It will help you sleep better, keep stress at bay and make your skin, hair and eyes shine—Vogue goes in search of the answers to optimal gut health
The gut—experts call it the “second brain” and in the wellness world everything from probiotics to live enzymes have been prescribed to keep it in optimum condition. Why? Because it impacts every single area of your health from your sleep and your movement to your mood, your skin, the clearness of your eyes. Basically, if your digestive system is out of balance, you’re in trouble. “There are multiple downstream consequences of having poor gut health,” says Dr Rangan Chatterjee, an expert in gut health and author of The 4 Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life. “Not only can it cause gut-related symptoms such as indigestion, heartburn and bloating, but it also can be linked to problems with our mood, skin and joint pain.”
What happens when you have an unhealthy gut?
Everything stems from a balanced ecosystem within the intestines and stomach, so when your gut and digestion are out of sync, things quickly start to skew. The initial and obvious effects may be indigestion, heartburn and bloating, but these soon link up to further issues such as breakouts, skin dryness, pain in the joints and mood swings.
“In the last ten years the science in this area has exploded. The vast majority of modern, chronic diseases are in some way linked to inflammation. That comes from your body’s immune system and 70 per cent of the immune system resides in and around the gut,” explains Chatterjee.
Stress is also linked to poor gut health. Studies have shown that a balanced state of microorganisms within the gut can block stress receptors and healthy digestion has also been found to temper spikes in the stress hormone cortisol, improving memory function as well.
How do you establish balance in your gut?
Balance in your gut starts with balance in your lifestyle. “There are four key areas to look at,” says Dr Chatterjee, “movement, food, sleep and relaxation. Doing a little bit in each area has a huge impact on our gut.” Experts advise eating five different coloured vegetables a day, upping your intake of roughage and keeping your diet diverse to help keep bugs at bay. Regular and consistent movement will also keep your system working more efficiently.
What causes bad gut health and how do you counteract it?
Among the major culprits in gut irritants are the same catalysts that cause inflammation within the system. These include antibiotics and other pharmaceutical medication, highly processed food, alcohol, cigarettes and artificial sweeteners.
If your gut health has been compromised, take a probiotic. The experts’ favourite is the recently launched Symprove. This liquid formula, with each shot containing about ten billion live colony-forming units, adjusts the environment within the gut to encourage good bacteria production and better overall function, rather than creating new bacteria.
In terms of natural steps to harness the benefits of good gut health, Dr Chatterjee suggests eating a rainbow of vegetables each day to ensure you are taking in a lot of prebiotic fibre, which is the fibre that actually feeds your gut bugs.
Good gut tips from around the world
Fermented foods are the go-to when it comes to balancing the gut in Japan. Contributing beauty editor for Vogue Nippon, Yu Soga, says, “We eat fermented foods almost every day; miso, soy sauce, natto (fermented soybeans) and tsukemono which are pickled vegetables.” Beauty experts have also turned their attention to a fermented rice malt drink, amazake, which has been around for years. And the latest trend is to mix tea leaves with fermented botanicals, which is not dissimilar to the Korean live enzyme drink, kombucha. Try Chakouso’s fermented tea drink and Ichi-kouji’s probiotic formula.
“Gut health has always been a focus in the traditional approach to health here,” says Vogue India’s network editor, Ridhima Sapre. “Traditional Indian cooking actually places a lot of emphasis on digestion, the use of spices, the way certain things are cooked, foods that you consume when you have a stomach bug. It is also very common for people to make yoghurt at home from live cultures and consume it as a part of their daily diet. The yoghurt is served in a few different forms, including a drink called chaas (a salted, spiced smoothie) that’s taken as a pre-meal digestive. Some traditional Ayurvedic supplements (like triphala) are also becoming popular again.”
“In Chinese medicine, doctors recommend taking the navel as the centre and massaging it in a clockwise direction,” explains Queennie Yang, Vogue International’s Asia editor. “If you can press the Tianshu acupoints, which are two inches to the left and right of the navel, you will feel a real difference. It is known to improve gastrointestinal motility.”
“Acupressure is used widely too. Press the root of the thumb and front palm, which is the Dayuji acupoint; the Hegu acupoint, which is at your hands’ purlicue (the fleshy dip between the thumb and forefinger); and the Zhongchong acupoint which is at the fingertip of the middle finger. This is said to help with the detoxification of the gut.”
According to traditional Chinese medicine, early morning is when the gut is most receptive. “We believe that from 5am to 7am, the gut part of the human body meridians is at its prime, so we drink a cup of salt water to cleanse the gut. Some traditional food therapies like hawthorn berry, red bean porridge, cassia seed tea and barley water are also great.”
Digital beauty editor for Vogue Germany, Beatrice Graf says, “Sauerkraut is the traditional German dish that helps the gut. It’s rich in vitamins C, B and K. We call it the ‘caretaker of the gut’. Sauerkraut is low in calories and contains lactic acid which we consider good bacteria. We consume it in a multitude of ways, but the healthiest form is considered to be fresh and warmed. But you can even drink it as a juice, though this might be an acquired taste!”