Ep. 144 – Norm Robillard Ph.D. – Digestive Health

Are you having issues with your digestive system as you grow older? Or maybe you just want to have a better digestive system?

In this episode of the Secure Your Retirement podcast, we have Norm Robillard, founder of Digestive Health Institute, gut health expert, microbiologist, and the creator of the Fast Tract Diet. We talk about gut health and the components and benefits of Norm’s Fast Tract Diet program.

Listen in to learn why as you get older, you should adopt a high-fat high protein diet as opposed to a high carb diet. 

In this episode, find out:

●     Norm explains his background in gut health and how he started the Digestive Health Institute.

●     How he created the Fast Tract Diet by researching the easier and harder to digest carbohydrates.

●     Why people over 65 years should consume more fats and proteins over carbs.

●     Have foods with a few numbers of grams of fermentable carbs.

●     The potential underlying or contributing factors that can affect your gut. 

●     The behaviors and practices that you can adopt to improve how well you digest food.

●     What to do and not to do when it comes to digestive supplements.

●     Resources to learn more about the Fast Tract Diet.

Tweetable Quotes:

●     “In the US, diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic disorders are huge, potentially impacting 50% of the population.”– Norm Robillard

●     “Carbohydrate’s intolerance metabolically and from a digestive standpoint is such a big problem.”– Norm Robillard

●     “There are a lot of behaviors and practices that you can adopt that will improve how well you digest foods.”– Norm Robillard

Get in Touch with Norm:

●     Website: https://digestivehealthinstitute.org/

●     LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/norm-robillard-ph-d-9453565/


If you are in or nearing retirement and you want to gain clarity on what questions you should be asking, learn what the biggest retirement myths are, and identify what you can do to achieve peace of mind for your retirement, get started today by requesting our complimentary video course, Four Steps to Secure Your Retirement!

To access the course, simply visit POMWealth.net/podcast.

Here’s the Full Transcript:

