You are what you eat. Or more accurately, you are what you feed the trillions of little critters that live in your gut.
If five or six months ago someone came up to me and even mentioned the words 'prebiotic' or 'probiotic', I would have pulled a funny face. Pre-what? Pro-whaaat? All I knew was that this had something to do with your gut health. Now, I know what you may be thinking... 'How do I know if I have good gut health?' Well, it's actually easier than it sounds.
Many facets of modern life, including high stress, too little sleep, eating processed foods or high-sugar foods, and even taking antibiotics can damage your gut microbiome. This in turn may affect other aspects of our health, such as the brain, heart, immune system, skin, weight, hormone levels, ability to absorb nutrients, and even the development of cancer. In essence, gut microbiome is just a fancy name for all the bacteria, viruses and fungi that exist, mainly inside your intestines and on your skin!
The gut microbiome begins to effect your body from the moment you are born, and as it grows, it begins to affect your body in a number of different ways. It affects your gut health, it may benefit heart health or help to control blood sugar and lower the risk of diabetes, as well as it may affect your brain health.
Yes, it all sounds very fancy, but the easiest way for you to tell if you have a healthy gut is by paying attention to the signs of an unhealthy gut:
1. Upset stomach. Stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, diarrhoea can all be signs of an unhealthy gut.
2. High-sugar diet. A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease the amount of good bacteria in your gut. This imbalance can cause increased sugar cravings, which can damage your gut still further. High amounts of refined sugars, particularly high-fructose corn syrup, have been linked to increased inflammation in the body. Inflammation can be the precursor to a number of diseases and even cancers.
3. Unintentional weight changes. Gaining or losing weight without making changes to your diet or exercise habits may be a sign of an unhealthy gut.
4. Sleep disturbances or constant fatigue. An unhealthy gut may contribute to sleep disturbances such as insomnia or poor sleep, and therefore lead to chronic fatigue. The majority of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep, is produced in the gut. So gut damage can impair your ability to sleep well.
5. Skin irritation. This one was a red flag for me. As a vegan, I eat lots of fruit, vegetables, smoothies, tofu, and I also drink about 2 litres of water every single day. Yet, my skin still looked horrible: red spots on my forehead mostly, but also my chin, and I couldn't seem to get rid of them with diet alone.
After trying to go down the 'water' route as a way to solve my skin irritation, I was incredibly disappointed to see that NOTHING had changed after a few months. I mean, NOTHING! My skin was still breaking out like crazy, and while I was having sugary foods occasionally on the weekends, I seriously doubt they were the cause of the all those breakouts. Something else was going on, and I was done ignoring it.
I have a very well balanced diet, and although sometimes I jump off the bandwagon and have sugary foods and sometimes processed foods, I do balance it off with eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and through eating the right amounts of grains, protein, fat, and carbs, including lots of skin-healing foods such as celery, lemon, turmeric, garlic, etc. However, even after all the efforts to get rid of the stubborn acne, everything remained the same. Furthermore, I started wondering whether my thick, dark facial hair that I often get around my chin area or on the sides of my face was in fact, also connected with a hormonal imbalance.
Getting the help of medical professionals was a complete waste of time! I was told facial hair was completely normal in European and middle eastern women, it was all down to my DNA, it was completely NORMAL. At this point, I thought 'well, that's it, then. I'll be waxing my face for the rest of my life....it's cultural, it's in my DNA, and I can't possibly change my DNA.'
Then, one day, many months ago, I was lucky enough to find a few people on social media, whose accounts were strictly dedicated to hormonal acne and how to treat it naturally. And guess what the most mentioned words were when it came to natural treatments for hormonal acne? Prebiotics and probiotics! My research was just getting started. I spent days glued to the computer, doing as much research as possible, as I was determined to figure this out on my own, since the professionals were IGNORING the problem. It doesn't matter how many times I said 'I feel like something's wrong, this isn't supposed to be happening to a healthy woman with a high in vegetables, fibre, vitamins, calcium and iron diet. '
I was convinced that I was dealing with a hormonal imbalance! Why? My spots would get significantly worse at certain times of the month, and since I am no longer in my teens, there's no reason why this would be happening. It was happening around my chin and jawline, and also my forehead (these are typically the areas for hormonal imbalance related spots), and also, due to my anxiety, my stress levels are often out of whack... and all of these factors can affect your hormone levels.
This is why I knew in my gut (no pun intended...) that this was the problem! Those bloody hormones...
My first step? To get some maca powder in my system! Maca, the ancient root of the Inca, oh, how I praise you!!!
This beautiful plant native to Peru, is a cruciferous vegetable and therefore related to broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale. It has a long history of culinary and medicinal use in Peru. It is highly nutritious, and it's packed with protein, fiber, vitamin C, copper, iron, potassium and vitamin B6! Maca has been shown to boost performance in sports, improve your mood, relieve menopause symptoms, increase libido, and of course, balance your hormones out. But there's more! It may improve learning and memory, and if you ask me, these are all benefits! Why not give it a go?
Fast-forward a month, my skin has COMPLETELY CLEARED OUT! No more stubborn acne anywhere to be seen.
You might be asking yourselves, how does gut health impact hormones?
Since Maca was such success, I was really curious about what some prebiotics and probiotics might do to my gut health. So I put in a big Amazon order for some of each, and I also took the opportunity to restock on my B12 supplement.
I have just started taking the 'Love Thy Gut' food supplement, which I have been adding to my smoothies. My smoothies at the moment consist of water, protein powder, maca powder, and 'Love Thy Gut', which is a organic prebiotic supplement food for women, with ingredients such as maca, flaxseed, blueberry, açaí berry, goji berry, inulin and barley grass.
Inulin is a prebiotic fiber with powerful health benefits: it improves your digestive health, relieves constipation, promotes weight loss, improves mineral absorption and bone health, and the list goes on!
Now that my prebiotics and probiotics are all sorted...all that's left to do is wait for the results!
So let's recap: in essence, prebiotics and probiotics are essential to keep the microbes in your gut healthy. Yes, bacteria gets a bad rap, and we tend to think of it as a bad thing, but there are trillions of bacteria living on your skin, nose, hands and hair which are essential to your health...and the largest part of your microbiome resides in your gut. That being said, it only makes sense that we care for our gut health.
For me, this journey is just getting started. I am still doing research, and I have just started taking prebiotics and probiotics, so I can't report on whether or not I feel different. What I can say is that I am glad I took matters into my own hands. If no medical professional is willing to help, and if ignoring the subject is what they'd rather do, I will do lots of research and find answers on my own. In a month, I can see a huge improvement on my skin just from taking Maca alone. I have more energy, my skin looks better, and I can't wait to see the full benefits of taking prebiotics and probiotics. I am on a mission to achieve ultimate gut health, and I can't wait to sit down again in a few months and report back on all the benefits I can see and feel.