Connecting with that Gut Feeling

Photography: Maja Petric 

Our PAUSE Salon, ‘Conversations on Discovering Connections’, took place on 27 February 2018 at Core Collective. Core Collective is situated at 79 Anson Road, and we are proud to announce that they are our salons' venue sponsors. 

The following panellists graced the last salon:

1) Pooja Vig, CEO and Functional Medicine Nutritionist at The Nutrition Clinic

2) Dr Yue Weng Cheu, Founder and Clinical Director of DP Dental and The Linguadontics Clinic

3) Alexander Mearns, Founder of Levitse, a Holistic Wellness Clinic. 

> Note that this report will cover what Pooja Vig shared at the salon. Reports by other speakers, to follow. 

Pooja went 'back to basics' by ‘biohacking’ her own body in a bid to reverse an infertility diagnosis. As a result of that, Pooja Vig and her husband have a lovely 9-year-old daughter today. Since then, it has been her conviction to change the lives of others through nutrition, which she can do at The Nutrition Clinic. Here is a summary of the issues she shared at our last salon: 

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MODERATOR: Nutrition is a broad topic of discussion, but we’ll be focusing our conversation today on the mind-gut connection. Briefly, could you share with us how mainstream (or not) this branch of study in nutrition is? Why don’t we hear enough about the link between the mind and the gut microbiome in western medicine?

POOJA VIG: There is a lot of active research going on here; a lot of exciting things going on right now. I would say that the knowledge about the gut is 'very new and very old'. Every branch of traditional medicine believes that healing starts in the gut – so in that way, it is an ancient knowledge. However, from a scientific point of view, 2008 is when the first microbial genome was mapped. So, it’s what we'd call 'new knowledge'. I would say that before it gets adopted into mainstream medicine, it does have to go through a lot of stages of research, trials, tests and the results would also have to be then peer reviewed etc. Gut-health know-how is widespread in more 'complementary circles', I would say.

MODERATOR: Why should we strive for a healthy gut microbiome?

POOJA VIG: The gut lining is the mainlining that 'communicates' with the outside world. Every time you eat something you are ‘possibly threatening’ your body. Let me put it into perspective: 75% of your immune system is in the gut. A lot of your neurotransmitters, the chemicals that make you happy or unhappy etc., are in the gut. Interestingly, the gut has its own nervous system; it’s the only organ that can completely function without the brain. Because of its importance, a healthy gut microbiome is something that we all should strive for. 

MODERATOR: Could you describe the nature of mind-gut communication? How can we understand it better? 

POOJA VIG: There is a separate nervous system that belongs to the gut. It is designed to be independent - this means that it has no dependence on the brain because the body knows that the gut is so important. In fact, the gut sends more messages to the brain than vice versa. We have a 100 trillion bacterial cells in the gut, that's ten times more cells than we have human cells. So it is called the ‘second brain’ for a reason, as it is a diverse ecosystem. It’s like a garden, and the food that you eat is the soil for the garden. If you have healthy microbiome, then you have flowers. And if you don’t, and consume excessive amounts of antibiotics and sugar, then you have less microbiome and more bacteria, which you can think of as weeds and such in your garden. In our clinic, we take a stool sample, and we can then map whether you have good or bad bacteria, parasites, yeast infection etc. In essence the test allows us to get a picture of the garden. If you have a lot of bad bacteria, what we should ask is why your body allowed that to happen? How can we feed the 'soil' better so that better/good bacteria will grow instead? 

MODERATOR: On microbiomes and our ‘gut feeling’: Briefly, is there a new way to understand that feeling of having butterflies in our stomachs?

POOJA VIG: Absolutely. There is something biological going on there - it’s not just a phantom feeling. Seratonin is the primary ‘happy chemical’ responsible for this. The majority of it is made in the gut, and a lot of it stays in the gut, but others are used to keep you happy. That's what you're feeling when you have butterflies in your stomach. 

MODERATOR: In our last salon panel discussion on 'Consciousness', we touched briefly on the microbiomes of the gut and of the brain. Indeed, new studies have shown that the brain, too, has its unique microbiome. Could you share with us how the respective microbiomes of the brain and the gut ‘communicate’ with one another? What is the latest knowledge on this?

POOJA VIG: Regarding what exactly is transmitting these messages, it's most likely the mitochondria found in cells - we have 1000-10000 of them per cell. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly how they talk to each other yet (e.g. we don't know the 'language' that they 'converse' with) - it's still being researched.

