/ Podcast / The Gut-Brain Connection, With Dr. Vincent Pedre

The Gut-Brain Connection, With Dr. Vincent Pedre

Our minds and bodies are linked even more closely than we may realize. Our mental state has an impact on our physical wellness (or illness)—and by tapping into that mind-body link, we can intentionally influence how we feel. This week, Dr. Sandi dives into the power and potential of the gut-brain connection with Board-Certified Internist and Functional Medicine expert Dr. Vincent Pedre.

As a competitive, high-achieving medical student, Dr. Pedre’s discovery of mind-body techniques like meditation and yoga allowed him to soothe his vagus nerve and cultivate a sense of calm that actually promoted healing in his body. To him, it seemed obvious that the gut-brain connection was a critical component of wellness, and his experiences transformed the way he approached his medical practice.

“What I’ve realized over the years is that you can have the prettiest diet, you can take all the supplements, but you can’t out-diet and you can’t out-supplement a stressed out life.”

Dr. Vincent Pedre

Health coaches play a critical role in enabling their clients to tap into the link between their minds and bodies. When a client hits a speed bump or takes a detour on their healing journey, a health coach’s supportive guidance can be a game changer, highlighting strengths and bringing focus to incremental victories. In Dr. Pedre’s new online course, the Gut-Brain Mastery Program, he shares even more mind-body tools for coaches and clients to use to feel better. The program covers his approach to managing stress, sharpening focus, brightening mood, and unlocking your intuitive potential—or as Dr. Pedre puts it, “I want to teach people how to biohack their inner zen.”

Episode Highlights

  • Learn how Dr. Pedre taught himself to use mind-body techniques like breakwork to overcome his fear of needles
  • Explore the gut-brain connection and how it impacts stress, focus, and overall health
  • Hear how Dr. Pedre’s transformation from highly competitive, Type A personality to the “Zen Guy” of his medical school shaped his approach to patient care
  • Understand the role health coaches play as beacons of gut-brain support as they guide patients on their healing journeys

Meet the Guest

Dr. Vincent Pedre

Padre Integrative Health

Gut-Brain Mastery Program

As the Medical Director of Pedre Integrative Health and the author of two bestselling books, Dr. Vincent Pedre has been nurturing health in New York City and beyond since 2004. His approach marries the precision of Western medicine with the holistic wisdom of Eastern traditions fostering a functional, systems-based approach to health.

His academic journey began with a B.A. in Biology with Distinction from Cornell University, where he was honored as a Cornell National Scholar and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He then earned his M.D. from the University of Miami School of Medicine, backed by a Board of Trustees scholarship. His post-graduate journey led him to New York City, where he completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 2002.

Unable to find an existing practice that matched his ideal methodology, Dr. Pedre established Pedre Integrative Health in July 2004, realizing his vision of a practice that synergizes Eastern and Western medical philosophies. From its inception to now, the practice has evolved to incorporate the principles of functional medicine, grounded within a foundation of mind-body-spirit medicine.

As a sought-after speaker and writer, his expertise extends to gut health, the gut microbiome, spiritual wellness, and integrative and functional medicine. Appearances on the Martha Stewart Show, Sirius XM Radio’s “Doctor Radio”, and interviews on Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show exemplify his reach. Dr. Pedre has been a repeat guest lecturer at Tony Robbins’ Life Mastery Program since 2021.

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Sandi: Welcome to “Health Coach Talk.” It is my pleasure to bring to you somebody that I have known very well for so many years, and that is Dr. Vincent Pedre. I first met him at an event that we just bonded. We had a lot of common interests, theater for example. And I followed you for many years as you have been on the faculty for functional medicine, lecturing on gut health. You have a book that has been really phenomenal, and I know that people listening will be very interested in what you’re up to and how they can participate in some of the new things that you have going on. So, welcome, Dr. Vincent.

Dr. Vincent: Thanks for having me. We’ve known each other for years and I have not been on your podcast yet.

Dr. Sandi: Yeah, so this is a relatively new podcast, and it is a pleasure to welcome you. So, let’s begin if you would share just a little bit about your story, your background, and how you got into functional medicine, and then what you’re currently doing now.

