like and what kind of bounce they’re in. So we have been able to learn a lot about what the body does when it comes out of balance. And what we’ve learned is that there are many foods, for example, that can feed the gut in a very positive way. You know, with O’Hirra’s, as we were talking about how, you know, the O’Hirra’s, bacteria are grown in these large bats for three to five years where the bacteria are fermenting, or basically feeding off of the fermentation products from all of those prebiotics that are put into those bats. Well, what are those prebiotics? Well, fruits, it’s vegetables, it’s fibers, it’s grains, it’s mushrooms. And when they get fermented, those bacteria are gobbling up all of those nutrients to make those amazing post biotic products. O’Hirra’s products have been shown to have over 500 different post biotic metabolites in them. So when we think about how can one product impact so many different micro biomes that are in their own level of balance and imbalance, it’s because it’s not really one product, right? It’s one product, but it’s one product that is containing hundreds of these beneficial nutrients and constituents that are going to help feed the body properly.
A new study just came out recently showing that the adding in good bacteria, the prebiotics, as well, is helping to actually help the digestive, endothelial lining to repair better, which is so important, again, in absorption of nutrients and just helping to fight off different diseases.
Dr. Aimee Shunney 18:32
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that gastrointestinal barrier, that epithelial lining, which by the way is one self fix, so the fact that it ever even works is a miracle, right? But you can imagine that it can also very easily get damaged with everything from stress to pesticides, to alcohol to medications, right? So anything that we can do to support the health of that of that barrier is crucial for all the things I mentioned earlier, like the gut brain access, right? Because when that barrier is functioning well, and it’s not too leaky, and the junctions are nice and tight, you’re not going to have large proteins and other substances getting out into the bloodstream causing an immune response, for example. So you know, having again microbiome microbiome, I mean, having good bacterial balance is going to modulate the immune system decrease in inflammation and absolutely support that gastrointestinal barrier and its health which which is a crucial, you know, transport point to the rest of the body.
Unfortunately, we have run out of time. Dr. Shunney, we want to thank you so much for joining us today. We want to remind everybody that Dr. O’Hirra’s are available at Vitamin Shoppe, Old Foods Sprouts, and other natural health retailers across the United States. You can also go to essentialformulas.com to find a retailer near you. Again, thank you so much for helping our audience understand how important microbiome is.
Dr. Aimee Shunney 20:00
Oh it’s my pleasure thanks for having me take care