MODERATOR: How can we know if our gut microbiomes are healthy? How can we check on our own?

POOJA VIG: The most basic thing that anyone can do is to be aware of how you feel. If your gut isn’t in good shape, you’ll have what is called inflammation. This can manifest as joint pains, high blood pressure, eczema etc. All that inflammation is a result of gut health - so I  would say that the first step you can do after assessing these symptoms on your own is to take steps towards 'fixing' your microbiome.

MODERATOR: Regarding nutritional intake, what can we do to cultivate a healthy microbiome in both our gut and our brain?

POOJA VIG: Firstly, get good bacteria into your gut.

  • I am a big fan of home-made fermented food. So if you can, do make home-made yoghurt, water kefir and sour kraut, and make it a point to incorporate that into your diet.
  • If that's not possible, the next essential step is to supplement with Probiotics. We keep supplements in the clinic that is refrigerated from source, so it makes sure that all the live cultures remain 'fresh'. The truth is, you need to treat probiotics carefully, and many popular live culture drinks don't do this.

– After you get the probiotics into your system, you then have to feed those probiotics with pre-biotics

  • Pre-biotics is what feeds probiotics and keeps them going - so one type of pre-biotic is fibre. Root vegetables are a source of fibre; we're also talking about onions, leeks and other vegetables. 

– Take steps to avoid refined sugar

  • I would recommend Yacon root syrup, which is a suitable sugar replacement to try out because it is a good sugar to take for the gut.

– Take steps to identify personal food sensitivity

  • Everyone has different gut health. You need to find out where you're at. 
  • In terms of food that people are the most sensitive to, gluten is a common culprit. It is very damaging to the gut, and while only some people believe that they are sensitive to it, everyone reacts to it: a mini-crisis goes on when it enters the gut. If you’re not so sensitive, you’ll recover very quickly, if you are sensitive, the symptoms will persist.
  • So if you are experiencing inflammation after eating common foods with grain and gluten, then you can consider cutting out gluten and grains, where possible. 

– Wash your grains, fruits and vegetables thoroughly.

  • We now know of grains being sprayed with a chemical called 'Roundup', which has no place in your gut. If you must eat grains, make sure that you wash that off or buy grains that aren't sprayed with this. 
  • All other pesticides that cling fruit or vegetable also damages the gut - make sure you eat food that is as free of all these chemicals, as much as possible. 

MODERATOR: What does a gut microbiome imbalance cause in our bodies? 

POOJA VIG: As mentioned, inflammation - this can be as a result of poor gut-care, poor stress management and poor nutrition - or a combination of everything. This then manifests as physical symptoms (mentioned above). 

MODERATOR: On the ‘leaky gut’ syndrome: Briefly, please share with us what it means to have a leaky gut? Is that related to inflammation? Why do we develop this and how do we prevent it?

POOJA VIG: Medically, it is called 'intestinal permeability', meaning that the lining of your gut, which is literally only about one cell thick, is super delicate and easily damaged by what we eat. The job of the gut is to let in the good things, and keep the bad stuff out. Therefore, a leaky gut is when the lining becomes 'leaky' and lets both good and bad things into the body - which in turn causes inflammation.

MODERATOR: Detoxification is a hyped word in the wellness and beauty industry. Everyone is always talking about going on a 'detox'. What is your take on detoxification? Why should we detoxify?

POOJA VIG: Contrary to what everyone is talking about, detoxification is a natural process of the body - it is not a product that you can buy. It's something that happens all the time, even right now as you're listening to this talk or reading it later as a report. The problem these days is that we are overtaxing our body too much and our detoxification processes are overburdened, so there is a common perception that you have help the body detoxify in other ways. For us at The Nutrition Clinic, we focus on keeping the liver healthy, as it plays a huge role in the detoxification process - note that it needs a lot of proper nutrients to detoxify. That's probably the first thing you can do to help your body carry out this natural process well: keep your liver healthy!

Pooja Vig is the CEO and Founder of The Nutrition Clinic [TNC], which is based in Singapore. Her background is in Microbiology and she received her Certificate of Nutrition and Metabolic Medicine from the University of Bridgeport; she is also certified in Functional Medicine by the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM). Pooja and her team integrates the latest nutrition science with practical, real-world suggestions. They look at a combination of factors to determine the best plan for you, including your unique genes, environment and lifestyle choices. Have a question for Pooja and her team? Feel free to contact them directly or send us a mail at – we'll be sure to get your question to them.