Dr. Vincent: Yeah, I’ll try to be as brief as possible but also share things that I think a lot of people can relate to in different ways. The thing that comes up for me, sharing my story, is the first part of the story is how I almost didn’t become a doctor. And the reason for that is that I had developed a fear of needles, and I had some… I don’t know that there’s a child that has a good experience with a needle, but for some reason, needles put me into a maladaptive, let’s call it, but it is an adaptive response—the vasovagal reflex where part of our vagus nerve activates, and we get dizzy, everything shuts down. You go into a cold sweat, your heart is racing, and then, boom, you’re out. And this was me over and over. And I don’t know if dates back to… I was 10 years old, and I was building a model airplane, and I knew better than to cut towards me. But for some reason, there was a piece, and I decided to hold it and cut towards me, and it popped, and then the blade sliced the side of my thumb. And it went so deep, that I had to go get stitches. And I just remember, like, sitting there and watching the doctor with the needle, and then giving me the numbing injection, and next thing I knew I was woozy, and I was completely out.

And it’s just repeated over and over. And I still was fascinated by science, wanted to become a doctor. So, as long as it was out in theory, it was all great. But when it became reality and I was applying to medical schools and I started thinking, “Wait a second. How can I become a doctor if I can’t be around needles? And alcohol makes me queasy like rubbing alcohol. How am I going to do this?” And I went home after taking the MCAT, and I told my parents, “I don’t know about this thing about becoming a doctor. I don’t think I want to do it anymore.” And they sat me down. We had this long conversation. I can still remember where I sat. We were in our living room where normally it’s not a place that, as the family, we would sit. It was more a place for guests. And there we had a serious conversation about my future. And I was like, “Oh, I want to go into finance. I just want to go to Wall Street.” And they’re like, “No, you’re going to become a doctor.” I’m not sure what they said, but my mom could be very convincing and she got me through whatever. But still the elephant in the room was my fear of needles, and that was not conquered in a one-hour conversation with my parents.

So, fast forward I think a year later, I’ve gotten into medical school. I’m going to go to University of Miami, and I finished college a semester early because I just wanted to get out of the Northeast. I was done with the cold. I wanted to go back to Miami where I grew up, be in the warmth, and I’m there with nothing to do, having finished all my college in three and a half years, so it’s January of 1995, and I’m sitting in my room thinking, “How am I going to become a doctor if I can’t conquer my fear of needles?” So, I’m sure that there are people listening to this podcast who know what life was like in ’95. The internet was just a baby, so barely existent. Forget about searching for things on the internet. I would go to the library or the bookstore to look for a book that was written on the topic. And what I wanted to figure out is, okay, why does my body rebel against me? And it’s doing what I don’t want it to do. When I’m around needles, I go into this whole thing. My heart races, I break out into a cold sweat, and the next thing I know I’m passed out.

Now, for people who understand this, and this is something that I’m teaching actually in my upcoming course, the Gut-Brain Mastery Program, it has to do with the dorsal vagus nerve. So, if you understand or if anybody’s heard of polyvagal theory, there’s two branches to the vagus, the ventral vagus and the dorsal vagus, and the dorsal vagus innervates all of the organs. It’s also the reptilian, the more primitive part of the vagus nerve. So, it’s the part that is associated with overwhelm and freeze. So, we always hear a fight or flight or relax and digest, but there’s a whole other branch of the vagus that’s… I call it overwhelmed and frozen because that’s exactly what it makes you feel like. You go into inaction, and you can actually get dizzy, and you can pass out in those circumstances. And it’s an adaptive response, trying to protect you from something that is overwhelming in the moment.

So, I discover a book called “The Relaxation Response.”

Dr. Sandi: Yes, I know it well, Herbert Benson.

Dr. Vincent: Herbert Benson. Okay, so I’m 21 years old. This is 1995. And I think, “Okay, this book was written by… I think he’s a Harvard doctor. Okay, I think I can trust him.” And he’s writing about how breath work and meditation, how he found that in patients, it can lower your blood pressure. And he’s saying you can actually gain control over the part of the nervous system that we thought was not under our control, that there is a way to access it, and it’s through the breath.

