You could be downing loads of kombucha, flushing your system with green juices and 15 glasses of water a day, filling up on fibre, following an intermittent fasting routine all by yourself at home, looking up tips and tricks offered on the internet for weight loss, good health, or dealing with food allergies. Or you could be enrolled in a formal gut reset programme with a nutritionist. Whatever your chosen way, the chances are that you are aware and worried about your gut health.
Post-covid, the gut has come into deep focus—bad gut health appears to be the seat of many issues. A ‘gut reset’ is now being seen as an answer to nagging physical and mental health problems. It is a trend that is fast catching up in India, with many different approaches and varied timelines. New Delhi-based clinical nutritionist Ishi Khosla and author of Eating at Work, agrees. She is firmly convinced that there is a need to look at the gut as the starting point of all diseases. “That’s the starting of the understanding of health and wellness. Today, in general, illness is the norm, and wellness is a luxury,” says Khosla. Conventional medicine has ‘band-aid approaches’ to simply treat symptoms; gut health has come to the forefront because many have realized that the ‘cure is in the cause’; getting to the root of the problem has taken us back to the gut. Khosla says this approach is not novel—Ayurveda, Unani, Homeopathy, or Naturopathy—have always examined digestive health first. Also, conversations around immunity have taken off in a big way in the recent past. “There is now an awareness about the connection between the gut and immunity, and that’s why the gut is being looked at seriously,” she says.
Also read: Why you should always eat fresh food
Getting down to the basics
First, let’s just get down to some basics. “Every millilitre of intestinal fluid contains more than one lakh bacteria. Gut health is the balance between good and bad bacteria,” says Dr Shankar Zanwar, consultant gastroenterologist, Wockhardt Hospital, Mumbai Central. The gut is now increasingly seen as the seat where many diseases develop. Good nutritious food feeds the good bacteria; junk food feeds the harmful bacteria. A gut reset programme aims to withdraw food that feeds the bad bacteria, flushes the system, and regenerate it with nutritious food or prebiotics that feed the good bacteria and grow it.
Khosla, for instance, says that her patients have addressed some major issues within weeks of doing a gut cleanse. Once they see the difference, they want to do more. The reset happens in four stages —elimination or removal, replacement with the right alternative, restoring the system and rebuilding. “Reset means healing the gut. There are two aspects to it. Usually, the healing inside takes about a year or so. But the symptoms or issues resolve within weeks.”
Jalandhar-based 43-year-old Divya Mahajan must agree. She herself went through the 40-day PHATT (Putting Health At The Top) gut detox programme in November 2020 before becoming a mentor of the programme herself. The first time she heard about the programme from her friend, she was sceptical. Then she saw her friend lose weight, showing dramatic changes in her energy levels; her mood swings stopped too. So she decided to try it out herself. “You’re put on basic home-cooked food. The only thing you go off is milk, oil and carbs. Meal plans and a list of approved foods are given to you,” says Mahajan. Additionally, you are asked to drink 15 glasses of water a day and consume fibre in the form of husk; vitamins and digestive enzymes provided by PHATT are also part of the diet. “During the detox, all my PMS problems, my migraines, were gone. I used to have massive period cramps. I didn’t have any of that. I was super active, and I lost four kilos at the end of it, and I was happy with it,” she says.
She adds that she has seen people who have even lost about eight kilos in 40 days. After the detox, she gradually came back to normal eating. Her skin was glowing, her hair started looking amazing, and everyone around her noticed it. She regained about two kilos after 1.5 years. She repeated the detox then for 20 days to recalibrate and get back to healthy eating. Over one year, she mentored about 15 clients, almost all of whom came to her with the aim of weight loss and achieved it.
How to reset your gut
While weight loss continues to be one of the reasons why people are choosing to reset their gut, it has gone way beyond that. Ask Rashi Chowdhary, a nutritionist and diabetes educator based in Dubai who specializes in gut-related issues. She started a community-based 15-day gut-cleanse programme in August 2021. To date, about 1,800 people have been through it. More than 65% of people who sign up for the cleanse, which costs ₹9,590, are from India; the remaining clientele is from UAE, Canada, the USA, and the UK, she says. Most of them are in the 25 to 50 age bracket. “Two years ago, 80% of the people who had approached me came for weight loss alone. But post-pandemic, everyone’s like ‘I don’t care about weight loss—make me healthier!” says Chowdhary.
Dairy and wheat appear to be the biggest culprits for poor gut health. The way dairy and wheat are processed these days has led to a lot of problems, she says. Increasingly many people around us are suddenly allergic to these two products. “Wheat today has 35% more gluten compared to what we had, say, 60 years ago. The green revolution and agricultural advancements have changed everything. Our gut has not been able to adapt and keep pace. So we are not able to process this food. Dairy is laced with growth hormones and steroids. That’s why girls as young as 16 have PCOS and endometriosis; girls as young as 9 start their periods.”
Most of us on a traditional Indian diet, eating rotis, milk, yoghurt, cheese, refined sugars, and leading a sedentary lifestyle coupled with poor sleep and bad stress management have “gut dysbiosis” – more bad and less good bacteria. Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and IBS are all triggered by gut dysbiosis, she says. Other issues include stubborn weight, PCOS, thyroid, autoimmune conditions, and skin issues. “The way we think and feel, mood changes, decisions we make—all come from the gut,” says Rashi.
While the world around us changes and we recalibrate our lives in this post-pandemic world, the gut also seems to want a reset and a fresh start. Dr Zanwar, however, argues that gut resets are not scientifically very strongly proven. Of course, there are a few conditions where changing your dietary habits makes a big difference. If you are allergic to wheat, you might have a positive benefit if you stop eating it, for instance, points out Dr Zanwar. If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then changing the diet can benefit your body. Also, in very rare cases like infective diarrhoea. However, most of the time, the modification has to be long-standing. “Just changing it for a stipulated period of time and then coming back to the original diet is not going to make a real difference,” he says. And yes, you should definitely consult your clinician before starting on any such programme, he says.
Bhumika K is a Bengaluru-based journalist and the author of Kuku's Summer at Home