I’m not going to lie, I may be a little bit obsessed with gut health. In fact, I talk about it so much at home that my husband and our friends have turned it into a drinking game. And no, I’m not kidding. But I kind of can’t help myself because it is a hugely important topic that is so critical to our overall health, especially if you’re a woman over 40 who’s trying to lose weight and get healthy.

And if you’re excited to learn more about how to keep your gut healthy, you are going to love this guest interview with Megan Lyons. She’s a double board certified holistic nutritionist, and she has some super helpful and practical tips to share about, yep, you guessed it: Gut health, my favorite topic in the whole world.

So buckle up, friend, because it’s about to get nerdy.

Megan Lyons is a holistic nutritionist who is the founder of Lyons Share Wellness, where she teaches about gut health, thyroid health, and so much more.

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And let me tell you, Megan not only knows her stuff, she actually explains it in a way that makes it so easy to understand, which I think makes it way more helpful. And so without further ado, I am so excited to be able to introduce you to our interview guest, Megan Lyons. 

Ruth: Megan, thank you so much for being here. It’s so great to have you. Let’s just start by getting a little background, who you are, what you do and how you got to doing what you are now. 

Megan: Of course. So like most of us, I have kind of a winding journey that in hindsight looks like it all flows together.

But it didn’t feel like that all the way at the time. I started out actually in the business world. I studied economics at Harvard and I got an MBA and I was working in management consulting and I really liked it. It was fun. But during that, I had my own personal health journey that basically resulted in me burning out.

I was burning the candle at multiple ends. I was over exercising. I didn’t know how to nourish my body. I was really getting my health information from magazines at the time, which sounds archaic now, but there was no Instagram. I didn’t know how to access PubMed. So I was doing all the things they said.

And at 23, I walked into a doctor’s office who thankfully tested my hormones, which is actually pretty progressive looking back, and she said, “Your hormones are lower than the postmenopausal women that I see. Something must be wrong. You must just have to be on medication for the rest of your life.” And I just knew right then that if I had gotten myself into this situation that I could also get myself out of it.

So that started me learning more about true health and nutrition. And once you find it, it’s just really hard not to share it. So I ended up leaving that in 2014 and starting my business, the Lyons Share, and haven’t looked back since.

Ruth: Amazing. I know exactly what you’re talking about. Once you discover that and your eyes are opened, you’re like, why doesn’t everybody do this? 

It’s interesting that your doctor would have tested your hormones when you were only 23 years old, like kudos, but then she immediately went to just put you on medication for the rest of your life.

Megan: That’s right, and I’m actually grateful, looking back, that she did test the hormones, as we said, but I also understand that at that point, it was abnormal and it was not discussed for a 23 year old young woman to actually have the symptoms that I was having and to tie it to anything aside from, oh, genetics. 

I think functional medicine and all the related fields have come so far since then that these days it might feel a little bit more normal to think, “Oh, hormones, is there a lifestyle issue? Is there a nutrition issue? But back then it just wasn’t taught and wasn’t thought of. 

Ruth: So where did that journey take you then? What did you do first? And what were the hormonal issues that you were having and how did you figure out how to fix them? 

Megan: Absolutely. So the hormonal issues I was having, I hadn’t had a period for over 12 months. So, that’s the official definition of menopause, which I was 23 and there had to be a different cause other than age related menopause.

But even more drastic was just the way I felt. I’ve never been someone since then or before who feels like I have brain fog. I’ve always been a high energy person, but I would describe it to my husband and those close to me as like, “There’s someone living in my head that just is making me be in a bad mood and making me tired and I don’t want to be that.” I felt very disconnected from my body in a way that I just didn’t know how to pinpoint what it was.

And it turns out it was a confluence of factors. It wasn’t just estrogen and progesterone, but also my thyroid was off and cortisol, which is the stress hormone that kind of controls a lot of these, that was off. So my whole endocrine system was a little wacky, but the second part of your question was, what did I actually do?

I’ve always been a reader. I read so much for pleasure and for education. So I really dove into some books and that led me to conferences, which at the beginning of my journey, that was such fun. I would do business during the week, and then I would go escape to this weekend conference where I would just learn this whole other side of the world, and that’s what eventually lit me up and caused me to jump ship from the old career.

Ruth: So then how long did it take for you to start feeling better? Like, did you see the difference right away? What did you change? What did you do? 

Megan: Yeah. I wish the answer was yes. It would be a much better story if it was like, I just added blueberries and then within two weeks, I felt amazing, but it wasn’t that way for me and fortunately, or unfortunately, I don’t think it’s that way for most people, even the ones that I see with more knowledge these days.

