When’s the last time you were asked, “What’s your gut say?” Did you instinctively check in to notice if you felt anxious, scared, thrilled or calm? Or is that mind-body connection more of a mystery? If you’re in the second camp, it’s possible you’re missing out on essential input from your second brain—and heart. Whether making an important decision or taking note of your overall health, it turns out your gut is a shortcut to understanding your mental and physical wellness.
On her own journey to cure her own slew of ailments, Aubrey Levitt, founder of Body + Eden, discovered just this. Originally from Texas, she was fortunate to grow up with parents who offered plenty of wellness resources: trips to vitamin stores, mindfulness techniques and stops at healthy food stores. But, a deep sense of fear and anxiety pervaded, along with months in the hospital, tons of antibiotics, a punctured lung and an aversion to most foods. Trauma, indeed.
When she started investigating the causes and cures for the myriad issues, her research pointed to one place: her gut. She followed the trail, learning about business and belly health along the way, uncovering that gastro goodness often leads to feeling better—everywhere.
Now, by combining probiotics and fermented herbs, she helps clients do the same, improving and supporting healthier tummies. Wondering how probiotics, bacteria and fermented herbs can help you? Check out Aubrey’s exploration below.
SBS: How did your discovery of the gut start?
Aubrey Levitt: When I was working in pharmaceutical advertising I had all sorts of gastro-intestinal and hormonal issues. So, I was looking for answers, seeing every practitioner I could.
So, five years ago I started taking herbal tonics and elixirs. I was investigating how looking at health from a different perspective could help me. I wanted to consider how we could nourish and build the systems up in the body so they could operate optimally. I knew how to clean everything out, such as with cleanses. But I didn’t know how to build it back up to the point that it’s resilient. I don’t want to live in a bubble or on the cleanse yo-yo!
Because of my upbringing and those antibiotics wearing on my system so young, I didn’t feel like I had that resiliency. If I encountered stress, my balance was off. That eventually led me to investigate probiotics and fermentation as a way to support a consistently healthy system.
SBS: How does the gut affect your overall health?
AL: There are more immune cells in your gut than anywhere else in your body. The bacteria release neurotransmitters and hormones. So that one communication system is communicating to every body every part.
The gut also picks up stimuli from other parts of world. From that perspective, the gut provides an opportunity to address the rest of our body. We’re still learning that bacteria affect our emotions and decisions. From a yogic belief system that’s always been true. And now science is proving it.
SBS: What are probiotics? Why are they so important?
AL: Regular probiotics are strains of healthy bacteria that have been shown to be in a healthy human. To understand why ingesting them is important some people relate it to parking car spots. Along the gut lining, there are certain bacteria that reside in there. If you put healthy bacteria there, they take up the spots so unhealthy bacteria can’t. The thought is: The bacteria in those spots in the lining are more influential to the ecosystem of the gut. They have influence over which bacteria dominates. I think probiotics are crucial especially if you’ve taken antibiotics, which take a big hit on your bacteria. Good bacteria release neurotransmitters, amino acids, and enzymes, which is why a healthy microbiome is important.
SBS: How do your products use probiotics? How is it more helpful than regular probiotics?
AL: I combine probiotics with fermented herbs. And I did that for the following reason: One of the things I looked at, was rather than sending bacteria straight down your gut and hoping they colonize, occupy spots and become fixed and balanced, I wanted to try to build a healthy ecosystem to support the body’s natural probiotic ability. Your body wants to go back to balance. So how do you get it to create and support that?
Then, I wanted to incorporate herb for stress responses. So, my first product is immune aid. When the immune system is compromised, it’s a sign of stress response. Your stress directly affects your bacteria. You can eat healthy food, but if you’re constantly in fight or flight, your microbiome is taking a toll. So by fermenting herbs, you get the by-product, which are probiotics! Short-chain fatty acids are also created from fermentation, which have been shown to feed the lining of your gut, which therefore supports a better environment for the probiotics you want in your stomach.
SBS: What are some signs of gut issues?
AL: Bloating, gas and the like are sure signs. For me, my weight would fluctuate eight pounds. That’s extreme. Or, I would only go to the bathroom once a week. The doctor would say it was normal, but it’s not. That makes you tired and sluggish because of the toxins in your body. If you take antibiotics, your body is probably off, too.
Also, there are links between anxiety and depression and the stomach. This is coming out more and more, and your gut balance is a huge contributor, the same way that sugar can throw off your mood. Even if you’re eating the right foods, if you’re not digesting them properly, you’ll end up imbalanced. It’s the same with being tired. I think one of the biggest signs for me was after I would eat I was really tired. Now for the first time in my life, I feel energized after eating. Now food can be fuel.