Radon :Welcome everyone to our Monday podcast, where Murs and I, our goal is to always bring to you value. We always have an expert interview. A lot of times we try to talk about things that might just help you within your lifestyle, and I think today we might have some assistance. We have Norm Robillard. I hope I said that right. He is a PhD, founder of Digestive Health Institute. Let me you say this before we keep going. Thank you so much for coming on and talking with us and our audience today. We certainly do appreciate it.  
Norm Robillard:Thank you, Radon and Murs, for having me. I appreciate it.  
Radon :Good. When you think about digestive health system, I know my dad, he was a little bit older. When I was born, he was 52. He died at age 95, had a very, very healthy life, but he always talked about digestion. That was a big topic of his, and he was always serious about that. I know that sometimes as we age that we might have more and more difficulties within that arena.  
 I guess before we get into asking you a bunch of questions, would you mind just sharing with us and our audience how did you get into what you do now and this becoming a primary thing of what you’ve done research on, written a book on, and all the different articles and things that you’ve written on this?  
Norm Robillard:Yes. Yeah, thank you. I’m 65 now, so I can appreciate changes that happen as we get older. I’m keeping my eyes on all of that as well. But how did I get into this? It actually happened 17 years ago. I was working in the biotech industry and I had developed this chronic case of acid reflux, chronic heartburn aspiration reflux at night when I was trying to sleep and my lungs. I was quite miserable with it. It was really impacting my life, my job. I didn’t know what to do about it. I was taking a number of medicines for it. They didn’t really seem to do much.  
 They helped the symptoms a little bit, I suppose, but I was just a mess with this thing. I just happened to go on a low carbohydrate diet with one of my sons. He told me I needed to lose a few pounds. We bought a treadmill. I changed my diet, because before that, I had never been on a diet. I had eaten whatever I wanted. Pasta. You name it. Bread. Thing that surprised me is that after going on this diet, forget about losing weight, before I lost a pound, my acid reflux got tremendously better.  
 And I was really shocked by that, because I had never been on a diet. I didn’t know why, but I did get curious about it. Why I did removing a lot of the carbohydrates from my diet make my acid reflux so much better? I started doing some research and very quickly, I came up with a theory, a new theory about the underlying cause of acid reflux. I may have been just lucky that my background is microbiologist. I’m trained to in microbiology. I had grown a lot of these intestinal microbes that live in our gut. I had studied them in the lab.  
 I grew them, and I knew two important things about them. They prefer carbohydrate fuel source, most of them, for fuel, and they also produce a lot of different types of gases, hydrogen. Some nonbacterial microbes produce methane. Certain bacteria produce hydrogen sulfide. It just hit me that when I was on a high carbohydrate diet, now that I was in my probably close to 40 or so, actually probably 45, that my digestion may not be working as well.  
 More of these carbohydrates in my diet were escaping absorption and they were overfeeding microbes in my gut, producing all this gas, and it was driving my reflux. The gas pressure was translating into my stomach, known to occur in GERD. It’s actually well documented. The pressure of that was driving reflux. It was a completely new way of looking at it. It tuned me into two things, diet and digestion and also the microbes in our gut. I started studying that. I left the industry.  
 I founded the Digestive Health Institute, and I’ve been consulting with patients that have not only acid reflux and GERD, but irritable bowel syndrome, a whole variety of other functional gastrointestinal issues that are also caused by poor digestion, overgrowth of dysbiotic growth, unbalanced growth of these microbes in our gut. I’ve been doing that ever since.  
Murs Tariq:Got you. That’s a great background, Norm, and thanks for sharing. I like your story and how you kind of landed on what essentially I believe you created after the fact, which is the Fast Tract Diet. There’s hundreds of different diets that have come and gone over the years and things work for certain people, things don’t work for certain people. Some of it is all about your discipline and your commitment to the diet.  
 Some would swear by being vegan or the Paleo diet or the keto that’s really, really familiar right now and all these different ones that are out there. Tell us what is the Fast Tract Diet all about? It seems like you’re going for a play on words here with the tract part of it. It’s not a fast track, like a race track. It’s the tract.  
Norm Robillard:Thanks for pointing that out.  
Murs Tariq:Yeah. Tell us a little bit about that diet. Obviously you did a lot of research and your findings. You were number one test case to figure it out yourself for your own body, but then how do you take it and apply it to other individuals.  