So in total, it probably took me a solid year and a half to almost two years to really feel like myself. I felt marginally better, or I would even have said then mostly better within probably two to three months. But looking back, everything didn’t start firing again because I had dug myself so deep into a hole.

I also wasn’t willing to go all in back then. So I’ll tell my clients dealing with similar issues right now. “Okay, if we could just take you out of your life with like, no kid stress, you’re going to quit work for a while, you’re not going to keep the house, you’re just going to go live on a beach in Tahiti and eat organic food that you grew in your backyard.

“Well, you could probably heal a little bit quicker, but most of us are not willing to do that or able to do that.” And I certainly had one toe into the healing because I really believed in it, but also one toe back in my old life, because I like being that hard charging person.

And even today, I still constantly get to check myself because I know I can easily revert to that person who will sleep when she’s dead and will overwork and will do all these things. That does still light me up if I’m totally honest. I just know better now that it’s not good. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour that it seems to have in my head.

And it always leads me feel worse. So, I don’t know if that was an answer to your question, but that was part of my journey. 

Ruth: No, it was. And I think it’s so good to actually touch on that because I think a lot of times, people want a quick fix. And you always have to think, you didn’t get to where you are right now overnight. And healing yourself and healing your body, especially because you still have life… You still have all these other influences that are coming in. It’s hard to change everything all at once.

It’s a process of healing. And it sounds like that’s how it was for you. So tell us a little bit more about what you do, what you do now and where your level of expertise is. Cause you’ve got all these holistic nutrition degrees and done all these things.

You seem a little type A, can I say that? 

Megan: You can say it and I will accept it. When you go all in, you’re like, I’m going all in. So I do like to go all in. My business side would say, “Oh, Megan, you’ve got to have a niche. You have to have one specific specialty. And my heart says there are so many people out there that are right for you that have a variety of different conditions.”

And I’ve followed my heart, honestly, in this business. So I don’t have one specific type of client that I work with. I have a team of functional nutritionists as well that work with me. And we work with everyone from someone who might be 25 and just starting to learn about health… It’s like me back in the day… all the way up to our oldest client who has been 87.

But I would say the bulk of people we work with, probably 70 to 80 percent of our clients, are those women in their forties or maybe late thirties, maybe early fifties, maybe sixties, even who are just starting to feel like their body doesn’t work the same as it did before, that they’re doing the same things and they’re eating the same, maybe even better.

And they’re sleeping and they’re trying to check all the boxes, but something’s a little bit off. And so for me, it’s really fun to have that be like a detective puzzle. Is it the thyroid? Is it the gut? Is it the way that they’re feeling and they just don’t know how to fuel? Like I didn’t know back when I was 23, but that’s the characteristic that attracts me to a person or attracts a person to me, someone who says, “I’ve tried all the things and I’m still not feeling optimal.”

Ruth: I love that. So what do you find within that kind of population? The bulk of your clients that you see in that late thirties to let’s say early sixties range, what’s your first suspicion? Do you have a hierarchy of what it usually is? 

Megan: Yes, that’s such a great question. I love it. I would probably say that if I had to choose one, it usually starts in the gut. I believe almost all of the issues that we’re dealing with today start in the gut.

So a lot of people now are saying, Oh, no, well, it’s not my gut. I’m regular. And even then I might probe a little bit deeper and they’re like, yeah, I’m regular. I have a bowel movement every four days. And it’s kind of pebbly and dry. But that’s not regular, by the way, but we might not feel like their digestive symptoms are their worst symptoms.

I do find though that almost always when we focus on reducing that inflammation in the gut, then we can focus on some of the other symptoms. So gut would probably be number one. Honestly, with this demographic, I’m going to say thyroid is probably going to be number two. A lot of people say, Oh, it must be my thyroid.

And they don’t really know, but oftentimes they’re right. Our modern food society is set up. not for supportive or for healthy blood sugar. And so that can be the root of a lot of the issues as well. So the third, if I had to choose a third, it would be blood sugar, which is getting more and more talked about these days.

Ruth: So let’s go back to gut health because that’s such a big one for people and I think that it’s starting to get talked about a little bit more. But I don’t think it gets talked about nearly enough. So how does that become the thing that’s affecting everything else in your body? Can you explain that a little bit more? Like, why is it so crucial? 

Megan: Absolutely. So the gut should be like a screen door that has the tiniest little holes in it possible.

