As someone who has always struggled with IBS and other gut issues, writer Joëlle Davidson went on an investigative hunt to find some answers and life-changing solutions.
There is a remarkable transition that has occurred in the medical world in the last decade or so: The shift in focus to nutrition. No longer a brief side note, nutrition has become an answer – and in many cases, a root cause – to many issues.
At the centre of it all, is the gut. The human gastrointestinal tract is where food is digested, nutrients extracted and absorbed into the body. Included in this system are all our digestive organs: mouth, pharynx, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum and anus. Yes, unfortunately we can’t talk about digestion without that stuff every now and then. But the gut’s role in our health is much bigger than most of us could imagine.
It was coming across Dr Vincent Pedre, a Functional Medicine practitioner and thought leader in gut health, that brought me to understand how integral a healthy gut is to a healthy body, and a healthy mind too. In his essential guide on gut health, called Happy Gut, Dr Pedre writes: ‘When I say it all starts in your gut, I mean almost everything! Headaches, migraines, allergies, autoimmunity, weight gain, acne, skin rashes, yeast infections, hormonal imbalances, fatigue, immune challenges, even the way you sense pain – they all relate to the condition and health of
Dr Pedre explains that the surface area of your gastrointestinal tract is an astounding 200 times larger than that of your skin, and because everything you consume lands up in your gut, it is the largest surface that interacts with the outside world. On a daily basis, your gut is in contact with all sorts of nutrients and toxins, working hard to extract, absorb and distribute all the good stuff while simultaneously protecting you from the bad. But to do its job properly, the gut needs to be balanced and healthy.
INSIDE THE GUT
Your gut has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS), so complex and important to who we are that it is affectionately dubbed ‘The Second Brain’.
World leader in integrated medicine and a founder of Functional Medicine, Dr Leo Galland explains: ‘Your ENS has as many nerve cells as your spinal cord and is in constant communication with your first brain’. With most of your body’s lymphocytes (the type of white blood cells that champion immunity, fighting invading viruses and bacteria) found in the lining of your small intestine, the gut forms a major part of your immune system too.
Dr Galland further explains that your gut houses ‘a thousand different species of bacteria, a few dozen types of yeasts and fungi, an unknown number of viruses, and an occasional worm’. This makes up the gut microbiome and as one of the key indicators of how healthy your gut is, the microbiome has been at the cutting edge of clinical health research.
BALANCING THE MICROBIOME
Achieving a healthy microbiome is key to a well-functioning gut, which, as research has shown, has a major influence on regulating our nutritional and mental state, sleeping patterns, energy levels, weight and resilience to illness. This is why American health testing company Viome created their Gut Intelligence test. The test identifies which micro- organisms are present in your unique microbiome and analyses their activity to provide an incredibly detailed look at the composition of your gut. With this information, Viome deliver personalised data on what’s really going on in every area of your gut, indicating what needs improvement, and includes supplement, probiotic and food recommendations.
The purpose of the test follows the model of Functional Medicine. ‘While Western medicine is symptom- and diagnosis-centred, Functional Medicine is patient- and process-centred, as it endeavours to enhance and support the innate ability of the body to heal itself,’ says Dr Pedre. The results and recommendations Viome supplies are aimed at enhancing your gut and body, and to get it functioning at its very best.
This is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but your very own personalised, detailed road map to reach your optimal health. As someone who has suffered from IBS mildly but consistently for 10 years now, Viome’s Gut Intelligence test is pretty exciting. I have had my fair share of dabbling with different diets – I’ve been vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and most recently a ‘little bit of everything’, with some fitting better than others, all while still enduring a daily bloat and other IBS-related symptoms. I am intrigued by health, eat a good dose of fruit and veg
every day, and lead a generally healthy life. Yet IBS has persisted the whole way through, and my relationship with my body has been quite the roller coaster.
The Viome test kit arrives all neatly packed with easy-to-follow instructions for each step. The test itself uses a stool sample, which may be daunting, but they’ve made it as simple, clean and efficient as can be. You also submit an online questionnaire. This was an aspect of the test that really impressed me – it felt great to know that my sample would be analysed in relation to the context of my age, habits, lifestyle, current health status and what I hope to achieve.
