Date: 15 August.
Location: Dad’s office, just like when I was a kid and would photocopy everything I could find then make it into ‘art’ with his highlighters.
I’ve had a little too much time on my hands lately and I’ve begun to dabble in all sorts of things I’d previously relegated to the flower-filled realm of hippie drivel along with reiki, crystals and veganism.
My weird number one new interest has been gut health. I’m morbidly fascinated by guts now. Mine, yours, everyone’s. If what I’ve been learning about your gut doesn’t particularly interest you, you can skip to my next post which is likely to cover what happened when I went to the trainee waxing student and will probably be quite funny.
- Your gut ‘thinks’: Part of your peripheral nervous system is a network of neurons lining your gut so extensive some scientists have nicknamed it your “second brain” (though we’re grown-ups so let’s just call it the enteric nervous system). It consists of sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the long tube of your gut and contains some 100 million neurons — more than in your spinal cord.
- Your gut can affect your mood: The enteric nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of your body’s serotonin is found in your bowels. Serotonin. That’s the ‘happy drug’ When mood-affecting hormones are produced in your gut, doesn’t that give a whole new depth to the phrases ‘gut feeling’ and ‘butterflies in your stomach’. Doesn’t the advice ‘go with your gut’ suddenly seem quite sage advice?
- Your gut likes to garden: Plus, did you know that about 90% of the cells in your ‘body’ at any time are bacteria (the ‘microbiome’), with only 10% being human cells? Most of this bacterial army live in your gut, and ‘communicate’ with your enteric nervous system. When ‘good’ gut flora is slaughtered by stress, antibiotics or competing flora, this can, in theory, affect your enteric nervous system and, hence, your overall physical and mental health.
- But it’s not invincible: These same factors can lead to increased gut permeability: that is, the mortar between the ‘bricks’ of your gut wall eroding. Some ingested molecules just shouldn’t ever get past this barrier. However, if it has increased permeability, some of these may get a VIP pass straight in, angering nearby cells and causing an autoimmune or allergic response. Excessive gut permeability is a factor in diseases such as Crohn’s, celiac, type 1 diabets and the ever-delightful IBS.
Apparently, the symptoms of your gut walls needing a The Block-esque renovation includ bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, bad skin, exhaustion and aches and pains. But, aside from Michelle Bridges, don’t we all complain of some of these?
That said, I’ve set aside my healthy cynicism for a few weeks and I’ve been dabbling. Dabbling in all sorts of weird and wonderful things to see if it affects any of the above complaints. I’ve tried:
- A course of pill probiotics (have you had your Inner Health Plus today?!)
- Kefir, a fermented dairy-based and yogurt-like source of probiotics.
- Getting plenty of sleep.
- Kombucha, a fizzy fermented tea historically (and dramatically) labelled ‘the elixir of life’ by the Chinese. Kombucha is some seriously weird stuff and, as it’s super expensive, I’ve been playing mad scientist in my kitchen and experimenting with making my own after buying some big glass jars and, from eBay, a kombucha SCOBY. That stands for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast — sounds yummy, right? Added bonus is that it looks like something that came off the underside of a swamp monster. You make a sweet tea from filtered water and slip in the scary, slippery SCOBY and impatiently watch the drink ferment for a week to a month. The result is a very tart, bubbly tea in an ominous shade of brown that is best described as an ‘acquired taste’. Each new batch generates a new SCOBY and grows the original so I now have a significant portion of theaforementioned swamp monster lurking in dark jars on my top shelves. Anyone want one? I know, I sell them so well.
- Making bone broth. Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds. You smile at your local butcher, secure a few pounds of the bones of an organic animal and simmer these in water, vinegar, vegetables and aromatics for a day or two, leeching nutrients from the bones to produce a thin broth full of goodness. One of the alleged health benefits of this liquid (Google it, there are a million) is that that the gelatin helps mend holes in your intestinal tract, reducing gut permaility.
Am I convinced? Look, we’ll see. I feel pretty great… but I’m getting 8 hours of sleep every night so who wouldn’t be? There’s a good article on the gut-head connection on the American Psychological Association’s website if you’re interested.
Anyway, you add all of the above dabbling to yoga, the ‘silver’ anklet from Varanasi that miraculously continues to cling to my right ankle and even I start wondering if I’m becoming a hippie. Rest assured, I’m in no danger of going hairy or growing dreadlocks. But you know how there’s that stereotype that all lesbians are butch so society labels girlie lesbians ‘lipstick lesbians’. Well, there’s also stereotype that all hippies are vegan and hairy — so can I perhaps be a ‘high-heeled hippie’?