So we’re not trying to let any bugs in our house with our screen door. We’re not trying to let any food particles into our bloodstream from our gut. And that’s why the gut is this semi permeable lining. Only escaping through the gut lining should be little micronutrients, maybe some vitamin C or maybe some other kind of supportive things that our blood can carry where it needs to go.

But when we have stress, when we have toxic exposure, when we have excessive ultra processed foods, when we have alcohol, when we have antibiotics, this whole long list of things, that gut lining just starts becoming like a really old screen door that now the holes are much bigger and more stuff can escape through.

And when stuff, like a whole chunk now of broccoli or whatever food you eat, gets into the bloodstream, your body mounts this attack on it. Your immune system comes into play and that creates inflammation. And inflammation now we know has been connected to cancer and type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease, all these things where inflammation is actually a contributor.

If it happens in a small area, like if I sprained my ankle and my ankle gets inflamed, that’s helpful. But when our gut is having these issues and creating all this inflammation, that’s when all the symptoms start. So if we can just focus on healing up that gut lining, then we can reduce the inflammation and get the body back to a baseline and then figure out what other downstream impacts or situations we need to resolve.

Ruth: So how does somebody know if they have gut issues? You said people think, “Oh, my poop is regular,” but like, can you tell by your poop? Or is it other things you should look at? Or what are the big signs? 

Megan: Yeah, really great question. So I can say you can tell your gut is not healthy by your poop.

And so a healthy bowel movement should be that we’re having it one to three times per day. Going to the bathroom one to three times per day, people think that’s a lot. People think every one to three days is more normal, but it’s not. And it should be able to have a bowel movement without coffee, laxatives, any of that kind of stuff. 

Now I love coffee, so I’m not saying you have to give up coffee altogether, but we can’t rely on that to have a bowel movement every day. And people can actually Google something called the Bristol Stool Scale– which you’ve never wanted to see so much poop all in one picture– but it should look like that number four. The Bristol Stool Scale has one to seven. And number one is more like pellets, like little teeny pellets. And number seven is like diarrhea and four is right in the middle. I like to refer to it as frozen yogurt consistency, although that turns people off from frozen yogurt.

So I’m sorry but that’s what it should look like. And we should have it one to three times a day. So if it’s not that, and you know what, let’s be honest. Everyone has times that it’s not exactly like that. So if it happens once or twice, please don’t freak out. But if you know, “Oh my gosh, every single time it’s diarrhea or whatever, then you know, your gut is not healthy.”

But let’s say you are that person who has one number four bowel movement every single day on the stool scale. So you’re like, Oh no, it’s not me. A couple other really common things I see: Number one, skin issues. So skin is directly reflective of gut health. For a lot of my clients who are dealing with eczema or rosacea or acne, even adult acne, this can be a manifestation of poor gut health.

Also brain fog is one of the most common things that I see. So I had brain fog back when I was going through my health journey. And that was an indication to me that something was off, but people who just feel like, you know, I’m just not as sharp. I just can’t focus as much as I used to be able to focus.

And then things like chronic cravings, like I am eating healthy foods, and I still just can’t keep my hand out of the candy jar there. That is probably an indication that you’re not absorbing your nutrients well enough and so you’re having these cravings. So a lot of people think, “Oh, you got to take a probiotic, right?”

Ruth: That’s good for your gut. Like, is that all you have to do? Or what are the steps to get your gut healthier if you feel like it’s not healthy. 

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. So I would say that probiotics had their heyday where every single person said that everyone needs to be on a probiotic and then they were kind of vilified like, “Oh, my gosh, no, don’t do probiotics.”

And I tend to fall somewhere in the middle where I actually think most people would benefit from a probiotic. If they’re not consuming a lot of fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi and real pickles and kefir and tempeh. There are all kinds of different fermented foods where in most cultures, they have historically consumed fermented food as part of their regular diets. We don’t eat a lot of that on a daily basis. So most people I think would benefit from a probiotic. But there are some of these conditions like SIBO, which is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, where the bacteria kind of go up too far into the small intestine.

And a probiotic might even make that worse. So this is why some people are cautious. But I would say that most people know that if they take a probiotic and their symptoms get worse, then that’s probably not the best for you. Otherwise, if you’re not eating fermented foods, that could be a good move for you.

But there are many other things, like you said, and one of them is reducing the inflammatory content of our food. Most of our food these days is packaged and ultra processed and I am certainly not perfect here even though this is my job. I’ve definitely had packaged food in the past 24 hours, even though I really try to prepare almost all of my food. But I’m human and it’s 2024 and that’s okay.