Norm Robillard:Right. Yes. And by the way, we are in our second clinical study with the teaching hospitals, a collaboration. 90 patients with chronic acid reflux. We are trying to do our part to get this into the hands of doctors and on hospital formularies. How did I come up with this diet? The first inkling to me that the carbohydrates were involved was I went on a low carbohydrate diet. But a good friend of my mine, who I became friends with during the process of writing my first book, I had asked him to review the book. His name is Dr. Michael Eades.  
 He wrote Protein Power. He and his wife, Dr. Mary Dan Eades. I had become friends with him. We were both living in Southern California at the time, but he was the one that asked me a very important question. He said, “Well, is it all carbs, or are some carbohydrates worse than others?” And that started me really thinking. I thought, well, it would be the carbohydrates that are more difficult to digest, but fermentable by bacteria. For instance, in an elemental diet formulation, they use glucose. Glucose is very quickly absorbed in the small intestine.  
 It is used to treat people with forms of dysbiosis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, and so forth, because it goes into the bloodstream quicker, and it won’t overfeed these microbes. Glucose would not be one of them, right? What are the hardest to digest carbohydrate types that are still fermentable by bacteria and can create these blooms and all of this gas. It was pretty easy to make the list, and here’s what they are. Fructose. We know. Well-studied. A huge portion of the population does not absorb fructose very well.  
 Lactose, right? All the people with lactose intolerance. Sugar alcohols. Fibers, and there’s all kinds of different fibers. We don’t digest them at all, but bacteria can ferment them. And then sugar alcohols. Just go to the FDA website and you can read all about intolerance to sugar alcohols. I had these five types. The question was how to make a diet out of that. How do you tell people, oh, okay, you need to stay away from these five types of carbohydrates. Well, okay, I’m eating an apple. What’s in here? I don’t know. Tell me. Every food becomes a research problem.  
 That was stumping me too. How do I do this in a way that people could utilize this diet? I finally came up with an idea. There’s an equation called the glycemic index and that they test these foods in people, in 10 different people, against glucose, the easy to digest carbohydrate. They give them first a trial run with glucose and they measure the area under the curve of the blood sugar. And then they give them the test food and they measure that. And then they compare it to the glucose and the difference is the glycemic index of the food.  
 Something with a low glycemic index is absorbed… The carbohydrates in that food are absorbed really slowly compared to glucose. But those are also the carbohydrates that will be left in your intestines and potentially overfeed these microbes. There’s the dilemma. What I did was take this glycemic index equation and switched it around. I rearranged it and added back dietary fiber and sugar alcohols, because those are not included in the glycemic index equation because they’re not digestible.  
 That equation now represents something I call fermentation potential or FP. The readout is in grams. For any food you eat, for a particular serving size, you’re going to get so many grams of this FP. Say you eat half a banana. You’re going to get about eight grams of fermentable material that will feed you microbes. Some of that, some of this fermentable material is good and healthy. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons we evolved with this complex ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes.  
 Our gut was to process these fibers and other non-digestible carbohydrates in our food. So that if we were starving and paleolithic times and we ate some roots and this and that and we didn’t digest it well, the microbes would ferment those fibers and they’d produce short chain fatty acids, which are fats, and those nourish us. There’s a survival advantage of having these microbes and feeding them some of the fermentable material. But I think what’s happened in the modern Western world is, first of all, our digestion isn’t as good.  
 Microbes are much more dysbiotic. They’re less diverse. We’re not quite the hunter gatherers of say the Hadza in South Africa that have twice the diversity we do. We’re cooking foods. We’re taking antibiotics now. There’s chemicals and preservatives. Our microbes have been beaten up. I just don’t think they can process for a lot of us. Not everybody. Some people can be plant-based high fiber diet and not have any issues. And that’s fine. That’s great. But 60 million people have acid reflux in this country.  
 50 million people have chronic IBS, irritable bowel syndrome. There’s a mismatch between our diet and our microbiome. There’s no question in my mind. And a lot of studies have born that out.  
Radon :I mean, you’re are giving us a lot of good information and it sounds really good. I’m trying to grasp it with you. Would you mind just kind of like breaking it down though and saying, okay, if I’ve got a problem or I feel like I’ve… Let’s say I don’t even have a problem, but I’m listening to this and going, well, I would like to have a better digestive system, even if I don’t have acid reflux yet, or I don’t have irritable bowel syndrome.  