Now, I’m surprised that Stephen Porges, who wrote Polyvagal Theory, talks about neuroception and he says that this whole process of what’s going on in the vagus nerve is out of our conscious control, and he actually says that in an interview that’s logged in his book. And I was shocked, because I’m thinking, “Hey, we can control that.” I learned to do that when I was 21 years old, and you do it through the breath. So, at 21, I am doing breathwork in my room where I grew up in Miami, in my old childhood room, I would lock the door and put a timer, 10 minutes, 15 minutes breathwork every day, started meditating, and then started doing yoga.

Now, no one was talking about breathwork meditation, yoga, back in… ’95 was, like, really early on. And so for eight months, I was training to basically gain control of that part of my nervous system that we thought was not under our control. It felt like your body rebels against yourself. And I think it’s so important to every aspect of health because, in that moment, your body is stressed out. But how many people are living in a constant sympathetic overactivation? They are in this fight or flight drive. Or how many people, how many of our patients are actually overwhelmed and frozen? They want to improve their health, but they can’t. It’s too much. So, most people are in these adaptive places of the autonomic nervous system that actually work against them.

And so I learned, I was training as if I was going to a competition, and my test was going to be taking the hep B vaccine series and seeing if I did not pass out. And let me tell you that first one…luckily, I only had to get the first one before medical school started. So, I waited until August, a few weeks before medical school started, to get it. I was trying to prolong it for as far as I could. And I go and I start feeling my heart starts to race. I feel a little bit of beads of cold sweat, but I start my breathing. I start meditating. I start using guided imagery. And I don’t pass out. And that to me was one of the most powerful moments in my life training as a doctor, because I learned that our body is so powerful, it has the capability of healing itself. We have the possibility of restructuring the way that things work in our body without taking medication just by using the breath and your mind.

Dr. Sandi: So powerful. Well, a couple things. I wish I had known you back then because I was teaching breathwork in the ’70s. But of course, there was no internet. There was no social media. There was no way. I was just in this little area north of Chicago, but teaching people this and knew it worked for so many years. And now we teach our health coaches. And, boy, can I relate to your story of passing out. Because my older daughter, Laura, had the same thing. For a year, she couldn’t get blood work done because every time she would go, she would pass out as well. Finally, the last time she had some control and she did and really celebrated. But so many people don’t realize what they have control over, and this power of the mind-body connection. And, yeah, it all started with people like Herbert Benson, real pioneers in developing what we call the relaxation response back then.

Dr. Vincent: I tell that story because that story shaped the type of doctor I would become. And because I had experienced such a powerful internal transformation before I started medical school, there was no level of indoctrination that could be done in medical school to undo what I had already learned myself through my own experience. I went into medical school knowing that I was not going to be a regular doctor. And by then, I was reading books by Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil like “Spontaneous Healing” had just come out, “Quantum Healing” by Deepak Chopra. And so I was already looking beyond the Western medical model thinking. There’s more out there, and I knew going into medical school that there was more out there than they were going to teach me. And I was willing to look for it.

So, actually I became a regular yogi during medical school and that honestly kept me centered and sane. I would meditate all the time. I was known by my classmates as the “Zen Guy” because I was never worked up the night before a test. And for people who are listening to understand, I was a straight A student, type A personality, highly competitive, and I completely rewired that through meditation and breathwork at the age of 21 and became on the outside what I was on the inside, this calm person. To this day, when people meet me, they always say the thing they notice about me is that I’m so calm. I reprogrammed that at the age of 21. I was not a calm person at all. If anything, I had a mental storm going on in my head as a teenager.

Dr. Sandi: Wow, that is phenomenal. And I can really relate because I was a driven type A. I used to get severe panic attacks that would send me to the emergency room in my 20s. And, yes, I found biofeedback. I found relaxation training. And when I was teaching to people as a health psychologist, I was practicing myself. And, yeah, people tell you all the time, “You’re so calm. Nothing bothers you.” And that took practice too, but you have that control. So, the gut-brain, you are now focusing on that and that is so, so important.