However, in order to stay shelf stable, in that packaged food is a lot of products that are irritating to our gut. So if you look at the label you’ll see chemical soup and you can think of that as irritating to your gut.

And then things like added sugar and alcohol. And even to some extent, gluten and dairy, which I don’t think everyone has to eliminate gluten and dairy altogether. But if we look at the average American consuming 8 to 14 servings of gluten per day in total, that’s a lot. That’s too much for the average person’s gut health. So when we think about all these things coming together, and then the lack of Anti inflammatory nutrients, foods like vegetables and fruits and healthy fat and water and even meditation and stress relief, our diet is pretty lopsided. 

I have a handout for my clients, which is like a see saw. I just say, where’s your see saw tipped? Are you more to the inflammatory side or more to the anti inflammatory side? And then we just choose little things. Okay, can we add one more vegetable to your day? Can we add some berries with your breakfast? Can we swap that candy bar for whatever else, another whole food? It’s just these little tweaks that get us back to the basics that really can support our gut health.  

Ruth: Interesting. So if you’re making little tweaks, I would assume that your progress is going to go slower, right? And then if you’re going all in, how long would it take to go from like, my gut’s a mess to I got a rockin healthy gut. What is the timeframe on that?

And what’s the quickest you could heal your gut?  

Megan: Well, those are two different questions. The quickest you could heal your gut, like all in, true type A form… I’m gonna surprise people probably on the underwhelming side and say three months. Because our gut lining actually turns over quite quickly, depending on the type of cells. Within a week for many of the types of cells in our gut lining, so we can start feeling a difference very quickly. But to totally repair a leaky gut with intestinal permeability, and to totally reduce that inflammation, I’m going to say three months is the shortest time.

And then let’s say, you’re like me with one toe in the healing and one toe in my old lifestyle. If I had had full information, even without going all in, I think I could have done it in six months knowing now what I do. So I think three to six months for most people. Set your sights on that. And we do want to feel better.

If you don’t feel better at all within two weeks, then that’s not the right protocol for you. But just set your sights on a little bit longer term to feel fully better.  

Ruth: That’s good to know. I feel like that’s a good timeline. It’s hard to make any real significant change in your body in less than three months. Because it all works together and it’s all connected. Speaking of being all connected, let’s talk a little bit about thyroid as well, since that’s such a huge issue. So if gut is the first line of defense, thyroid is next most common.

How do you know if you are having some sort of thyroid issue or what makes you suspect that?  

Megan: Well, I think thyroid issues are very difficult because number one, they are still underdiagnosed, even though they’re being talked about more. Most practitioners will just test a TSH, which people have seen on their lab work, and that’s not even a thyroid hormone.

That’s a hormone secreted by your pituitary that alerts your thyroid to produce the thyroid hormones. So if we’re just testing that, we’re really missing the intricate details of what’s going on in the thyroid. But also because the symptoms are so overlapping and many people are getting gaslit because some of the symptoms like bloating, constipation, fatigue, stubborn weight gain or inability to lose weight, insomnia, brain fog… these can be brushed off as like, “Oh yeah, everyone feels that way. That’s normal.” And normal in this case is not optimal. So maybe yes, the average woman does have brain fog and constipation and inability to lose weight, but that’s not what we should be striving for.

So it’s not optimal. And without a major sign, like, eczema where there’s a visual manifestation and someone can look at that and say, yes, that’s eczema with thyroid disorders, we don’t diagnose the dysfunction. And we don’t always even have that. So I think it’s pretty tough for people to get appropriate attention.

And it’s super, super common these days because of all of the stress that we’re under and are changing food supply and all those things. Up to 60 percent of people who have a thyroid disorder or condition don’t even know they have it.

Ruth: Wow. Really? 

Megan: Yeah. Thyroid medication is one of the most prescribed medications out there. 

Ruth: So do you think the only way to definitively tell is to get a blood test or have your thyroid tested? I mean, if I take your question for the words that you said, that’s the only way to definitively know.

Megan: Yes, I do think it’s a blood test. So I like to order lab tests only based on my client’s appetite for them. If I had my own way and lab tests were free, I would run all the lab tests on every single person because more information is better for me. But some people, they feel over tested or that it’s not financially feasible or many other reasons why people wouldn’t want to get a test.