 Obviously, if I’ve got it, what are some steps, I guess, I could take to help me come up with a plan to say, here are some things I might want to start incorporating in life that might make everything work better.  
Norm Robillard:Yes. By the way, as we get older and in this culture, in the US, for instance, diabetes and pre-diabetes and metabolic disorders are huge, potentially impacting 60% of the population. That’s an intolerance to carbohydrates in terms of processing them metabolically. We don’t want high blood sugar all the time. I think there’s plenty of reasons for people that get to be my age and older to say, you know what? I don’t need so many carbohydrates. More protein. More fat.  
 Fat’s been vilified over the years, but actually the new research has really pointed at how healthy fats are and how they’re not nearly as problematic as a lot of people suspected. But carbohydrate intolerance metabolically and from a digestive stand endpoint is a big problem. Let me just say how I laid it out in the Fast Tract Digestion books, there’s one on heartburn, there’s one on GERD, and in the Fast Tract Diet mobile app. Here’s how the diet is laid out. It’s really more than a diet. It’s a program that has three components.  
 One is diet and digestion. You do want foods that have a lower FP value. A fewer number of grams of these fermentable carbs from any food. You don’t want too many going into a digestive tract. You need to look at the FP points. And if a banana has 18 points and you still want maybe just a couple slices or something and have maybe three or four grams from that, because you’ve got to get through the whole day, all this fermentable material, you want to keep it under control. That’s part one.  
 The second part has to do with a whole variety of potential underlying or contributing causes. I forget if we brought this up before, but when people age, for instance, we can have problems with our motility, our pancreas that produces digestive enzymes, our brush border enzymes that are critical for digesting not only sugars, but also starches, hormones, how well we digested absorbed food, our immunity, which helps manage these microbes in our gut through cytokines, secreted immunoglobulin IGA, our microbiota and those changes.  
 But there’s many more things. You can have atrophic arthritis and low stomach acid. You can have Hashimoto, thyroid disease, which can impact digestion. You can have diabetes. You can have scleroderma that causes scarring in your esophagus and in your intestines. All of these things impact your intestines. There’s about 25 or 30 potential underlying or contributing causes when you have these functional GI issues. The book guides you in a chapter through these underlying causes. But also in my practice, when I work with people, these are on my radar.  
 What I’m trying to do is rule most of them out, 25 or 30 things, most of them will not be your problem. You probably have normal amounts of stomach acid, but you might not. I’ll go through some risk factors, and you can be tested for that. There’s a test called the Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test you can get. But first, I see if you’re at risk for all of these different things, and then we try to rule them out. What’s left we try to confirm diagnostically so that it can be properly addressed. That’s the second part, an underlying cause piece.  
 The third part, a lot of people don’t really think much about this, but it’s behavioral. There are a lot of behaviors and practices that you can adopt that will improve how well you digest foods, and not just carbohydrates, fats and proteins. You want to digest all the foods you’re consuming well. It will never be 100%. You will be feeding the microbes, which is proper, but you don’t want to overfeed them, right? We’re trying to put the microbes on a little bit of a diet. It’s not just what you eat. It’s also when you eat. Do you leave spaces between your meals?  
 Do you ever do an intermittent fasting? Whenever you fast or leave spaces between meals, something called the migrating motor complex, concerted action of muscles that move things, including bacteria and partially digested food, through our digestive tract. If you don’t give that a break once in a while, it’s a bad thing. This migrating motor complex is like a five hour cycle. You have one cycle when you sleep at night, but it’s a good idea to introduce, if you have GI issues, another cycle during the day where you wouldn’t eat anything for at least five hours.  
 And of course, you can do some intermittent and even prolonged fasting. Jason Fung wrote a great book on the health benefits of fasting, which is what I read for people as well. That behavioral piece is really important. How are you preparing the foods? If you are cooking rice, how are you selecting which rice you cook? If you cook Jasmine or sushi rice, that’s got more of an easy to digest starch called amylopectin. It’s easy to digest. It’s more like glucose, so it’s not going to cause as much digestive distress.  
