My journey didn’t end there.
I was then, as a young child, diagnosed with “IBS”. I would often tell Nanny Pat (my grandmother and legal guardian) I had a tummy ache: “Nan, Nan, my stomach hurts,” while tensely clutching my tummy. It was only after thorough investigation (including cameras both up and down me) that doctors came to the conclusion it was IBS – a condition recognised as a precursor to psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression. Confusingly, also as a condition preceded by stressful life events – a bit of a chicken and egg situation.
I managed to dodge the doctors for a few years of my life thereafter, still failing to join the dots between stressful periods of my life and my “tummy aches”.
Some years before that epiphany eventually occurred, I ended up in hospital having had the worst bout of diarrhoea I’d ever had. And, thankfully, have ever had. Before they worked out it was a case of bad bacteria (campylobacter – a bit like salmonella), the prognosis was potential colitis. I was given an antibiotic which I was informed worked for 50 per cent of people... when I asked what would happen if I was among the 50 per cent of people it didn’t work for, I was told I might have to have part of my bowel removed. Nineteen with a shit bag... sweet.
Two things here should be highlighted – bacteria and antibiotics.
Thanks to bouts of chronic tonsillitis and a doctor more than happy to write a prescription, I’ve had more courses of antibiotics than I can count, without ever taking probiotics to replace the good bacteria. The antibiotics were killing the good along with the bad. It’s quite likely I was also given antibiotics post-surgery as a child. Your gut biota is fully formed by the time you are two or three – these formative years are incredibly important. Children who are born via C-section miss out on all the wonderful bacteria of the canal during birth, and children who aren’t breastfed (I wasn’t) develop with an absence or much lesser presence of four very important healthy bacteria.
It wasn’t until much later on in life I learned there was such thing as good bacteria. And that it’s all over us, living in little colonies everywhere, inside and out. Half of our body weight is made up of something invisible to the human eye. It’s only in recent years there’s been such a keen interest in gut health and its link to overall health, including mental health. So, the information is ever evolving.
Fast forward to my early 30s; after 18 months of being vegan and feeling somewhat self-righteous, I couldn’t quite get my head around why I felt absolutely sod-rotten awful.
I had a burning sensation on my tongue and lips that nothing seemed to solve. I was woken up every morning by a nagging sensation in my stomach that felt a lot like the anxious knot I had as a child. Only this time there was a big difference – I wasn’t anxious!
After much investigation (including cameras up and down me AGAIN) my gastroenterologist found that I had gastritis, esophagitis (stage 2 – stage 3 is irreversible and stage 5 is... let’s not worry about that) and a hiatus hernia to go along with my upper abdominal incisional hernia left from my surgery as a child.
I spent two years on a concoction of the highest dosage of stomach acid-reducing drugs to try and manage symptoms and avoid surgery. Meanwhile I started reading increasing evidence that people spending long periods on these medications are more susceptible to cancer.
Needless to say, the drugs didn’t work and I ended up in hospital again. This time for hernia surgery. I was assured that if everything went well, I would be out of hospital in 48 hours and back in the gym within six weeks.
Everything did go well, until the morning after I was discharged from hospital and I woke up looking like I was a week late giving birth to triplets: I’d distended.
I arrived back at hospital with distension, ileus, pneumonia, a CRP of 672 and the faces of three extremely qualified and very concerned doctors standing over me.
After two weeks we never did get to the bottom of what went wrong, and after draining 4 litres of inflammatory fluid from my revised scar and mesh implant, a blanket of the highest dose of four different antibiotics in case of infection, 100mg of prednisone a day and me removing my own NG tube because I couldn’t bear to be in the hospital another day, I returned home...
With an all but an entirely paralysed stomach.
I was struggling to eat solids – anything I ate was stuck putrefying in my stomach before ever reaching my small intestine (where almost all nutrients are absorbed). Much like what I encountered as a baby, my stomach was dormant.
My options were either to wait in hope of something miraculously changing, or gastric bypass surgery that could have resulted in the worst possible outcome.
Needless to say I opted to wait.
And to read. I went down rabbit hole after rabbit hole learning about nutrition, gut health and, surprisingly, its link to mental health.
There’s a direct link between the gut and the brain, a symbiotic link: the vagus nerve. It’s the longest nerve in the body and it used to be thought that it was the brain’s way of communicating with the stomach. Turns out it’s a two-way street, with 80-90 per cent of information travelling from the gut to the brain informing it on the happenings of the body’s organs.
After much reading I started to take action.
I began using a probiotic called Symprove, drinking Boo Chi (a brand of Kombucha – which I previously thought was just an LA fad), drinking organic, grass-fed, antibiotic-free bone broth, trying to eat well-cooked solids wherever I could (turns out raw foods are the hardest for your stomach to break down and extract nutrients from), and moving (turns out the idea of walking off a meal isn’t a bad one, if you’re inactive you’ll have a lazy metabolism).
I returned to the hospital (one of many visits) to have my bloods checked, and unlike prior results which revealed terrible amino profiles and vitamin deficiencies (especially b12) my bloods had improved – I had a near-perfect amino profile.
Much to my surprise, the better care I took of my gut, the better I felt mentally. I slept better, my energy was more consistent throughout the day and my mood was better. People often think about one of our happy hormones, serotonin (or a lack thereof post a weekend at a festival doing all the things that deplete it), and usually associate it with the brain. However, 95 per cent is created in the gut, facilitated by good bacteria.
Looking after my gut vastly improved both my mental and physical health. But my 15-minute morning routine of working my way through a cabinet filled with (natural) supplements was growing tiresome. I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t one, cohesive supplement combining all the best ingredients to enhance physical and mental health.
I wanted a one-stop-shop gut, brain, health booster. And when I met entrepreneur Kevin Godlington and UK-based labatory Nutrivitality, I realised this was possible. And so, begun Aguulp, a liquid supplement that delivers up to five times the nutrient absorbtion of pill-form vitamins .
So, if you’ve been feeling a bit poo, next time you’re in the loo, take stock of just what that stool looks like. It can be quite indicative of how your lifestyle choices and environment are affecting your gut and, by proxy, your mood.
It’s now thought that gut health is more indicative than your DNA when it comes to determining whether conditions you may be predisposed to genetically will present. But I’ll leave that for now as this is plenty to digest. Pun intended.
Professor Green is the co-founder of Aguulp. Visit www.aguulp.com to purchase Aguulp for Brain, Aguulp for Gut, Aguulp for Immunity and Aguulp Gut Test