So there are many things that would be supportive of a thyroid condition that honestly don’t hurt otherwise, like selenium and zinc are thyroid supportive nutrients really focusing on stress and sleep management is big so we can make some progress even if we don’t officially know. But I think at the end of the day, the only way to definitively know is to run that full thyroid panel, not just the TSH.

Ruth: Gotcha. But say you do know that you have a thyroid issue, maybe you’ve been tested, maybe you go to the doctor, they test you, they say, yep, it’s a thyroid issue and immediately they’re going to want to put you on Synthroid or something similar, right? So what’s your approach to that? I’m assuming you take more of a holistic approach.  

Megan: Yeah, so I do. But again, it depends on the client. And sometimes I’ll talk to their primary care provider. And other times we’ll just let the client be the intermediary. Some people are like, I feel so bad right now. I want to take medication and I’ll work on actually healing my body.

And that’s okay. It’s totally their perspective. Other people are like, No, let’s give it a shot. If I can start feeling better in three months, then I can avoid the medication. And that’s also great. I know that in the vast majority of cases, we can get people feeling better even without medication. And that’s amazing.

But sometimes medication is helpful. My only problem with medication is when practitioners slap it on the person without even giving them a consideration or trying anything else. That’s where I think we’ve gone wrong. I don’t think medication is all evil though. No, it’s not all evil, but there’s a lot that is.  

Ruth: I don’t disagree with that. Big pharma is not my favorite. I talk about that a lot. So what are the general lifestyle changes that you would recommend somebody, especially a woman in their forties, fifties, sixties, to make, to just overall feel better?

Megan: Yes. So I have a button that’s just outside of arm’s reach, but I call it my magic button. It doesn’t actually do anything, unfortunately, but I’ll show it to my clients and be like, if I could change one thing that would make the most difference in your health, what would it be? And I promise you 99 times out of a hundred, they know what it is. Maybe it’s that I haven’t exercised in 10 years, or maybe it’s, I’m over exercising.

Maybe it’s, I really am not sleeping or I’m taking too much metaphorically on my shoulders, or I’m staring at a screen 14 hours a day, or I’m in this toxic relationship. Almost always they know the biggest thing. And so then my job is to help them break it down and figure out how do we actually take action?

Because knowledge without action is not really that helpful. But it’s hard. Let’s say someone’s issue is stress. Well, that’s much easier said than done. It’s not just like, Oh, stop being stressed. Well, goodness knows they’ve thought of that before. We just have to figure out how to do it. It’s our lifestyle these days where we all think we’re super women… and I do too.

And we think we should do all of the things all of the time. And that just doesn’t usually lead to a healthy lifestyle or body. So number one is the magic button. What is your thing that we can start making a little bit of progress on? Number two is probably related for most people, which is carving out some time in the day for you.

And I know all of the reasons why people’s alarm bells are going off saying they can’t, maybe they have a lot of kids and they’re working and all of these things, but all of us are human and we do need that little time in the day. One of the major things that helped me in my healing process was my morning routine.

I love it in the morning. I don’t think it has to be in the morning, but that’s my time. I literally have this pink blanket and I like to cozy up even in the Texas summer and I read and I do gratitude and I do these things that don’t take very long, but they’re soul fulfilling for me. So for some other people that might mean they have a conversation with their best friend on the phone every day when they’re walking or they take a bath, which is not my thing, but it’s amazing if it’s someone else’s.

Just something little, a few minutes per day that you can carve out for you. And then third, since I think you asked for three, or maybe I just make everything into three, would be to really focus on those vegetables. I know that everyone has heard this. And I know everyone thinks they should be eating more.

But when I have people in for the first time and I say, Oh, are you eating vegetables? They’re like, Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I get to the more sexy stuff. And then I give them this little post it note. And I say, every time this week that you have a vegetable, just give me a little tally and inevitably they’ll come back and they’ll be like, Oh my gosh, I thought I was eating really healthily.

And there are only two on this tally for the week. So I do think that focusing on that and not only what we’re taking out, like the sugar and all of that kind of stuff, but adding in those vegetables would be my third. 

Ruth: Love it. Love it. Such good advice. So Megan, how can somebody find you to find out more about helping them with all of these things?

Megan: Everything is linked on my website, theLyonsShare.org. I’ve been blogging every week since 2013,  so there’s a lot of free information up there. If someone just wants to search we have some fun freebies and then all the links on how to work with our team are up there as well.

Ruth: Awesome. I love it. Thank you so much for being here, Megan. This was so helpful and so informative. 

I hope that you found this topic as fascinating as I did. And if you know someone else who might be interested, please be sure to send it their way!

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