My Journey Towards Gut Health

by Charisse Kenion

gut health


Over the years my gut has been a major influence in my life and what I do with it; conversely, it’s also proven to be a part of my body that is highly influenced by what’s happening in my life. In the past, it was almost like my gut and my skin were on high-stress alert, literally anything could push them over the edge. An argument with the ex could mean extreme discomfort due to bloating – and the reaction in my skin? Painful, sometimes cystic pimples. Back then, I wholeheartedly put my gut issues down to a toxic relationship, because as well as having IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), I also had the worst acne and ground my teeth to such an extent that I had to wear mouthguards. After several years of relationship BS, I escaped to Dubai, leaving it behind. I kid you not; within weeks there was zero teeth grinding and no IBS to speak of. My skin acclimatized differently due to the heat and humidity, but it was very clear to me that it was the relationship causing my stressful stomach. In hindsight however, I realized that there were other factors at play.

Over the past few years, I’ve become ultra-aware of my stomach and its sensitivities. Although I made it out of a bad relationship, my gut would still act up from time to time (still does), so I became very astute at tracking the cause and effect. Often I would get IBS if I was rushing to get somewhere, had a lot of work, or was stressing about a particular job. I would also get IBS if I left long periods of time in between meals, or only ate fruit for breakfast and then didn’t eat anything else for a few hours. I’ve slowly adjusted how and when I eat to accommodate any potential slip-ups, because, at its worst, IBS can be painfully debilitating, with one occasion leading to me in an ambulance. FYI, there are currently three recognized types of IBS; one that features constipation (that’s me), one that comes with diarrhea, and a third that is a mix of both. Nice.

Like fellow Pretty Bird Roki Prunali, I strongly believe that the gut and brain are connected, that the gut is in fact, our second brain – hence the term, ‘go with your gut’. Roki began her research into the gut and /brain connection when investigating how switching to a gluten-free and casein-free diet might give relief to her son’s symptoms since he was diagnosed as being on the spectrum of autism. For me, the research has been fuelled by the infrequent but sometimes scary, issues I’ve had with my own gut.

A couple of years ago I decided to try being plant-based; entrepreneur and author Hannah Bronfman that helped me make that decision. It was her discovery of why she was suffering from leaky gut and how it caused her skin breakouts, that led to her her debut book, Do What Feels Good: Recipes, Remedies and Routines to Treat Your Body Right. Following Hannah’s path then led me to Dr. Steven Gundry, author of The Plant Paradox; The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain, who was also recently featured on Khloe Kardashian’s Revenge Body. On his eponymous podcast, Dr. Gundry says: “Your skin is actually a reflection of what’s going on on the surface of your gut. It’s your body telling you, ‘You’ve got a major breakout down below, and we want to show you this’.” He also says that he’s seeing increasing numbers of older women experiencing rosacea acne and that it’s likely coming from a leaky gut.

Although my doctor was confident my issues could solely be attributed to IBS, he encouraged me to have stomach scans and various samples and I’m all good, thankfully. I definitely believe that stress is still a huge factor, and I’m a firm believer in following what your gut is saying. 

Our guts are what gives us the instinct to make decisions when we’re feeling unsure or uncomfortable.  For example, if you meet someone and something doesn’t feel right, you often feel it in your gut, rather than your brain. But of course, we often ignore our guts. We’ll have that date although our gut is telling us that person isn’t for us. We’ll take that job even though the salary isn’t quite right and we don’t entirely love the vibe of the office for security. This theory is backed up by science too. Professor Mark Lyte of Iowa State University has spent over 25 years trying to prove that our gut microbes communicate with the nervous system using some of the same neurochemicals that relay messages in the brain.

So, that’s why I’ve spent the last few years trying to figure out what triggers my gut (usually stress) and how to treat it. I’ve found that meditation doesn’t really calm me.  Instead, when I feel that my gut isn’t happy, I try to assess my workload; what can I remove from it, which meetings can I reschedule with minimum fuss, which RSVP’s can I say no to. 

Other things that have worked for me: 

Going vegetarian.
Although I’ve recently added some meat to my diet, it is very infrequent.
Meat takes a lot longer to break down in the digestive tract, so removing it from my diet simply means I’m making things easier for my body.

Supplements. I take a lot of Evening Primrose Oil which is said to be amazing for feminine hormone imbalances, which of course only add to our stress. Krill Oil, said to reduce inflammation, a key factor in IBS and many issues within the body. And, Turmeric, again, an inflammation fighter that has been respected as a holistic healer for thousands of years.

Adding fermented/live foods.
Although I know from experience that large amounts of 
dairy is not good for my skin – three days after eating ice cream and my face is a mess – there are some major gut benefits from eating live yogurt, as well as fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles.

This probably won’t solve all of your brain and gut issues, because, although they’re linked, I think, for each of us, they most likely require very specific treatments. One thing’s for sure, if you at least focus your efforts on the brain or the gut, you will most likely see positive results all around. Remember to make sure you consult a healthcare professional if you feel you are experiencing chronic gut issues.

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