In today’s edition of “sexy water cooler topics”, we’re going to talk about gut health. And, as the official, self-appointed, writer of all things unsexy-but-incredibly-important this is definitely within my repertoire. It’s something I’m also super passionate about after my personal five-year deep dive into my own gut health, that very nearly ended in a fecal transplant – which yes, is exactly what you think and is every bit as disgusting as you can imagine. I didn’t go through with it; instead enlisting a host of holistic practitioners to first see if I could heal my gut in other ways (removing stress by way of ditching my high-anxiety job was number one, FYI.)
So here’s what you probably already know: The gut is known as the “second brain” and is vital to our overall health – both mental and physical. In fact, around 80 percent of your immune system lives in your gut so – surprise! – If your gut is out of whack, you’re going to feel the effects throughout your whole being. An unhealthy gut is also linked to a whole host of fun skin ailments too like eczema, rosacea and chronic acne.
And, while talk of the gut is definitely not a new thing, it is gaining a lot of traction, largely thanks to the introduction of mainstream gut-friendly products and some pretty cool microbiome research that’s helping us to understand just how much the gut influences both health and illness. Which is where I come in to tell you all about it.
You know what else isn’t new? The Vagus nerve. And that’s because it’s the 10th cranial nerve, which is something we all have in our bodies. But, what’s that got to do with the gut? Dan Sipple, B.Sc, Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist at The Functional Naturopath explains, “in addition to the heart and lungs, the vagus nerve is the bridge between our gut and brain organs, and is often referred to as the gut-brain-axis. It acts like a two-way highway and is a channel of constant communication about the state and health of each organ through particular chemical messengers that travel up and down this network.”
Specifically, the vagus nerve controls the part of the human nervous system that’s associated with rest, digestion, repair and regeneration, so if it’s in bad shape it’ll inhibit the gut’s potential to digest and absorb nutrients effectively. Plus, it’ll also curb the body’s ability to go into repair mode, which is needed to detoxify, build hormones and repair cellular damage… all the things that make us look (and feel), well. And guess what the greatest contributor to unhealthy tonicity of the vagus nerve is? Chronic stress.
Unsurprisingly then, Dan notes that conditions typically associated with stress (like Irritable Bowel Syndrome) respond well to techniques that improve vagal tone. “I rarely encounter a patient with digestive symptoms that are unrelated to or at least exacerbated by stress,” he says. “Stress increases the “leakiness” of the gut wall which provokes systemic inflammation, and in response, the vagus nerve loses regularity control.”
It’s no surprise then that Atelier’s very own Editorial Director, Veronica keeps Vagus Nerve Oil by Osea on her desk and slathers it daily on her neck to de-stress her afternoon.
While we’re on the topic of stress, have you met the new-old kid in wellness – adaptogens? They too have been around for centuries (one of many genius remedies in Traditional Chinese Medicine) but are making a scrunchie-style comeback – except, you know, they do more than make your hair pretty. Adaptogens are linked to a reduction in stress, which (as we know) causes all sorts of issues for the gut.
So, what are they exactly? Amanda Chantal Bacon, CEO and Founder of Moonjuice (one of the first companies to bring adaptogens to the masses) explains “adaptogens are super herbs and mushrooms that expand the body’s capacity to handle stress, and help regulate stress hormones such as cortisol.” What makes these plants so special is that they natively grow in some of the harshest environments in the world, and have adapted (get it?!) to become more resilient and thrive despite these conditions – which is why they’re so potent. Of course it makes sense to gobble down the good stuff then, letting the mushrooms work their stress-relieving magic from the inside out.
But recently, adaptogens have been popping up in topical beauty products… so how can they work from the outside, in? Amanda explains, “when ingested, adaptogens work internally on multiple systems of the body. When applied topically, they can help the skin’s resilience to stress that can cause accelerated aging. Reishi for example, helps protect and fortify your skin’s natural barrier.”
Tablet form supplements are like, so 2018. Now, it’s all about ingestible beauty – powders, dusts, and other potions that you can slap into your smoothie, or take straight up each morning.
The Nue Co is one of the brands that have emerged in this category, launching in the UK in 2017 with a range of powdered supplements that focus on gut health. CEO and Founder, Jules Miller developed the range in response to her own gut issues (specifically, IBS) creating her own efficacious supplements with high quality food-sourced ingredients that blended science with natural innovation. And, she was onto something too because as we know, Mother Nature is a goddamn queen with some almighty powers when it comes to health.
“We work with foods in the majority of our products because that is quite simply what your body recognises, it is more easily absorbed and utilized by the body,” says Jules. The decision to make it in powdered ingestible format was a no-brainer too, because they were made to fit seamlessly into your life. Think: a sprinkle on your morning oatmeal, or a sleep powder in plant milk to finish the night – so you actually use them. And, let’s be honest, if there’s a simple way to weave health into our life we’re here for it.
Probiotics being great for gut health is old (though, still very valid) news. When ingested, these live bacteria can have benefits to the gut including increased immune response, anti-allergenic action and mood regulatory effects. But the thing is, they’re only there for a quick vacay – the probiotic gut party is super short lived. Dan explains “it’s really important to understand that probiotics do not colonize ones gut and hang around in there permanently. Once the live bacteria from a probiotic you’ve taken have exited your system, you’re back to your own native microbes which you inherited from your mother.” And, what they do is also dependent and limited to the strain.
It’s for that reason Dan believes prebiotics are the real rockstars of gut health, “Prebiotics are certain fibers that can selectively feed and help repair injured species of good bacteria that we naturally harbor – which are often damaged or lost completely due to western diet, stress, toxicity, antibiotics and medications”.
Or, as Jules simply puts it “Think about probiotic bacteria as a seed and prebiotics are its fertilizer. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria that live in our gut, encouraging it to thrive, while probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial for our digestive system.”
The one thing our experts agree on is that we’re only just scratching the surface with what we know about the gut, and just how important it is to our wellbeing. Not only is it the ground zero of our bodies, it impacts everything from our digestion to our sleep cycle, and even our mental health. Which is a pretty good reason to always listen to your gut.
Sarah Tarca is one of our favorite contributing beauty writers. You may remember her from here and here. Previously, she worked as the Beauty Director of Marie Claire Australia and the Editor in Chief of Girlfriend magazine. Currently, she happens to be a badass new mom AND a Co-Founder of the super cool site, The Wayward. Follow along with her on Instagram here!