 But say a wild river rice or a basmati rice, Uncle Ben’s rice even, they have a much lower glycemic index. Hence, a much higher FP. And hence, they would be more likely to give you digestive upset. Now, when you eat the Jasmine and sushi rice, don’t have too much, maybe half a cup, because you also don’t want to raise your blood sugar too much. That’s the other part of the equation. That strategy forms the basis of my books and also my practice.  
Murs Tariq:Got you. I know that you are an advocate of drug and antibiotic-free type of lifestyle from a dietary perspective. But where do you fall when it comes to certain types of supplements? I read a lot about apple cider vinegar and taking turmeric and stuff like that. Where do you fall with some of those supplements to help with digestive health?  
Norm Robillard:Yes. Yes. I do think that dietary supplements can be very helpful and that includes certain probiotics. A lot of probiotics haven’t had good rate success in the clinic, but some have shown benefit. By the way, there’s a new probiotic out for a bacteria called [inaudible] that lives on the gut lining, associated with leanness and help. These centenarians have high amounts of it, and there’s now a probiotics. Things are changing in that field, probiotics, digestive enzymes, right?  
 Say you have a comprehensive stool analysis, which I find very helpful and actionable. Of course, it has a lot to do with gut bacteria. I’m a microbiologist, so I feed on that stuff. But also these comprehensive stool analysis have many other things in them, including elastase, which is an enzyme our pancreas makes, and it’s a measure of how well your pancreas is working. If you had low elastase, you might also have low levels of amylase, that’s for digesting starches, protease for proteins, and lipase for fats.  
 A digestive enzyme that included pancreatic enzymes may be very helpful in your case. Other people might have problems with their brush border enzymes that we mentioned, and those are little enzymes that stick off of the tips to the microvilli in the small intestine. You need them for breaking down sucrose and maltose and isomaltose and lactose, right? Lactase is a brush border enzyme as well.  
 If you have damage in your small intestine from say small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, the bacteria get up in the small intestine, the protease has damaged these enzymes, you may need a brush border enzyme supplement. You mentioned apple cider vinegar and some people also try betaine HCL, which is a synthetic form of stomach acid. I would say betaine in a capsule is better than the vinegar if you’re somebody whose reflux has irritated the throat or vocal cords.  
 A lot of people with laryngopharyngeal reflux, where the reflux is actually irritating the throat, it can get in the lungs, it could be a respiratory issue, your sinuses, your station tubes, you feel like you have a lump in the throat or a sore throat, I wouldn’t recommend apple cider vinegar for those folks. And then also I wouldn’t necessarily recommend any acid supplement, whether it’s betaine or vinegar, until we did an assessment to determine if they were at risk for low stomach acid.  
Radon :Very good. Go ahead. Go ahead. Sorry.  
Norm Robillard:I’m just saying, you can look at the risk factors for what’s called atrophic gastritis and hypochlorhydria, low stomach acid. If you don’t have any of those risk factors, again, move on. That’s my approach.  
Radon :Very good. Well, it’s obvious that there’s a lot for us to think about. It’s obvious that there’s things that can be done that can make our digestive system better. Maybe even our lives a lot better. You’ve shared a lot. But if you’re listening to this and you’re like me, you’re probably going, okay, that was a lot of information and I want to make sure I got it all. What’s the best resource for somebody to go find out more about what you do, your book? I think you mentioned an app.  
 What’s the best place for them to go to get more information about this that maybe they can read and digest a little bit slower?  
Norm Robillard:Yes. As Murs pointed out, it’s Fast Tract, T-R-A-C-T, Digestion, heartburn, and one on IBS. There’s a Fast Tract Diet mobile app. They can find at least links. They can find the books and buy the books and links to the mobile app, which will send you to either iOS or Google at digestivehealthinstitute.org. You can find under the consultation tab how to get in touch with me. I typically spend a little time with people on the phone to just see what their issue is and determine if one of our programs might be appropriate for them.  
 We also have a Fast Tract Diet official Facebook group. I don’t know, there’s somewhere close to 12,000 people that are doing the diet on that site and they’re sharing a lot recipes and information. That’s another good resource. Also, on diethealthinstitute.org, if people are trying the diet or reading the book, there’s a huge Q and A page that we’ve put together over the years. A lot of the questions are answered there that people may have.  
Radon :Very good. Well, we’ll make sure that all of what you just said, especially the digestivehealthinstitute.org, that link is on the website and in our show notes so people can just go click on that. We would just like to say thank you so very much for coming on and chatting with us today. I’m sure this is going to be helpful for a lot of people, and we appreciate at your wisdom.  
Norm Robillard:Thank you, Radon and Murs. I appreciate you having me. Thank you.