Gut health can often be traced to many conditions ranging from autoimmune disease, cancer and obesity.
This is the opinion of Stay Well Pharmacy owner Mark Webster, who says all conditions have a component of good or ill gut health contributing to them, with digestive problems being “far more common than commonly thought”.
This has resulted in many people becoming preoccupied with their gut health and eager to try gluten free diets and probiotics, among many other fads that come and go.
However, care must be taken.
Research suggests some people needlessly follow a gluten free diet at the expense of their nutrition, or consume probiotics avidly with limited evidence for their efficacy in providing functional benefits to improve gut health.
Regardless of the dos and don’ts, Mr Webster says the prevalence of digestive issues is found in the remedies his pharmacy sells daily.
The ubiquitousness of gut health problems is reinforced by Dr Damien Belobrajdic, a senior research scientist at CSIRO Health and Biosecurity, who says that one in two Australians experience gut health issues, with such issues being severe in one in seven.
With a multitude of reasons for these varying symptoms, pinpointing the cause or causes can be challenging and requires evidence-based, medical advice, Dr Belobrajdic says.
Coeliac disease and the gluten free diet
“In Australia, we’ve seen a rise in the availability, marketing and popularity of the fashionable gluten free diet, among other digestive product and health trends, in response to individuals seeking relief from these common gut health symptoms,” explains Dr Belobrajdic.
“We know that people with medically diagnosed coeliac disease can suffer these symptoms with dire health consequences with even the smallest amount of gluten in their diet, and as such must follow a strict gluten free diet for life.”
Dr Belobrajdic says gluten free is often seen as the ‘go-to’ diet for improved gut health among non-coeliac individuals, but no evidence supports this trend.
Such a trend has been evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, with experts imploring shoppers not to unnecessarily buy the gluten-free foods required for people with coeliac disease.
He says a growing dialogue has emerged around the avoidance of bread and cereal-based wheat products containing gluten – in efforts to reduce bloating or cramping, for instance.
“However, it may be other components of these foods impacting gut health, rather than the gluten or wheat itself, and caution should be applied when avoiding these foods without health professional diagnosis and/or support,” Dr Belobrajdic says.
“Avoiding gluten unnecessarily can also impact overall health and wellbeing, with many gluten free products being lower in fibre, higher in added sugars and fats and also lower in key nutrients.”
Critical role of dietary fibre
Dr Belobrajdic says that to prevent constipation through regular bowel function, it’s advisable that women consume 25g of dietary fibre a day, and men 30g – a level that many Australians aren’t achieving.
Furthermore, if someone has a chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes or heart disease, the fibre requirement increases to 30-35g a day, he says.