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I keep hearing about “gut health.” What is that exactly?

It is more important to maintain good gut health than treat the resulting diseases that occur if your system breaks down

The popular meaning of this term is quite different from its specific medical definition. Gut health refers to a state of effective digestion and absorption of food, resulting in gastrointestinal wellbeing and an absence of illness. In addition, there should be a normal and stable microbiota (the ecological community of microorganisms that live in the intestines) and an effective gut immune system.

 

Q: Why is it important?

Major gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammation or cancers, can be serious and potentially life-threatening, but even less critical functional problems, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, can impact your quality of life, as they can result in symptoms such as abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea. Your gut microbiota and the adjacent gut barrier also regulates immune and allergy functions that are important to our health in general. It also communicates with the brain to affect our mood and energy metabolism.

 

Q: What are the causes of bad gut health?

Anything that affects our gut microbiota and gut barrier can lead to bad gut health. Medication, especially antibiotics, can severely affect the diversity of bacterial flora that live in your gut. Unbalanced diets that are
high in carbohydrates or fat can affect your gut defence system and allow infections, inflammation, allergy and other diseases to set in.

 

Q: Are there symptoms to look out for?

There are symptom scores that help evaluate your gut health. These focus on symptoms such as abdominal pain, heartburn, bloating, flatulence, bowel movements and the quality of your stools. There are also tests that can be done to evaluate the function of your gut. For example, the Hydrogen Breath Test helps identify abnormal bacterial colonisation in your intestines.

 

Q: Can it be treated?

It is more important to maintain good gut health than treat the resulting diseases that occur if your system breaks down. A healthy, balanced diet that includes high vegetable and fibre content is important. Avoid excessive red meat, alcohol and tobacco.
Improve your lifestyle with regular exercise and meditative methods to reduce stress. Taking probiotic and prebiotic supplements can also help to support good gut health. Finally, doing periodic screening endoscopies will help identify and treat pre-cancerous lesions and polyps in the stomach and colon before they turn cancerous.

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