Leading UK gut expert Marilia Chamon is a registered nutritional therapist specialising in digestive health. She runs a busy private practice with an international client base, regularly contributes to media publications such as Sheerluxe and Marie Claire, and has recently launched a low FODMAP meal delivery service. We caught up with Marilia to find out more about her work, what motivates her, learn about the relatively little known (but common) gut condition SIBO, and to find out her top health and wellness tips.
What is SIBO, who gets it, and why do you have a special interest in this area?
SIBO stands for Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, that means there is an accumulation of bacteria in the small intestine. These bacteria normally live in our gastrointestinal tract, more precisely in the large intestine, but have overgrown in a location not meant to host so many bacteria. That becomes a problem because bacteria ferment dietary fibre and produce gas as a result of this fermentation - when SIBO occurs, the accumulation of gas in the small intestine results in bloating, flatulence, abdominal distension, abdominal pain and discomfort, constipation and/or diarrhoea.
SIBO happens for a number of different reasons, one of the most common causes is traveller’s diarrhoea (aka food poisoning) but factors such as adhesions caused by abdominal surgery, endometriosis, appendicitis (or any infection in abdomen/injury to abdomen) and small intestine motility issues are other possible causes. Individuals that suffer from conditions such as Ehlers-Danlos, gastroparesis, hypothyroidism are also prone to developing it.
My interest in SIBO started as a result of my own health journey, having struggled with unexplained digestive symptoms for nearly a decade. I developed SIBO after an episode of food poisoning but due to the lack of information at the time, I spent seven years visiting different medical specialists trying to get to the root cause of my problem. During this long and painful journey I gained extensive knowledge and a deep interest in digestive health, my desire to help others lead me to qualify as a nutritional therapist and specialise in functional gut disorders, particularly IBS and SIBO.
What are the treatments available for SIBO?
SIBO is a disorder of the gut ecosystem and requires a multifactorial approach to be treated - that involves diet, lifestyle, specific antibiotics or antimicrobials. One important factor to highly about SIBO treatment is that we shouldn’t focus only on killing bacteria overgrowth - addressing the root cause(s) of why SIBO happened in the first place is an essential part of the treatment. For example if you have gut motility issues the first question to be asked is ‘why is that happening?’ - it could be due to food poisoning, low thyroid function or chronic stress. We then need to work on that underlying cause to avoid relapse.
Can nutrition be of benefit to those who have SIBO and are there any challenges to following specific dietary interventions for it?
Nutrition plays a big role when treating SIBO and a combination of different diets is suggested as part of the treatment - a low fermentation diet is usually the starting point. Working with a SIBO specialist is advised as following elimination diets without professional guidance can lead to a lot of restrictions; analysing what works for each individual is key and will depend on symptom severity and health history. Many IBS/SIBO clients tend to randomly remove foods from their diet and that can do more harm to the gut microbiome in the long-term.
How much does sleep play a part in managing health conditions, and does it affect gut health?
I consider sleep the foundation of optimal health - nutrition, exercise and stress management of course play key roles but sleep is, for me, the number one aspect we should be focusing on.
Research suggests that insomnia affects approximately 30% of the world population. Compared with good sleepers, people with persistent sleep problems are more prone to accidents, are more likely to miss work, have decreased quality of life, and increased health care utilisation.
When it comes to gut health, the link between gut and sleep is bidirectional - an increasing number of studies suggest that the gut microbiota can regulate sleep through gut-brain axis communication. Gut microbes produce a variety of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA and melatonin that travel to the brain via the gut-brain axis modulating emotions and sleep. The body's biological clock works in synergy with the microbial clock and studies showed that circadian rhythm disruption changes gut bacteria composition in a negative way.
For someone in need of self care but who is finding it difficult to get motivated, can you suggest things they can do, even for a few minutes a day, to help them take time for themselves?
Start with the basics, walk daily, pause and take a few deep breaths throughout the day, prioritise sleep and, if possible, cook your meals from scratch.
What would your advice be to those currently struggling to cope with gut issues that impact their quality of life, and other chronic health conditions?
To seek professional help - for some reason when it comes to digestive symptoms we tend to rely on Dr. Google to solve our problems…I know there is a lot of medical gaslighting when it comes to gut issues, most people feel unheard and unsupported reason why they give up looking for professional support; however it’s about finding the right person to work with - someone out there can and wants to help you.
Would you tell us your top three tips for supporting good gut health?
Eat a colourful, plant-oriented diet
Space out your meals
Reduce your stress levels
You recently started a new meal delivery service - would you tell us a bit about why you launched it and how it differs from other offerings currently on the market?
Scientific research continuously demonstrates that the easiest way to achieve optimal gut health is by eating a minimum of 30 plant foods per week. Having struggled with digestive issues myself, I understand how challenging and daunting it can be to eat a wide range of foods while keeping symptoms at bay. While working with my clients I also noticed a pattern where most of them would come to me eating the same 5-10 ‘safe’ foods to avoid further digestive distress. I wanted to help them improve their gut health by eating a varied diet without fear, and that’s how Gutfulness Kitchen was born. We deliver fresh, chef-cooked wholesome meals that happen to be low FODMAP, the first business to do that across mainland UK.
What’s the best health advice you’ve personally been given?
To look after my gut as if I was a newborn baby. That may sound weird but I was at the peak of my SIBO battle and the specialist looking after me at the time said that during one of my appointments. It stuck with me forever!
Lastly, what are your favourite health and wellness products at the moment, and why do you love them?
At the moment I am loving Caudalie Vinoperfect Serum to minimise skin pigmentation and Hu Kitchen Cashew Butter & Raspberry dark chocolate - my all time favourite chocolate which is finally available in the UK.
To learn more about Marilia and her work, visit her website https://www.gutfulnessnutrition.com/ or follow her on social media:
Instagram: @gutfulnessnutrition Facebook: @gutfulnessnutrition
If you enjoyed reading this article, you might like SIBO: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments.