Until a few years ago, my gut was something I thought about only rarely, and even then probably only if I had a tummy bug. As soon as I felt well again, the health of my gut, in all its vital complexity, would fade into the background of my life, taken for granted once more.
The idea of “gut health” wasn’t really something I had considered in any meaningful way at all. It was only really when I was asked to write an article on the link between gut health and mental wellness that I started to pay more attention to the gut microbiome and how important it is for our overall wellbeing.
Like one in four (pdf) of us, I’ve struggled with my mental health at different points in my life. In my case, this tends to be intense anxiety and panic attacks, alongside intense rumination as a result of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Beyond the more obvious treatment options – therapy, medication, and exercise – I have spent a lot of time looking into supplementary ways to boost my mood, which led me to start seriously considering the benefits of fostering a healthy gut microbiome and how to do it.
As the mum of a toddler – and therefore in dire need of energy – with an eye on expanding our family in the not-so-distant future, I recently decided that in 2024, my gut health needed to become a priority. I’ve tried complete lifestyle overhauls in the past, but to be frank, they are quite time-consuming. As most parents of young children can attest, I’m extremely limited in terms of the adjustments I can introduce into my life; they have to fit in with my son’s schedule and depend a lot on childcare and/or whatever energy levels I have at the end of the day. So the idea of finding products to work with my body to optimise how it functions, alongside my usual healthy diet and regular exercise, seems like a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t I do it?
But where to start? Luckily for me, high street staple Holland & Barrett is a leading health and wellness retailer and an expert in a wide range of vitamins, minerals and health supplements. Conveniently, there’s one located just 10 minutes from my house – and with more than 800 stores across the UK, there’s probably one conveniently located to you too. After perusing the information on the website, I booked a free online consultation with Eliza Glynn, one of Holland & Barrett’s in-house nutritionists.
Not long after, Glynn and I connect by video call, where she asks me a number of general questions about my health and wellbeing, my goals and general diet, as well as some more specific ones. We establish early on that because I take a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI, a type of antidepressant), certain types of gut supplements will not be appropriate for me. We also discuss the fact that I, like many other people, have found myself to be lactose-intolerant in later life. Glynn is compassionate and really listens to my issues and what I’m hoping to achieve, before advising me on a few products she thinks might be useful for me, including a probiotic (to maintain my gut health), a lactase enzyme supplement to help me to digest lactose when it is difficult to avoid. She also stresses the importance of eating a variety of fruit and vegetables, which are really beneficial to gut health. The whole appointment takes about 45 minutes, and I don’t feel rushed at all; in fact I cannot believe Holland & Barrett offers such a comprehensive service for free.
The next day, I visited my local store in central Bath, where I met Ashley Tate, assistant manager of the store. Like all Holland & Barrett store staff, Tate is qualified to advise on products to support gut health, and trained to approach it in a discreet, non-judgmental manner. Much like with Glynn, we sit down and talk through my overall health profile and what I’m looking to achieve. Tate puts a lot of effort into explaining in detail what the products do and why they would be helpful for someone like me – and sends me home with a new prebiotic to try.
In an age of online shopping, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of in-house expertise; I had mistakenly assumed that the people working in-store wouldn’t be as clued up about this subject. It had also been so long since I’d asked someone’s advice in-store that I felt a little nervous. What if I felt pressured to buy a product?
But none of this turned out to be warranted. Tate was really friendly and patient, and I left even more clued up than I arrived, after my informative meeting with Glynn the day before. Thanks to both of them, I feel armed and ready to take good care of my gut health in 2024, and can’t wait to see the benefits on my overall health. Watch this space.
For a science-backed gut-health plan that’s tailored to you, book a free 45-minute online appointment with one of our qualified, professional nutritionists at hollandandbarrett.com. (For a limited time, normally £45)
Terms and conditions: Appointments are online only and are subject to availability. For full terms and conditions visit hollandandbarrett.com