Low Cortisol

The little known gut-health connection with Maria Quintana-Pilling


In this interview, Laurie and Maria Quintana-Pilling discuss The little known gut-health connection as well what symptoms you may have and how you can improve your gut health and aid digestion.

This is a transcription of an Instagram live conversation. You can find the full video on Laurie’s IGTV tab on Instagram and on soon on YouTube.



Maria is here with me today. She’s joining me, because we love talking about all topics about women’s health. 

When it comes to women’s health, our gut health is one of the most important things that we need to look at and take care of. It’s also one of the most often overlooked. Maria loves talking about health and we both love helping women with their hormones and especially women who are transitioning towards perimenopause or even menopause and women in or near their 40. 

Maria, if you don’t mind, I’m going to let you introduce yourself. Maybe tell us a little bit about how you got here.


Sure. My name is Maria Quintana-Pilling and I have a business called Urban Spice Nutrition. I help women, who are in their thirties, forties and fifties, to thrive at work and at home. I really focus on gut health and hormone balance. 

I started doing this because of my own health issues. In my early thirties, I was diagnosed with a fibroid. It was teeny tiny, the size of a pea. I was told there was nothing I could do about it. It was very common and no big deal. I was put on the birth control pill to manage my symptoms. Over the course of six or seven years, that little pea grew into a full fruit basket, where I had 12 fibroids. One was the size of a grapefruit, one the size of an orange and then like some strawberries, blueberries grapes.

My uterus had grown to the size of a five month pregnancy. At that point, the doctors were concerned and said that I needed to have surgery, so that if I wanted to get pregnant, there wouldn’t be any complications. 

That’s kind of when I got the hit on the head and realized that I really needed to look into what was going on with my life, my body and why these fibroids were popping up and growing exponentially. In a conversation with my sister, she asked me “Why don’t you look into food and nutrition?” I thought “Oh yeah. Why don’t I?” That’s kind of what sent me off on the journey into nutrition.


Wow. I had no idea. Where, so you were able to turn things around?


No. At the time, I was working as an investment professional. I was a fixed income portfolio manager and analyst and I thought I could figure it out on my own.

I tried to read books and the internet at the time, wasn’t what it is now. I tried to figure it out on my own. I tried different diets. I don’t know if I was 100% on any of these diets. I thought I was doing it, but nothing really worked. I did acupuncture as well. Nothing worked to reduce the size of the fibroids. After a certain point the fibroids are so big that it’s really hard to shrink them in size. 

I ended up having the surgery to remove them (myomectomy) and it required a six week recovery. During six week recovery is when I decided that I was going to pursue a career in nutrition, to really understand what was going on and how to avoid it in the future. The doctor said this could happen again, this isn’t going to be the end, you could develop more fibroids in the future. 

I thought “Well, that’s ridiculous. Why am I going to go through this again?” That’s why I made the change.


Okay. Now you’ve taken your health into your own hands and learned all the tools and strategies to help prevent this from coming back. Then gut health became a big interest of yours.


Yeah. When I went to the acupuncturist and she asked  “How’s your digestion?” I said “It’s fine.“ Then she asked more questions, such as “How often do you have a bowel movement and what are they like?” 

I think I was having bowel movements every day or maybe every other day, but they were definitely difficult. There were a lot of small pellets and only a few came out at a time. So I just had this constant feeling of not being complete. I also had embarrassing gas, which got worse as the day went on.

That was the first time someone even made the connection for me between gut health and my hormones. Then as I continued on the journey, whenever I met a different kind of holistic practitioner, they would mention my digestion or my liver and that my digestion needs help or needs support. I didn’t really know what that meant and what I could do for it. That’s kind of where my interest in gut health springs from.

Is blood sugar instability at the root of your hormone woes?               

Find out if blood sugar imbalance could be at the root of your fatigue, brain fog, cravings, moodiness, increasing stress, hair loss, period or skin problems, expanding waistline — & more!


Tell me a little bit more about the gut-health connection.


Gut health is really important to our overall health. It is where we digest our food. 

That’s when we break down the food, that we eat, into nutrients that our body can actually use. We absorb those nutrients into the bloodstream. We assimilate the nutrients into the cells. 

That’s all really important. We have to be able to digest, absorb and assimilate nutrients so that the cells can actually use them and do what needs to be done. If something breaks down along that line, the cells don’t actually use the food or not as efficiently as they should.


It’s moving the toxins, the bad stuff and the waste out as well.


Absolutely. Once we’ve used up what we need. The waste goes into the colon and there it’s moved out through bowel movements. That’s the key component, especially for hormone health. We need to excrete excess hormones or used hormones. If they’re sitting in our colon, because we don’t have good, regular bowel movements, then the hormones just get reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Our body has to then work that much harder to push them out. Bowel movements or transit time is really important for hormone health.


From what you said thus far, makes me think we need to talk about poop.

People don’t talk about it a lot and are not very familiar with how things work. 

You were just explaining that we need to get out those hormones, before they recirculate. In your situation with the fibroids, things were being recirculated and you weren’t moving things out fast enough. 

I guess you were likely in a position of estrogen dominance, by having the estrogen being recirculated.

So for your situation, improving your gut health meant getting things out at the right speed and not slow as it was happening for you at the time.


Right. The other factor was the gas and trying to understand what was causing the gas, which could be causing or adding to the constipation.


There are all these things that women experience and we just think it’s part of life, right? Constipation, gas, bloating, maybe even diarrhea, these sorts of things. We just think it’s a fact of life. 

I’m just curious what you think, as to why don’t we hear about the importance of gut health, gut motility, having things move out at the correct speed and the transit time of digestion, absorption and assimilation. 

These are so important to our overall health, not just to our bowels, but to our hormones, especially. Why is it that this isn’t really well known or talked about? Why do we often just brush off constipation, bloating and these sorts of things as being just a fact of life?


I think part of the reason is people don’t really talk about it. It’s private. I mean who goes around talking about their poop. A lot of people don’t even think to mention it when they go to the doctor. 

I don’t think doctors are fully attuned to the importance of digestive health. They’re busy trying to get to fix whatever you came in for, because they have a limited time. They don’t do a full health history to understand where your digestion is and they don’t get into the nitty gritty of how often and what it looks like. 

I think, because of that people aren’t talking about it. It’s just not known that digestion is really important, although I think now there’s a lot more talk about it. People are kind of getting onboard about it.


Yeah, I see it more and more. I already mentioned some of the symptoms of gut health, that’s gone backwards. What are other symptoms that we should be looking for to know, when our gut is not in the best health?


There’s the obvious ones that we touched on: constipation and diarrhea. Constipation doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t go at all. It could just mean that you have hard pellets. You have this feeling of being incomplete. 

Diarrhea isn’t pure liquid, but it could be really soft stools. Urgency is another symptom. Food in stool is another clue that your digestion isn’t being done properly. It’s not completely digesting the food, if you have whole food in your stool. Floating stool is also an indication that perhaps you’re not digesting your fats properly. 

Beyond those very obvious gut related things, there’s fatigue,there’s brain fog, there’s skin eruption. Acne, hives, eczema, trouble with sleep, auto-immune conditions and problems with your appetite are further symptoms. For example if you have a lot of cravings or you don’t have an appetite at all.

You can connect any ailment that you have to your gut, if you really dig down and see what’s going on. I bet you that there’s something that’s not functioning a hundred percent in your gut.


Going back to the gut health connection, how it’s all connected. What are everyday things that we do that impact our gut health, which we’re not thinking about?


Obviously food is a big component. 

Certain foods can be affecting you in a negative way. Therefore it’s important to sort of track what foods you’re eating and any symptoms that you might be having, so that you can go back and make connections on how food is affecting you. 