Dr. Vincent: Absolutely. And I think that it’s important to realize that it’s a two-way communication street. And I’m sure your students have learned about the vagus nerve and how most of the fibers of the vagus nerve are pointing up to the brain from the internal organs rather than down from the brain to the internal organs or the gut and yet are super important. So, it’s not that because there’s only about 10% of the fibers pointing down that they’re less important than the ones that are pointing up; it’s just there is a ton of feedback coming from the external organs, especially the gut back to the is controlling brain regions and how they fire.

The big message here is really about how they both affect each other but how there are ways to actually hack our stress, our anxiety, even depressive thoughts or depression by working on the gut. And I think that is something that’s really important that I’ve become passionate about, because I’ve been in gut health for a long time and I’ve written two books. My second book is here and behind me, “The GutSMART Protocol.” And I’ve always inserted a little bit of the mindfulness practices in there. In my second book, I have three chapters, one on the vagus, breathwork, meditation. I always bring that together, but I’ve never really just focused and highlighted that.

But what I’ve realized over the years is that you can have the prettiest diet, you can take all the supplements, but you can’t out-diet and you can’t out-supplement a stressed out life. And you cannot heal a stressed out body. So, I think even before getting into diet and supplementation, we need to teach our patients to get into that safe zone, that ventral vagal, that healing zone, that then allows the body to heal, to digest, to heal those tight junctions in the gut, to absorb nutrients properly. So, I keep going back like, “Is it chicken or the egg? Which one is most important—changing the diet or changing the mind first? Rewiring the brain or, as I like to say, doing an operating system upgrade?” Once in a while, I’m 50 years old and I found that over time there are moments in life when you have to realize, okay, the old ways aren’t working anymore. It’s time for me to upgrade my thinking, upgrade the way that I’m living my life. And just like your computer and your phone need to have operating system upgrades, I think our brains sometimes need to have a conscious, intentional upgrade where we decide, okay, this isn’t working anymore. The way we’re doing things isn’t working. So, if it’s not working, it means that you need to create a new set of rules for yourself and establish that as the new baseline.

Dr. Sandi: Absolutely. And I think that, as you look at…well, is it more of the power of the mind or the power of having the best supplements or the best diet in the world? And I think it goes back to the mind because you might be looking at those foods and thinking, “Oh, they’re not going to agree with me.” You’re going to find something wrong. But no matter what you’re eating, if you’re finding joy in it, and especially if you’re eating in the company of others that you love, and you are laughing and having a good time, that is so healing and transformative as opposed to somebody who is just micromanaging every nutrient and yet is stressed and not appreciating what they’re eating. So, I think they go hand in hand, but I love your focus on the part that has to do with the mind-body connection, the mind. And that’s really the role of a health coach. So, I’d love to hear your opinion on how health coaches can really be a vital part. What are your thoughts about that?

Dr. Vincent: We have to think of health coaches as an extension of the work that we’re doing as physicians and nurse practitioners, the more highly trained medical professionals that are basically laying out the roadmap of what needs to be done for a person. But along the way, there’s going to be cracks on the road. There’s going to be little bumps. The person’s going to trip. They’re going to need help getting back up. They’re going to need some motivation to keep going. And that’s where the health coach can come in, and hold their hands, and keep them looking at the horizon when sometimes people will lose sight of the horizon and they start seeing just the little bumps here on the road, and they lose the bigger perspective. And it’s so helpful to have someone who can keep the vision for the person.

I always think of the Statue of Liberty holding the torch of freedom, but really at that time when the Statue of Liberty was put into that position here at the harbor in New York, it was welcoming people to Ellis Island, which was where all foreigners had to go through Ellis Island. They would come in on a boat. And I always think of when I’m working with patients, that I’m basically holding the torch of their potential of the vision of where they need to go, and I’m holding it when they can’t hold it for themselves. And I think the health coach is an extension of that, to also hold that vision for the person, to be that positive force, to tell them, “Yeah, you can do it,” because a lot of what we accomplish in life is not necessarily based on just ability. It’s based on our belief and believing in ourselves. And that’s the easiest thing to lose, first, is our own belief in ourselves.

