How a gut health clinic changed my life
The old adage says ‘you are what you eat’ – but there is almost daily new evidence that what’s inside us, the quality of the microbiomes in our body, can affect everything from our mental health to our immune system. Claire Irvin takes tough action on her tummy
It was Hippocrates who said, ‘All disease begins in the gut,’ yet over 2,000 years later, as science enables an ever-greater understanding of the microbiomes (collections of bacteria, fungi and microbes in our bodies which help fight germs, break down food and produce vitamins), you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a new medical discovery. Already this year, scientists have discovered more than 100 new types of bacteria or ‘gut microbiota’ in the human gut, and have made further advances in understanding how our guts, brains and microbiomes interact and affect everything from our immune systems to our moods.
Low levels of key bacteria in your gut can lead to depression, and there is now evidence that dementia starts in the gut microbiome. Bowel disorders, such as coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or leaky gut, can mean you’re more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases, depression and anxiety.
Symptoms of poor gut health include abdominal pain, bloating after meals, reflux or flatulence, but also less obvious ones, including headaches, fatigue, joint pain and immune system weakness.Gastrointestinal problems – so prevalent in our time-pressed, high-stressed, processed lives – are not just digestive issues. They can be the root cause for other physical and mental-health issues – not to mention making you fat.
And I should know. For several years, abdominal pain, bloating, restless nights and fatigue have become my norm. Long hours and a testing commute, breakfast and lunch on the go, a busy schedule fuelled by vending-machine caffeine hits, and a work life punctuated with business dinners and drinks receptions haven’t helped. A GP once identified my symptoms as IBS, and prescribed healthy eating and a balanced approach to work and home life.
Easier said than done. While psychologically I thrive on ‘busy-ness’ and a managed level of ‘healthy’ stress, even when I have detoxed and eaten puritanically healthily (dairy- and gluten-free meals, no caffeine and alcohol, snacking on fruit), the pain has often got unfathomably worse – a depressing cycle that has had me reaching for the cheese and wine before a fortnight was out.
But things came to a head last year when a health MOT pointed to a steady increase in weight and my symptoms were aggravated by pretty much anything. I felt constantly cowed by the pain – if I could have spent all day doubled up, I would have. I’d spend work meetings trying not to be distracted by stomach cramps, and have to take ‘a moment’ away from my desk several times a day. I’d lie in bed in the morning and immediately start stressing over what to wear to best mask the bloating, and what to eat to try to limit the pain.
Thanks to thrice-weekly gym classes, I was physically fitter and stronger than I’d been since having children nine years earlier, yet my complexion was grey and puffy, my waistline a distant memory, and even when I felt at my most relaxed, family and friends would ask why I was ‘edgy’. (NB: if there’s anything guaranteed to push someone who looks on the edge, over it, it’s this.) What they meant, of course, was that I constantly looked (and felt) pained, had very little patience, didn’t love being cuddled and wasn’t – well, shall we say, very fragrant company of an evening.
Over a cuppa (green tea, since you ask), a friend regaled me about a transformative health kick at a Lanserhof clinic. She too had suffered problems with her gut, though comparatively mild next to the ones I was experiencing, and I burst into tears at the realisation of how bad I felt. And so I did something I’d always mentally filed under ‘for the rich, bored and spoilt’: booked myself into the same hotel, hundreds of miles away from home and family, in the pursuit of my own well-being.
The Lanserhof Lans is a luxury modernist bolthole nestled in the Tyrolean mountainside of Austria. Lanserhof practises the LANS Med Concept, a diagnostic programme based on the renowned physician FX Mayr’s approach to gut health that combines holistic medicine with regeneration and prevention.
Since its launch more than 30 years ago, the brand has opened two further resorts and a medical gym in Germany – and this May will see the opening of a new London outpost, Lanserhof at The Arts Club. Set to be one of the world’s foremost state-of-the-art medical gyms, this facility will be the first of its kind to offer members an MRI scan as part of its training programme, which includes bespoke menus, cryotherapy chambers, butler service and price-on-application memberships. It promises to be the spiritual home of a whole new tribe of gut-health devotees focused on how good a better functioning gut can make them feel.Read further here