Hydration is a huge thing. Drinking enough water and making sure you get your electrolytes in that water as well. That’s a huge component for digestion and especially the bowel movements. We want to keep everything moving along, so it doesn’t sit in the colon and recirculate like we talked about before. Paying attention to your hydration and also your stress levels. 

Stress plays a big role in digestion, because digestion is a parasympathetic mode function.

We need to be in a relaxed state in order for our digestion to function as it should. If we’re in a constant state of stress our digestion gets put in the back burner. We’re dealing with the stress, we’re dealing with the tiger that we’re tackling. 

If digestion gets put on the back burner then you’re not going to digest your food properly. You’re not going to absorb the nutrients. You’re not going to assimilate and you’re definitely not going to push it out in a timely manner. Stress is a big factor. Do anything you can do to reduce your stress.

Low Cortisol


I see that one a lot. Food can cause stress to the body. You were talking about how, when we’re stressed, we’re not digesting the food well. Certain foods that cause our body stress, can then add to the stress, which makes the problem worse. So they just sort of pile on top of each other. 


Right. It’s like a circular effect. That’s why keeping a food journal is really important. If you notice that you’re always sleepy after lunch that’s something to note and then take a look. Keep a food journal for a couple of days and see what you are eating at lunch. When are you really sleepy, so that you can start to see what food it might be that is causing the sleepiness and causing stress on your body so that you can eliminate it and give your body a break from having to deal with that so that it can start to heal, digest and do everything else that it needs to do. 


You’ve already given lots of good ideas, throughout this talk. I wanted to end with some easy strategies. We learned that gut health is important, what it might look like if the gut is not at its best and then what we do on a daily basis, that’s impacting our gut health. What are some strategies to support your gut and digestion? 


Try to get into the parasympathetic mode. Even if you’re under a lot of stress, taking three deep breaths before you eat is really helpful in transitioning your body from the sympathetic mode into the parasympathetic (relaxed) mode. Taking three deep breaths before each meal is a really good way to do that. It helps lower your stress levels. 

Chewing your food is really, really important. We have enzymes in our mouth, in our saliva, that help pre-digest our food. The more we chew, the more of that saliva that gets in the food particles and it starts to break down the food, so that our stomachs and the rest of our digestive tract don’t have to do as much work.


Digestion takes a lot of energy for us. The more we can do to help our bodies reserve energy for more exciting things, then the better off we are. I always tell my clients to first start by just noticing how many times they chew before they swallow. Then trying to move that towards 20/30 chews and sometimes 50, depending on what type of food it is. Even when you’re drinking something like a pureed soup or a smoothie just make the action of chewing, because that will release the saliva in your mouth and just get some of those enzymes in there to help break down the food. 

The last thing is enzymes and hydrochloric acid are really important for the breakdown of foods. Hydrochloric acid is the acid in our stomach, and we want that to be really strong and powerful.

It helps break down proteins and sometimes proteins can be really problematic, if they’re not broken down properly. Increasing our hydrochloric acid by drinking lemon water is really beneficial. Drink lemon water 10 to 20 minutes before your meal or you can drink it with your meal. That will help increase the hydrochloric acid in your stomach, which will help you digest and break down. It’ll help break down the proteins in your food.


Those are some great tips. You talked about lemon water, increasing the gastric juices, but we could also pay attention to the things that sometimes decrease the gastric juices as well, like coffee and alcohol.


Yes. Coffee, and alcohol can be problematic for a couple of reasons. That’s one and then the other is it slows down the detoxification phases in the body. We were talking about the importance of elimination of food waste and hormones. Paying attention to how much coffee and how much alcohol we’re drinking is a big factor as well.


Also knowing that this does have an impact on gut health, which then has an impact on our overall health.

Thank you so much for the interesting conversation Maria. I loved having you on today.

Find out more:

Connect with Maria on Instagram @urbanspicenutrition. Check out her website and be sure to grab her free ebook on bloating and constipation.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information we’re all wonderfully unique.

Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT

Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and board certified health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help  women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.

Let's Connect: