With autoimmune disease and dodgy genes in the family, Scarlet Spy retreats to Goodwood’s Gut Health Retreat to learn all about the gut microbiome and how her lifestyle choices can affect it
It seems Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC) was onto something when he said: ‘All disease begins in the gut.’ Up to 80% of our immune system cells can be found here.
Poor gut health – or gut dysbiosis – is caused from many modern life factors including chronic stress, poor diet, antibiotics, excess alcohol and environmental pollutants. It’s associated with a plethora of conditions, from chronic inflammation/autoimmune diseases to depression and degenerative brain diseases, like dementia and Parkinson’s Disease. So, while your family gene pool plays a part, it seems your lifestyle can be the trigger.
According to gut health expert and celebrity nutritionist, Stephanie Moore (pictured above), there are around 30 - 50 trillion bacteria and other microbes – viruses, fungi, archaea and parasites - living in the gut. The gut microbiome weighs a whopping 2kg – heavier than the average human brain. In fact, we are so full of microbes – on our skin, lungs, eyes, mouths and reproductive system – that we are actually 90% microbial and only 10% human. What’s even more mind boggling is that these microscopic lodgers have evolved alongside us since the beginning of human time.
Good gut health is the route to all aspects of wellness, according to Moore, both physically and mentally. From a healthy metabolism and weight management to a happy brain and stress resilience; quality sleep, well-balanced energy and a smart immune system all require robust gut equilibrium.
What can I do to help bolster my biome?
Simple things like eating fermented vegetables each day can help get good bacteria in the gut; take probiotic supplements if you shudder at the thought. We took Optibac on the retreat and were given a bottle of Symprove to take home.
Gargling, humming, nasal breathing and full-body shaking helps shift us into a parasympathetic state so the Vagus nerve can be engaged – allowing your gut and brain to communicate. Cold water exposure has the same affect; another reason for a 30 second cold blast before you hop-foot it out of the shower in the morning.
Intermittent fasting - made popular by Dr Michael Mosely – is great for gut health. Fast for two non-consecutive days by skipping breakfast; eating a nutrient-dense, high protein/fat/fibre meal for lunch; and finishing the day with a mug of bone broth for dinner. It sounds grim but it was actually non-offensive. This allows an 18-hour fasting window to help heal and clean up the gut by increasing levels of Akkermansia muciniphila (the master of gut microbes) and help to down regulate inflammation.
Or you could attend a Gut Health Retreat like the one at Goodwood Health & Wellbeing… The five-day holistic retreat is designed to give your gut health an almighty overhaul, by focusing on healing and improving the digestive function, and getting some (often overdue) rest and relaxation. In your room, on arrival - along with sliced lemons, Himalayan pink salt and a selection of herbal teas (not a Nespresso machine in sight) - you’ll find a packed schedule for the week ahead.
It’s starts with full body composition analysis – which looks at your fat/muscle body mass - (gulp) and ends with a whole new mindset and healthy habits to propel you to live you best life. In between: you’ll join the other retreatees (who will become your buddies-in-solidarity for the week) for a combination of science-backed evidence about the gut/brain/immune system link, expert-led nutritional talks and results-driven therapies – along with digestive yoga, sunrise walks and heavenly sound baths before bed. It’s hardly a chore.
The treatments have been curated specifically for the gut wellness programme and they just kept coming (we certainly weren’t complaining).
We loved the Wellbeing face & body infusion (90 minutes, £120)– a top-to-toe treatment which includes back massage and a microbiome facial (read more about it here)
Twice a week you’ll receive the body brushing, abdominal massages and castor oil liver compress combo. My therapist, Amanda, used firm upwards strokes on the skin on my legs, arms, back and torso, finishing on my feet. The chest and neck felt a little more delicate but you do get used to the briskness of the bristles. She then applied elemental herbology heated detox oil to my skin – with rosemary to aid digestive flow, grapefruit for detox and juniper berry for cleansing and purifying - the scent is invigorating.
The abdominal massage uses deep and sometimes intense movements along the intestines and around the flanks to relax and manipulate the abdominal area. Be warned: it can feel a little uncomfortable, almost vulnerable, when you first have your stomach massage but once you relax it is quite comforting.
The treatment ends with a castor oil liver compress stuck to the skin over my liver with a heated water bottled secured next to it. Amanda applied an eye mask and covered me with a weighted blanket – an incredibly soothing sensation – leaving me to snooze for 40-minutes while the castor oil got to work. Castor oil is said to support the lymphatic system, healing tissues and organs, improving digestion and reducing inflammation.
We also tried Reflexology which promote the parasympathetic response in the body and reduce stress, ease anxiety and bring balance and healing. My therapist, Mel, explained that my stomach may gurgle during the treatment (which it did) as she stimulated my Vagus nerve by touching my feet. All rather fascinating and left me feeling very relaxed.
Don’t miss Cranial osteopathy with the wonderful (and mystical) Elaine. One of the gentlest forms of osteopathy, Elaine used her highly-trained sense of touch to feel subtle changes of tension and tissue quality throughout the whole body. Gently holding my held my head and neck, she could tell so much about what was going on inside, from my strong constitution to my more sensitive liver; apparently, I wouldn’t be drinking any of my friends under the table - at this point I wondered if she actually knew my bottomless brunch-loving friends.
Nutrition is a key element of the retreat and the menu has been carefully crafted to ensure no grains, dairy, starchy vegetables, sugar, alcohol or caffeine (sob) passes your lips.
Despite following the recommended pre-course advice to cut down to one cup of black coffee a day by the week before, my first day of zero caffeine saw me curled up under a blanket with a raging headache and nausea. Thankfully this passed quickly.
Each meal started with a shot of digestive bitters – to stimulate the saliva glands and aid digestive – and a small dish of sauerkraut or Kimchi (fermented vegetables) which provide the gut with natural probiotics. We were also given soaked cashew nuts and olives to ensure we were upping our healthy fats.
At Farmer, Butcher, Chef we feasted on delicious (and super-healthy) starters like beef carpaccio with zingy chilli, ginger and sesame dressing; sea trout with pickled cucumber and broccoli, and a celery and leek soup. And protein-packed mains such as Goodwood lamb with roasted cauliflower puree and spiced lentils and Venison haunch with red cabbage and turnips. Each dish was melt-in-your-mouth tasty and flavoursome, with a good level of fibre (the average person eats just 15 grams of fibre a day when we need around 150 grams); everyone left feeling satiated.
Does it work?
Today’s flat-out lifestyle sees us all in fight or flight mode. While our ancestors would have been pumped full of cortisol when hunting dinner - or being chased by a predator - we react the same when someone doesn’t thank us when we give them right of way on the road.
Calming the Parasympathetic side of the nervous system is key. Kate from Revolution Resilience calls this ‘Cave Time’: finding that place or those practises that allow you to ‘rest, digest, tend and befriend’. Whether that’s cooking your favourite meal, eating out with the besties, snuggling with the family and watching a good film or belly laughing at a comedy show.
The educational side of the course is fascinating. Led by very passionate people with years of experience in their field. Not only did I leave 2kg lighter – I also left with a whole new outlook on my health and how to look after myself. Particularly helpful as the perimenopause years fast approach. I feel like I have a head start.