By Kelly Vero.
Is This My Body? A Lesson In Women’s Gut Health Through Being My Own Guinea Pig
I’m 44. I’m not exactly the healthiest person on the planet, but I’m pretty ok with what I have… at 44. However, about 5 years ago I had this huge awakening. Let me set the scene. I used to be a bit of a party animal; what the hell? I was a single girl in my 20s. But in 1997 and 2001 I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. What? I know.
We nipped it in the bud. I gave up smoking and adopted a healthier lifestyle. I flat out refused to diet, because I mean, who wins with dieting? Am I right? So, healthy food options, and just generally taking care of myself was my top priority.
I got married for the first time at 35. It was a difficult experience; I piled on weight, having given up smoking, and I kind of slid into that awful contentment phase and that’s when my health went a bit weird. All of those signs I’d ignored about my body started to talk loudly and I was reminded about those two major health scares I’d already experienced in my life and realised I needed to find a solution.
I started out by getting to know who I really was. Not from a cerebral perspective, though I believe that to be important. No, I wanted to know about my body. So I looked at my mother, an ovarian cancer graduate and my maternal grandmother who was riddled with a variety of cancers in the days when one died of old age. Was this a legacy that I would pass on? I hoped not and joined a programme at my local NHS hospital: the local Breast Unit to look at my genetic pre-disposition.
In a day and age where we’re scattered around the globe, I was so happy to know that the good old NHS were able to find as many of my female relatives who had been treated in a variety of units from outpatients to a broken leg. They took a sample of my DNA, looked at my previous smear tests, general health and concluded that fortunately I was not carrying the BRCA2 gene.
The information that they received was thorough and it was really good to know that should, if, any members of my family who pop up from nowhere wanting to seek information for genetic purposes that they could indeed call upon a secure family history that you can’t simply download from the internet. I counted my blessings.
So why did I feel the way I did? Something wasn’t right. I ached most mornings, I was sluggish, tired all of the time and pretty lazy when it came to the essentials like bowel movements and yet in my late 30s I was still so young!
‘You’re perimenopausal,’ the gynaecologist told me and prescribed some supplements to get me prepared for what was to come.
What? I was floored. And then, during another women’s health check-up (if you’ve had cervical cancer in your life you should go for smears and women’s health check-ups every 6 months to a year) I went to see a different gynaecologist.
‘We think you might have intestinal endometriosis, so we’ll need to do a small procedure.’
I didn’t have endometriosis or intestinal endometriosis for that matter (which is basically endometriosis living outside of your uterine lining). However, I was the brand new recipient of a coil, which certainly did make life much easier from the aspect of family planning and managing periods which were slightly erratic and just downright inconvenient.
My marriage dissolved, I knew it would. But, a bit like in that vampire movie where they take out who you think is the head vampire and nothing changes; absolutely nothing changed in my body. Coil or not, I was still sluggish, bloated and you know I’d had over 30 years of poor bowel movements at this point. I changed my job, my lifestyle (again) and for the first time in my life, I went private.
My gynae was a small Russian woman who I instantly fell in love with. Her cobalt blue painted nails camouflaged into the surgical gloves she wore as I had my first transvaginal scan.
‘You’re very healthy for 40,’ she told me. I breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Are you ok?’ she asked, the tears welling up in my eyes.
I told her how I’d been for the last 10 years since the last Cervical Cancer scare.
‘And what do you supplement your diet with?’ she asked. ‘Pro-biotic?’
‘No, I’ve never—’
Well, I mean, I had, but just the stuff you buy from the supermarket in a packet of 12 little bottles.
Within weeks I was coming back to life. I was slimmer, with more energy and this is the important part, I was more regular than ever. However, this is only half the story.
Pro-biotics are a kind of catch all for putting the bacteria back in your gut. So I started, as I did with the whole cancer gene phase, to research what was happening to my body and I was absolutely startled by what I discovered.
- What is in your gut affects the size of your gut. Who knew? A study in 2013 (Walker and Parkhill) showed that certain microbiota determined how food is absorbed and distributed. In short, some bacteria can make you obese and some make you slim. If you change your gut bacteria, you’re basically reprogramming your weight, shape etc.
- A lack of gut bacteria diversity can lead to allergies. Wow. My jaw is on the floor here. From 411 babies, scientists Feuille and Nowak-Węgrzyn discovered that intestinal disorders started in the young because of a lack of diversity in bacteria from mother’s milk or certain bacteria-heavy foods.
- In January 2011, we all woke up to the revelation that our appendix may not have been useless after all. Midwestern University Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine studied the have-they/haven’t-they got an appendix on over 500 mammals; and although it’s not detrimental on your health to have lost your appendix, keeping it is one of the best immunity superpowers mammals have. Cool eh?
I should say at this point that I’d nailed this gut flora down to a specific strain that, as my gynae had instructed was best for women. Best for women? Well the last time I looked, we, as in humans are not all the same. So why are we being sold the same products to treat the same conditions?
It certainly made me think about a lot of stuff. If you want to know what the super amazing strain of gut bacteria I’m using is LCR-35, found some 50 years ago in Aurielles, France via the wonders of cheesemaking, or so I’m told.
Why is this significant? Well, I was more interested in the effect all of this was having on my lady parts. What with one gynae saying I was perimenopausal and another saying I had endometriosis, what could I do to ensure that my intimate health was still my number one priority?
Well, the answer was again, something more accidental than an actual science. What with this new gut flora growing and giving me all of this amazing energy and me being able to get into clothes I’ve given up for dead I wanted to maintain this healthy profile.
LCR-35 according to Muller, Mazel et al., provided “resistance to acidity and its ability to inhibit Candida albicans growth”. Acid, a major player in the development of cystitis and wait, what? Candida, now, how do I know that word? Ah yes. Thrush.
That well known visitor to women of all ages. But what I love about my strain of gut flora is how I paired it with giving up sugar, accidentally you understand and BINGO! By being my own guinea pig I found a way to finally take control of my body.
So here I am, I’m 44. I’m not exactly the healthiest person on the planet, but I’m pretty ok with what I have… at 44. I flat out refuse to diet, because I mean, who wins with dieting? Am I right?
So, healthy food options, taking care of myself and good gut bacteria choices are my top priority. Oh, I’ve got a new husband too. And it’s all gonna be ok because I know who I am inside, outside but mostly inside.
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