Professor Green: Solving my gut problems did wonders for my mental health
Following a tough run of health issues, rapper Professor Green talks to Lisa Salmon about self-care and making healthy choices
PROFESSOR Green is so eloquent and informed, you could be forgiven for thinking the ‘Professor' title was a genuine academic qualification, rather than just a stage name (his real name's Stephen Manderson). The rapper and musician actually left school with no qualifications – but he's certainly clued-up when it comes to life and health experiences.
Green – who has just turned 37 and has sold more than three million records – was raised by his nan and wider family on an east London council estate. He's been open about the health issues he's endured, including stomach problems, anxiety and depression.
He's now in fine fettle, he says, which he largely attributes to making the connection between his gut and brain. And after years of trying various combinations of supplements, he's now created his own ‘companion formula' called Aguulp (aguulp.com), designed to support brain, gut and immunity wellbeing.
Here, Green, who's also a patron for the male suicide prevention charity Calm (thecalmzone.net), tells us more…
:: What health problems have you had?
“I had IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) diagnosed at a really young age. It's weird with IBS, all the research I've done suggests it can be a precursor to psychological conditions like anxiety and depression, but it can also be preceded by really stressful life events – it's a bit of a chicken and egg situation.
“Much later on, in 2017, I had a hiatus hernia. I tried to avoid having surgery and they had me on the highest dose of some quite horrible tablets. I was only supposed to be on them for a month, but I was on them for two years. That wasn't a very pleasant time.”
:: You finally opted for surgery – what happened?
“When I had the operation, I was back home in 48 hours, but within 24 hours I was back in hospital. I looked like I was pregnant with triplets, it was quite frightening. I had ileus [when muscle or nerve problems stop things moving through the gut], pneumonia and a partially collapsed lung, and my readings suggested I should've been dead.
“Two weeks later, after they'd drained just over four litres of inflammatory fluid, I was sent home with an all but paralysed stomach. I wasn't getting any nutrients. It was pretty horrific.
“The options were gastric bypass surgery, or wait it out and hope. But if I had surgery and had the same complications again, I could've died. It was a terrible place to be. I decided against surgery.”
:: How did you deal with your stomach problems after that?
“I started to educate myself on gut health, and the link between gut health and mental health, which I was quite surprised about. I've been a mental health advocate for years – it's something I care a lot about, especially with what I've been through and what happened with my father [Green's father died by suicide].
“I started to use supplements, which was an incredibly confusing process. I didn't know quite what was working and what wasn't, but I was trying to do everything I could to improve my health. Little by little, things started to improve, and I was quite shocked to find that the better I took care of myself and my gut, the better my head felt and the more my mental health improved. That continues to this day.”
:: Then you created Aguulp – what was your aim there?
“If I'd put my name to an alcohol brand, people would've understood that, but it would be quite irresponsible for me to put my name to an alcohol brand. I think people find it quite confusing that I'm bringing to the market a product that could have health benefits! I wouldn't want to go through what I've gone through twice, and I think it's important to pass on what I've learned on that journey.
“If I feel better, it makes making good decisions easier. I'm more likely to exercise, and if I exercise I'm more likely to eat better, if I eat better I'm more likely to sleep better – it just begets a positive cycle.”
:: How are is your gut health now?
“My guts are really good. Touch wood, I'm not suffering a lot of the problems I had on and off throughout my life. I feel a little bit more resilient and quite a lot more robust.
“Things feel more consistent. Being consistent enables us to live a life more linear. Everyone strives for happiness but, if anything, the constant should just be [to feel] content. And I feel quite content.”
:: How has your journey with mental health been?
“I've had bouts of depression, and I went on medication when I was in a better place than I had been in a long time. I'd always rejected medication – I guess I felt a little bit of the taboo – but I tried it and it wasn't for me. I find lifestyle choices are the most important thing for me. If I look after myself and make the right decisions, then I tend to stay quite well. It doesn't mean I don't have bad days – everyone's entitled to a bad day every now and then.”
:: What's your approach to having a healthy lifestyle now?
“There's a balance. I'm not shy of a glass of red wine, and I still enjoy indulging sometimes with food. I'd be lying if I said you'd never find me in a chicken shop at 3am – not at the moment because they're all shut – but I've tried to scale back on the amount of meat I eat.
“I love salt and vinegar crisps, I don't think that's ever going to change. But when I'm in a good place, I tend to be pretty healthy.
“I think education is key, and prevention is better than cure. I'm starting to get grey hairs, so I'm clearly ageing. You start to want to take better care of yourself.”
:: How have you been coping with lockdown?
“The same as everyone – some people are obviously more comfortable and secure than others. I don't like that I haven't been able to give my nan a hug since January.
“I'm trying to spend as much time outdoors as I can. I've got two very large dogs, so I've got enough reason to be out there – but even if I hadn't, for me, the days when I feel my absolute worst, when I get up and get outside, I always feel better.”
:: What's your exercise routine?
“I did my back about 10 weeks ago, so walking was the only exercise I was getting, but I'm just getting back to it. I use a spin bike and do strength training – not as much as I'd like to but I'm not putting too much pressure on myself. I loved going to the gym – I'm not a gym-head though, it's more about the endorphins and what it makes me feel like.
“The most important thing is just to get through this healthily, with my sanity. If you can find it in yourself to sit down and concentrate on something, then do, but I don't think giving yourself additional pressures during this period is very smart. There's enough pressure on us already.”