The Gut Stuff: why it’s time to talk about your poo
You’ve probably seen them at bus stops all over the city; bubblegum pink posters posing a rather intimate question. Brixton, Battersea, Clapham: ‘How do you poo?’ Along with the frank inquiry are illustrations, also in a rose-hue, offering Londoners an array of possible examples. It’s kind of like the Bristol Stool Chart, but for the millennial age.
‘I think people are willing to talk about their poo; they just don’t,’ says Lisa Macfarlane, who is one half of the duo behind the campaign.
With her identical twin sister, Alana, she founded The Gut Stuff in 2017; an online wellness platform. If you’re already put off, don’t be. The straight-talking sisters are no Gwyneth Paltrow wannabes and their company isn’t part of the ‘eat like me, look like me’ brigade of Instagram. Instead, with the help of a wealth of experts researching this exciting new field, they’re on a mission to bring gut health to the masses.
Their pink poo posters, of which there are about 100 around the capital, are designed to get people thinking about their gut microbiome; the trillions of bacteria that live in our digestive systems that scientists have discovered are key to our overall health. It’s not a ‘sexy’ topic, admit the two, but it’s an important one. In fact, research now shows that your microbes can affect everything from mental health, to obesity and even conditions such as Parkinson’s. Luckily your gut microbes aren’t fixed like your genes and can be altered by diet and lifestyle.
The 32-year-olds who have 99,000 followers on Instagram, are passionate about democratising this information. ‘We want to make it accessible to everybody,’ Lisa says. ‘That’s why we put the posters at bus stops. This shouldn’t be a middle-class luxury.’
They’ve just released their first book, The Gut Stuff: An Empowering Guide to Your Gut and Its Microbes. In it the sisters go into more detail. ‘Your gut microbes help regulate your hormones, control your blood sugar, manage the calories that you absorb, affect your immune system and, most fascinatingly, communicate with your nervous system and you’re brain.’
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. ‘To have a “gut feeling” translates equally well in almost all languages,’ says contributors to the book, microbiome experts John Cryan and Ted Dinan from the University College Cork. We get ‘butterflies in our stomach’ when we like someone and may want to go to the loo more often when we feel nervous. Given this, it is surprising that the idea the gut may influence the brain is one that’s only recently gained traction, they say.
‘We now know that microbes in our gut have a profound effect on how our brains function,’ they say. For example, about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin (our happy hormone) is made in the gut and 70 per cent of our immune tissue is there. It was learning this ‘mind-blowing’ information that made the sisters truly obsessed with the topic.
Our gut microbiomes are all as individual as we are - no two people will have exactly the same make-up of species - and this is how Lisa and Alana, who used to be Love Island DJs, became the unlikely faces of gut health. In 2015 they volunteered for twin research run by professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, Tim Spector and became the first set of twins studied by the American Gut Project.