THE START OF EVERYTHING
When I received my results, the amount of detail and data that Viome extracted was remarkable, and a little overwhelming. Luckily Ashleigh Bouguenon, Product Manager in Viome’s Joburg office, was wonderful in walking me through the results, answering my questions and giving me loads of tips. Your results are calculated into a series of scores that are ranked in three categories: good, average and not optimal. My overall gut microbiome health scored 53, a solid average. But as I dug deeper into the scores, there were a few areas that ranked ‘not optimal’ and needed urgent attention – such as my metabolic fitness (due to low bile acid metabolism and butyrate production) and the health of my gut lining.
Once I understood what the composition of my gut looked like and where it needed me to help, it was time to turn to my nutritional recommendations. This is split up into lists: ‘avoid’, ‘minimise’, ‘enjoy’ and ‘superfoods’. As per Ashleigh’s suggestion, the first step I took was to cut out the foods on my ‘avoid’ list and restrict the foods on my ‘minimise’ list. These contribute to my lower scores, or could potentially further aggravate my gut. I tried to focus on the foods
that were going to be beneficial: The ‘superfoods’ list. For example, we often eat beef at home, but it was on my ‘avoid’ list. However, lamb, which I normally.
DID YOU KNOW?
Your gastrointestinal tract is an astounding 200 times larger than that of your skin. And because everything you consume lands up in your gut, it is the largest surface that interacts with the outside world.
didn’t pay much attention to, was on my ‘superfoods’ list. Instead of thinking about all the spaghetti Bolognese I was going to miss out on, I started getting excited about how to cook more lamb. I began snacking on apples and good- quality yoghurt, adding a tablespoon of sauerkraut to my lunches, stashing chicken bone broth in the freezer for night’s when I was too lazy to cook, began a love affair with ghee, made my green smoothies with spirulina
and kale instead of spinach, opted for oats for breakfast and started the morning with a cup of warm water, lemon and ginger – all foods from my superfoods list.
As Dr Pedre writes, ‘The foods we eat control our state of health, and the gut is the gateway to the rest of= the body. Who’s ultimately in control of that gateway? You are – by what you put in your mouth.’ I was given the power to understand just what was going on in my gut and the insights to take personalised action by considering what I put on the other side of my fork. After just two months of following my Viome recommendations (as closely as I can, there are still some slip-up days!),
I am so impressed by what I have learnt and the impact it has had on my body. My digestion is probably the best it has been in years, with the bloating and discomfort a rare occurrence. I feel so much better in my body – it moves better, my clothes fit better and honestly, I look better!
But the really incredible part is seeing just how much your gut has to do with everything else in life. I had been battling a consistently sniffly winter nose when I first began my journey – I couldn’t leave the house without a pack of tissues! Now I do not feel anxious if I forget them at home. My hair is growing faster and looking more luscious and bouncy. My mind feels sharper and I have noticed
a big increase in my positive thinking. I feel mentally and emotionally stronger, more capable. I have more energy to move, to do the dishes, to work, and also to dedicate to myself. And to think, it all started in the gut…
A GUT BOOST
GUT HEALTH MAY BE A TRENDY TOPIC WRITTEN ABOUT ALL OVER THE SHOW, SO WE ASKED THE PROFESSIONALS AT VIOME FOR THEIR TOP FOUR GUT LESSONS.
Health is individual
Our DNA, where we live, where we have come from and the life we lead makes us individual people and bodies with very different guts! Eat, move and live in a way that makes you the best version of you. Health cannot be a copy -paste situation.
Think of your gut as a supportive organ
When you take care of your gut, it takes care of you! It’s a long game So much has changed for me in just two months, but I know that my gut and body has been out of balance for a long time. It’s going to take a long time to get it to its best.
Diversity is wonderful
The more diverse your gut composition is, the better. Consuming prebiotic foods, ramping up probiotic foods and taking a daily probiotic are great ways to help your gut reach fighting shape.
Find out more about Viome: viome.co.za