Cover Cropped studio shot of a fit woman making a heart shape with her hands against her stomach

A specialist in the practice that advocates for a holistic approach to tackling health, the Hong Kong-based coach shares her insight with Tatler

What is gut health and why does everyone seem to be talking about it? 

We ask Tricia Yap, the founder of Limitless, a Hong Kong training studio offering functional medicine and fitness, for her advice. Yap, who recently appeared in a Tatler House Stories panel discussion on nurturing health across life stages, is a coach certified by the US-based Functioning Medicine Coaching Academy. Functional medicine advocates for a holistic approach in finding root causes in illness.

See also: Fitness Warrior Tricia Yap On Female Empowerment And Defining Success

What does the gut do?

Your gut does more than just digest food. The gastrointestinal system starts at the mouth and ends at your rear: it is responsible for the digestion of the food you consume, absorption of the nutrients from your food, and detoxification—the removal of waste from the body.

The gut is home to the human microbiome—a complex ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, archaea and fungi. Moreover, 70 to 80 per cent of your immune system lies within the gut, where the intestinal microbiome and intestinal lining play a large role.

What causes poor gut health?

Not enough diversity of normal gut bacteria—insufficiency dysbiosis.

“Bad” gut bacteria causing inflammation—inflammatory dysbiosis. 

Digestive Dysfunction Dysbiosis, [where] the normal digestion pattern is impaired, which results in gut bacteria imbalance. If food is not digested properly, it can ferment in the gut, and cause issues in the long term.

What does poor gut health mean for the body?

If you cannot digest and absorb your food, that may mean you are malnourished. This doesn’t mean you are “skinny”—but rather you may not have the necessary nutrients for your body to survive, much less thrive.

The gut is interconnected to so many parts of the body, affecting more than just your nutrition. The gut-brain connection is extremely important to your health. As the gut microbiome is a living thing, it “talks” to various parts of the body, affecting their function. 

Your microbes produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are used for energy, as well as neurotransmitters that affect mood. This is mostly why the gut is often referred to as the “second brain”.

If you have permeability damage to the intestinal barrier, you may end up with a leaky gut. As they share a similar lining or barrier, having a leaky gut, will mean you likely have a leaky brain. This can have a big role to play in cognitive decline, the development of autoimmune conditions, and metabolic disorders. 

In the gut-skin connection and the gut-lung connection, each organ has its own host of microbiota, and they “talk” to the gut microbiota. A lot of skin issues can be linked to dysbiosis—imbalances—between gut bacteria and skin bacteria.

The gut immune system is an interplay between the gut microbiota, intestinal lining and a mucus layer that sits over the lining—being the first line of defense for pathogens and more. 

The gut-thyroid connection can affect your metabolism, because thyroid hormones are converted within the gut.

Yap’s advice on gut health

Follow the 5-10-15-20 rule: Before each meal, take five deep, diaphragmatic breaths. Leave ten seconds between mouthfuls, and chew. Take a 15- to 20-minute walk after to lower postprandial inflammation and help digestion, which should be a relaxed process.

Take digestive enzymes: This will help to give your pancreas some rest, as it is both an endocrine and exocrine organ—meaning it creates digestive enzymes on top of making insulin. If you have poor blood sugar management, this means the pancreas is under pressure to produce digestive enzymes and insulin—and it cannot do two things at once.

Minimise gluten: Gluten affects zonulin, which is what keeps the single-cell layer of the intestinal lining together. Without zonulin, there is permeability damage and this can eventually lead to chronic gut issues. 

Cut processed foods and sugar: Research shows that sugar doesn’t feed bad bacteria. It helps bad bacteria proliferate by starving good bacteria and causing an imbalance. 

Editor’s note: Always seek the guidance of a doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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