You're probably hearing more and more about gut health these days. Increased research into this area of the body is demonstrating how our gut contributes to our overall health and wellbeing.
We spoke with two Gastroenterologists Associate Professor Jake Begun and Dr Yoon-Kyo An to learn more about the gut, how it works, what impacts it has on health and disease and dispel common misconceptions and hearsay.
The role of a Gastroenterologist is to focus on the health of the digestive system which is responsible for the digestion of food, absorption of nutrition and removal of waste, as well as the liver and pancreas, which in addition to their contribution to digestion, are also important in metabolism.
They diagnose and treat disease that occur in the digestive system. They also perform procedures such as endoscopy, colonoscopy and intestinal ultrasounds to diagnose and monitor disease.
"The common conditions we see include Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), inflammatory conditions such as pancreatitis, hepatitis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), coeliac disease, reflux disease and gastrointestinal cancers," Yoon said.
"Many people don't know when to seek a consultation with a Gastroenterologist. Symptoms that could indicate that a consultation is indicated include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhoea, heartburn, nausea and indigestion. GPs also refer patients with unexplained iron deficiency with or without anaemia.”
"Symptoms that require urgent attention are rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss or a positive test through the National Bowel Cancer screening program. Patients with a family history of conditions affecting the bowel such as bowel cancer or coeliac disease, should seek consultation with a Gastroenterologist to discuss the role of screening endoscopy."
Jake explains these days health care professionals are more focused on overall health rather than just disease and therefore promote good health as a preventive measure.
"Things people can do for good gut health include eating a healthy well-balanced diet which contains whole foods, avoiding highly processed foods, fatty foods and minimizing consumption of refined sugars which impact our microbiome and overall health," Jake said.
"In addition to this we are seeing many benefits of exercise on overall health, and especially for gut health. Also, mental health has a huge impact on a person's gut health with strong links to conditions such as anxiety and depression via the gut-brain axis.
"There are many common myths and misconceptions about gut health especially with the increase in products aimed at improving gut health. One such example is the large number of probiotic products, which seem like a good idea to improve the gut microbiome, but are unfortunately not supported by scientific evidence. This is compounded by the lack of regulation, with the product labels often not reflecting the actual contents. These products are falling out of favour with many gastroenterologists as we are not seeing the benefits we would have liked to see."
Jake explains their focus now is more on prebiotics such as increasing fibre in your diet, eating fermented foods and consuming acid resistant starches including bananas, cooked potatoes, psyllium husk, apples, pears and stoney fruits.
Yoon stressed the importance of early detection of gastrointestinal disorders, especially in colon cancer which is the second largest cause of death in Australia.
“We would urge members of the public to be aware of the warning signs and also to participate in the National Bowel Cancer screening program if you are eligible as it saves lives. If we detect these cancers early, we can easily treat them and if polyps are detected at the time of colonoscopy they can be removed in the same procedure, thus preventing a cancer from developing" Yoon said.
For more information you can contact Jake and Yoon’s rooms on 07 3010 5788 and GP referrals can be made to Bridges Health Services, Suite 23, Level 7 Mater Medical Centre 293 Vulture Street South Brisbane.