SBS: What are some exercises to help people tune in to how your gut feels?
AL: One of the simplest options is keeping a log of how you feel after you eat certain things. That puts in a place of watching what goes on.
SBS: What are foods that help your gut?
AL: Blue green algae or chlorophyll are wonderful because of their vitamins and minerals. They have so much of what you need. Plus, the chlorophyll is a straight energy source. And, in esoteric traditions, it holds wisdom and adaptability of one of the oldest living organisms. It’s alkalizing, and in my mind, it’s an under-utilized resource.
As far as regular food, a mostly veggie diet is so important. I feel very different if there’s a meal that goes by that doesn’t have a big serving of veggies. Then, I love cal-mag, which they sell it at Whole Foods and Aloe vera, which is.
SBS: What are the worst things for your gut?
AL: Artificial sweeteners and anything that’s processed or packaged aren’t great for you. Also if it were possible to avoid Round-up, the pesticide, that would be great. But it’s in everything: our food system, water, farming. That’s scary. Our bodies have to work hard enough without the extra burden of filtering out these toxins. I don't think of foods as good and bad, but to look at quality, how they are made, and try to stick to fewer ingredients.
SBS: What provoked you to turn your passion into a business? Were there moments you almost gave up?
AL: In terms of my business, I think of what I call angels: those people who show up just at the right time. Every time things were hard and I wanted to give up, someone would be there to give me just enough encouragement and that next little nugget—like a treasure hunt. Because that kept happening, I felt I was being supported enough to move forward.
For example, even between the tonics and probiotics, I went back to a normal job, and I had given up. For a time, the elixirs did well in a viral component, but the logistics were overwhelming. It was too much. I remember this one guy reached out to me on LinkedIn. He liked the packaging, made some introductions and was meeting with me to talk about the concept. His enthusiasm made me give it another shot.
I hope to be that for other people. It’s hard when you have a dream that you don’t know. I had never worked with financials, investor meetings or pitches. So it took me willing to fail.
SBS: What are the most important practical tools for building a business?
AL: The biggest tool is bringing people on board who do what I don’t do well. For so long I was trying to overcompensate and learn the things I wasn’t good at. But, I’m a big vision thinker. It’s hard for me to mail a package sometimes! My yoga teacher taught me that until yoga is in your body, you rely on scaffolding like props. It puts you in the position until you learn it. That’s the same as surrounding yourself with people who can help you and know how to do the items you need. It’s ok to have help in those areas, and if I never get that much better, that’s ok. I need to understand the areas so I can communicate what I need, but I don’t have to be good at everything. Plus, it’s more fun that way. It sucks to do it alone.
SBS: How does exercise affect gut health? What types of exercises have helped you with your own gut health?
AL: For me, I’m a big morning routine person. I think it’s essential. I get up and do my meditation and some form of movement, whether running or yoga. It’s not about how much I do, but about getting in my body and getting it moving. That’s the time I spend for myself. And, one thing that helps is doing hip circles in the morning. Take five to 10 minutes to do some form of stretching routine, and that does wonders for the gut.
Even if you don’t ferment them, herbs can be helpful health tools, whether in tinctures or not. They’re cost effective and often overlooked. To be sure you’re getting the right choices, turn to an herbalist first.
Aubrey’s favorites for the following ailments are:
Mood: Ashwagandha, eleuthero, passion flower, Leone's Maine
Fatigue: Eleuthero, spirulina (plant not herb), astragalus, maca (root), mushroom blend (Mushroom Harvest)
Stomach Issues: Aloe vera, slippery elm, marshmallow root
Joint Pain: Turmeric
Place to Eat: Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA
Studios/Classes: The Class by Taryn Toomey and Katonah Yoga
The Mind-Gut Connection by Erman Mayer
The Web That Has No Weaver by Ted J. Kaptchuk
Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac. and Efrem Korngold, L.Ac., O.M.D.
Experts and Centers:
Dr. Mao Shing Ni and Dr. Dao Shing Ni, co-founders of Yo San University
ArborVitae School of Traditional Herbalism/Claudia Keel and Richard Mandelbaum
Julie Caldwell of Humboldt Herbals
Calm Havens: Central Park, The Cloisters or sneaking into the Tibetan Center to meditate.
Aubrey’s SBS Mantra: Be grateful. I come back to this as my beginning and end. Because I checked out for so long, I really developed a sense of wonder. Life feels like an opportunity to play the cards I was dealt, some incredible, some not. But it’s such a gift to be given a hand at all.