In a surprising culinary twist amidst the flavors of Spain—known for paella, pan con tomato, and patatas bravas—I find myself savoring miso soup accompanied by algae. This atypical dinner occurs at Sha Wellness Clinic, a tranquil health resort in Alicante, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from its terrace restaurant. Instead of pairing my meal with rosé, I opt for umeboshi tea—a brothy infusion derived from the funky, salty Japanese plum known for its antibacterial properties.
Contrary to a weight loss agenda, the resort’s menu focuses on microbiome-boosting concoctions. These drinks and dishes alleviate bloating and promote gastrointestinal wellness—a core feature of the new “gut-health-focused pack.” This comprehensive weeklong regimen supplements Sha’s existing programs, including specialist consultations, colon cleansing, and stomach-healing therapies. This initiative aligns with recent research emphasizing the profound connection between the gut and brain, suggesting that digestive health significantly influences overall well-being and can exacerbate anxiety and depression when imbalanced.
Established in late 2008, the Sha retreat resides on the border of a serene nature preserve and offers mesmerizing water vistas. It has gained recognition for its opulent, nutrition-centric offerings, catering to diverse needs from healthy aging to weight management. Visitors can partake in stays ranging from four days to three weeks, facilitated within a state-of-the-art facility overseen by a team of physicians and alternative healers. Having endured personal digestive challenges due to parasites and persistent inflammation from past health issues, I embarked on a week of dietary discipline and high-touch therapies under the Spanish sun.
Dr. Mariel Silva, a medical practitioner at Sha, notes the significant advancement in gut microbiota knowledge. Research now underscores the pivotal role of digestive health in overall well-being, elucidating the intricate interplay between the nervous and digestive systems. This reciprocal relationship implies that altered nervous function impacts digestion and vice versa. Stress, for instance, leads to dysbiosis—an imbalance of bacteria—while dysbiosis hinders stress tolerance. A 2019 study revealed that mental tension and depression can disrupt gut bacteria composition, setting off a cycle of health issues. Similarly, Western diets rich in processed foods correlate with increased gut inflammation, exacerbating various inflammatory diseases.
Dr. Maura Henninger, a New York-based naturopathic doctor, underscores the invaluable insights gained from burgeoning research. Simple interventions like dietary adjustments and probiotics often outperform prescription antidepressants. Laboratory studies show certain probiotics can enhance GABA production—a neurotransmitter crucial for reducing fear and stress—thereby alleviating anxiety and depression symptoms.
While the science is new, the age-old link between the mind and stomach endures. British epidemiologist and researcher Dr. Tim Spector stresses the pivotal role of diet in health, particularly the detrimental impact of ultra-processed foods on our microbiome and metabolism. Integrative medicine, amalgamating biomedical and alternative approaches, is a successful strategy for enhancing digestive health. Eastern and naturopathic medicine traditions, which incorporate practices like botanical medicine, diet adjustments, and acupuncture, have proven effective for generations. As research validates their efficacy, these methods are becoming more widely recognized.
Sha’s methodology, fusing Western science and alternative medicine, ideally positions it to nurture the body’s microbiome. General Manager Fernando Rojo emphasizes the synergy of various experts in tailoring solutions for guests. Upon arriving at the gut retreat, expect a comprehensive GI test involving stool analysis to identify specific bacteria. An intravenous liver detox, colon hydrotherapy, and other therapies follow to facilitate gut restoration. Turnaround time for the GI test results may be a bit lengthy, but a doctor will provide explanations during a follow-up call. The regimen also encompasses appointments with medical and digestive physicians, psychologists, and specialized massages.
Sha’s unconventional treatments, adhering to both Western and alternative standards, defy traditional boundaries. A “hydro-energetic detox cure” involves soaking in a jetted bath infused with kelp cream and detoxifying herbal oil. The “ginger therapeutic compress” entails applying a hot ginger-soaked towel to the side to cleanse the liver. Moxibustion, a traditional Chinese medicine technique, stimulates the small intestine with the heat of burning artemisia. These distinctive methods, strange as they may seem, yield surprising benefits, such as improved sleep and reduced inflammation.
Central to Sha’s approach is its nutrition-centric philosophy. The restaurant’s menu excludes not only meat, cheese, eggs, caffeine, and sugar but also spicy and oily fare. Rather than focusing on calorie counting, the strategy centers on toxin reduction. Local, seasonal, and organic ingredients take the spotlight, alongside grains, vegetables, and seaweeds. Departing from my familiar keto or low-carb diet, embracing millet and quinoa feels unfamiliar, but Sha’s conviction in the macrobiotic diet is unwavering.
Each meal offers three menus, catering to diverse tastes from gastronomic to calorie-conscious. Additionally, personalized off-menu dishes are prepared based on recommendations from nutritionists. These meals evolve during the stay to match individual progress. While it might seem bland to visit Spain without indulging in local delicacies, dining at Sha exemplifies healthy fine dining. Head Chef Andrés Morán transforms seemingly ordinary ingredients into flavorful feasts, showcasing tempeh ceviche, prawns with gluten-free pasta, and innovative almond and rice-flour cakes. Although alcohol is discouraged, a selection of fine wines is available to round off the culinary experience.