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Why I care about gut health—Heights co-founder Joel shares his story

Our co-founder opens up about his own gut problems, and how they inspired Heights.

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Joel Freeman
Joel Freeman
May 25, 2021
4 min read

Why is a braincare company talking about your gut? It’s a fair question. But gut health goes hand-in-hand with brain health, thanks to the gut-brain axis.

I’ve experienced gut problems for most of my life, and as co-founder of a braincare company, I want to help people who have been in the same position. This is where it all started…

What is gut health?

In a word, everything. In my experience, good gut health means the ability to go through my everyday life in the way I want to.

It’s one of those things that, if you don’t experience it, is hard to understand. If you’re used to your gut working fine, you wouldn’t ever think about it. But if your gut doesn’t work fine, it can be extreme, and really affect your quality of life.

There are the expected issues—pain, IBS, bloating, and such. But on top of that, the discomfort in the gut can impact the rest of your body in ways you wouldn’t expect—aches, fevers and temperatures, low energy. There’s also a close link with anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues.

Gut health is a constant, whether it’s something you think about or not. There’s been a push in recent years to promote the (correct) idea that everyone has mental health. Well everyone has gut health as well. And when you run into trouble, it’s difficult to go about your life.

My gut health story

I’ve always had gut health issues. Not in a major way, but they were always there.

The real problems started at my last company. It was a startup, and to be honest, we weren’t doing well. The team were working incredibly hard, but we weren’t getting where we needed to. In the high-pressure world of venture-capital-backed businesses, that’s a problem, and the intensity of the situation started to take their toll.

I should be clear—it wasn’t that I was feeling overwhelmed by stress and burdened by anxiety. But simply being in that situation started to take its toll physically and mostly on my gut health. It started when eating became uncomfortable, and then I started to feel more pain and bloating. I was sapped of energy.

I tried every type of diet—keto, plant-based, no-carb, sometimes no food—but no luck. Even eating lunch would put me out of action for four or five hours. That’s not a sustainable situation, and I got myself into a bit of a vicious cycle. Work was going badly, causing more tension, causing more gut issues, stopping me from working, so work got worse.

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”A football in my stomach”

This all came to a head with a ‘physical’ gut-health attack. I was at the theatre, and suddenly felt more bloated than ever, like a football was in my stomach. That was uncomfortable enough, and then the pain started. Arms, legs, back, stomach—I could barely move. I developed a temperature and a fever, and this stuck with me for 72 hours.

At that point, I knew I needed to get some professional help. I booked an appointment to see a gastroenterologist, and after some medication and many tests, we had some longer term solutions—mindfulness, fibre and probiotics. It wasn’t a combination I’d considered, but I couldn’t argue with the results.

How tension played a role

All of this, directly from tension that I thought I was dealing with. But I was only focused on its impact on my mental well-being. Of course, the tension was also having a large physical impact. My cortisol (the stress hormone) levels were elevated, and that was affecting my gut, so I wasn’t digesting my food properly. That led to more discomfort, and some of the signs of poor gut health—difficulty eating, pain, a lack of energy.

The lightbulb moment

My gut health issues meant that I wasn’t able to do the things that I wanted to do. I couldn’t go about my everyday life. I’ve always wanted to feel like I was improving, to be more productive, to get as much out of life as possible, so this felt debilitating.

And that’s why the idea behind Heights—that we should be able to do more of what we want in life—feels so important to me. My gut health stopped me from doing that, but for a long time, I didn’t know that was the problem. Just think about how many people around the world are in similar situations.

Realising the impact of gut health was a lightbulb moment for me. And it’s an opportunity. There’s nothing out there that tackles gut health at the same time as targeting the gut-brain axis.

Want to learn more about the gut-brain axis? We’ve got you covered—here’s more information about what it is, and how it works. Read now.

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