Sometimes I will have patients write down affirmations that they look at every day and it’s tailored to what they need. So, it could be, “I am worthy of self-care, or I deserve self-care, or I am good enough as I am, or I believe in myself. I can do this.” Because there are always going to be bumps along the road. There’s going to be moments when it feels hard. Everybody’s enthusiastic when the bell rings, and it’s ready, get, set, go. And it’s the middle of the race because the race is long, it’s not a short path. And you’ve got to keep that motivation. Just from working with gut patients, I’ve seen people who, yeah, sometimes you see incredible changes within a week, within 10 days, within two weeks, but that’s only the beginning. The real noticeable improvements, sometimes they’re not coming until four, six weeks, but sometimes they’re not coming until three months. And I’ve seen this a lot in patients taking out foods that are aggravators or food sensitivities like gluten. Gluten tends to persist in the body for a very long time, the gluten metabolites, and they tend to hold on… They’re very hydrophilic, so they hold on to a lot of water. And so if you take gluten out of the diet and two weeks later, the person’s like, “Well, I don’t notice a difference. I’m just going to go back to eating gluten.” Well, that wasn’t long enough. Maybe at four weeks you’re going to notice, but it depends on how inflamed, how long this has been going on for. I’ve seen it take three months where it seems like no progress is being made but really what’s happening is that, say you take away the inflammatory foods and inflammation is up here, but the threshold for where you start noticing improvements is here, so this is Month 1, the inflammation has dropped, but it hasn’t reached the threshold yet. Month 2, it’s dropped even more. But still the threshold is here. Month 3, it gets to the threshold. And right after Month 3, it goes below the threshold, and now you start noticing a difference. Weight starts coming off easily. Your dress sizes start going down. Your clothes start fitting looser.

So, a lot of it is about motivating people to stay the course for long enough, that they can really notice the difference, because what we’re going for is a life transformation. We’re not going for quick fixes. We’re going for something that is going to transform the person in a way that they’re going to want to stick with it and it becomes a life path. It’s not just a fad diet to lose weight or for whatever goal. It is a completely new philosophy on how to live their lives.

Dr. Sandi: Wow. Well, Dr. Vincent, you are a health coach. What you are describing is the coaching process. I think we need to give you an honorary certificate. When you talked about that beacon, you hold out that beacon of hope and to help them stay motivated and have that persistence to persevere because it’s not going to be an easy fix. So, I wish all doctors had that approach. Unfortunately, they’ve lost that because I think we’re really talking about bedside manner as well, which you have on steroids.

Dr. Vincent: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Dr. Sandi: Yeah. So, tell us about this new Gut-Brain Mastery course and how people can get involved.

Dr. Vincent: This is actually my first digital course, which is embarrassing because you think that I would have created a digital course by now, but, hey, I published two books. This is a big accomplishment.

Dr. Sandi: Yes.

Dr. Vincent: But I finally decided that I wanted to put together a digital course. And I never make things easy for myself because it would have been super easy to just say, okay, I’m just going to turn this book into a digital course, but I decided, you know what? I am passionate about the gut, but I want to do something that I’m ultra-passionate about. And I started thinking about it. And really the part of my book that really got me fired up was the vagus nerve, was the mindfulness stuff, the breath work, the meditation. The other stuff also, I love it all like fixing leaky gut, but really getting people to start making the connection between the gut and the brain, I don’t think we’ve quite accomplished that yet. So, I decided, okay, this is the course I want to create Gut-Brain Mastery Program. It’s designed to help people slay their stress, sharpen their focus, brighten their mood, und unlock the intuitive potential within using the power of the gut-brain connection. And I want to teach people how to biohack their inner zen in the same way that I was able to do so, using mind-body techniques but also using gut-brain techniques because we can actually hack the way that our brain is perceiving stress by the type of microbiome that we’re supporting in our gut through the foods that we eat. So, it’s crazy to think that even without therapy, even without…that you can already start to modify the way you react to your outside world, to your perceived stress by the type of bacteria you have in your gut, depending on the types of foods that you eat.

So, when I discovered this, and this is a little bit in this book, I thought, “Wow, this is amazing.” All of the people out there who are suffering from depression, anxiety, or even just overwhelmed from feeling super stressed, if I could just get them to start eating slightly differently in a way that supports their gut microbiome, and then with that, introduce mind-body hacks, breathwork techniques, and then in that, weaving in polyvagal theory to understand how to navigate between the different states of the vagus nerve and the sympathetic nervous system. And so I’ve put all of this together into this program. And it almost feels funny that me, as a doctor, also at the very end of the tagline, that I’m talking about unlocking your intuitive potential. But the truth is that I started thinking about the patients that I’ve seen over the years. And when patients come in anxious, stressed, with gut health issues, a lot of times they’re completely disconnected from their intuition. And they’re asking me, “Doctor, what should I do about this? What should I do?” But sometimes it’s more like, okay, but what do you think what we would do when you’re raising a child and you want them to start developing their own sense of direction? But I found that a lot of people, when their diet is poor, their gut microbiome is off, they lose that inner sense, that intuitive sense that’s being guided by our gut, which doesn’t have as many neurons as the brain. The brain has billions, but the gut only has about 500 million. However, it is the biggest conglomeration of neurons outside of the brain. So, that’s why we call it our second brain, but it is our first intuitive brain. I think it’s so important.

And so I bring that in to that because I think that, when you develop your gut intuition, you’re so much more connected. It’s not just about knowing what are the right foods to eat. It allows you to know, well, what is the right next step in your life? What should you do in this situation or dealing with a work situation? Really tuning into the wisdom of our bodies, listening to our bodies. So, I’ve packed all of this in there, into this program with a pre-program assessment where people test their gut health as well as what I call, and I created something called the gut-brain stress scale, which is basically a short questionnaire. It’s scored out of 99 points, and it’s meant to tease out how much is stress affecting your life and also potentially affecting your gut. And so we do a pre-assessment. And at the end of the course, we take the same quizzes again so that people can see, because sometimes, people, when you’re inside the frame, you don’t see the full picture. Sometimes you’re changing, but you don’t see it because you’re not seeing yourself and you’re seeing yourself every day, so you don’t notice the little changes.

I’ll tell you the first time I did this big experiment, I was done with residency, so I was like 25 years old. And back then, I’m 25. I’m young. I’ve got a lot of single friends. We go out to New York City and there’s drinking and all this. And I wasn’t feeling so good, and I was starting to feel a little bit depressed. And I was a bit worried about my future. And at that point, I didn’t know in which direction I wanted my future to go. I knew I wanted to carve out being a different type of doctor, but I didn’t know how that was going to happen. So, the future felt very chaotic. And I told my friends, “You know what? I’m going to take some time off.” I enrolled in a yoga teacher training. I started meditating every day or five days per week. I started cooking everything like eating at home, going to bed early, getting enough sleep. In about four to six weeks later, I went back out with them. I told them, “Hey, I’m going to take a break,” I think it was January, “and you’re not going to see me.” And when my friends saw me, they’re like, “What did you do? You look different.” They could see it in my face. I’m like, “I’ve been meditating, eating right, getting enough sleep.”

Dr. Sandi: The basics.

Dr. Vincent: Not drinking. It really comes down to basics. So, I feel inspired that we can make a big difference in people’s lives in just six weeks. And that’s how long this program is. It’s a six-week program. It’s self-paced so people can do it at whatever pace they want, and they can learn more about it at gutbrainmastery.com.

Dr. Sandi: gutbrainmastery.com. We will also put that in the show notes. And where can people find you if they want to stay connected?

Dr. Vincent: The best places are on social media. I’m actually on multiple channels now, hopefully one day on YouTube. But Instagram is a big one for me. So, @drpedre and you can also find some stuff on TikTok. I’m posting now on LinkedIn as well. So, trying to spread myself out in different social platforms, but the biggest one for me is Instagram. And if people want to learn more about the work that I do, they can go to happygutlife.com as well. But Gut-Brain Mastery is where the new course is called Gut-Brain Mastery Program.

Dr. Sandi: Wow, thank you for sharing about the course. Thank you for sharing about you. And such an inspirational story that I know will inspire all of our listeners. So, thank you so much, and good luck with the course. We’re happy to support you.

Dr. Vincent: Thank you for having me.