What is gut health?
The human gut is intimately related to our health. It allows digestion and absorption of nutrition which provides energy for the entire body. It is also an important site of production and control of our immune system used to fight infections.
Why is gut health important?
More recently we have learnt that the gut also has an ecosystem of microorganisms known as gut microbiota, which affect not just gut functions but other parts of our body as well. It has also been shown that there is a significant difference between the gut microbiota of healthy people compared to patients with various diseases.
What are some ways your gut health can affect other parts of the body?
One key feature of gut microbiota of healthy people is high diversity. Healthy people have been shown to have a greater diversity of gut bacteria, as compared to those with diseases like obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and eczema.
One of the way gut microbiota works is through products of bacterial fermentation: short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) which regulate our body function.
For example, obese patients have reduced gut microbiota diversity and reduced SCFA like butyrate which regulates appetite. A low fibre diet can reduce this diversity.
On the other hand, patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), have been shown to have different types of gut bacteria compared to the healthy. These bacteria result in increased fermentation producing gas which causes bloating. Modification of these bacteria using antibiotics or reduction of fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAP) can reduce the fermentation products and improve patient symptoms.
How can you improve your gut health?
Eating a variety of high-fibre food has been shown to improve gut microbiota diversity. Consumption of antibiotics and artificial sweeteners has been shown to disrupt gut microbiota.
There is early research which demonstrates that a personalised diet, based on an individual’s unique gut microbiota, may be used to treat some medical conditions. However, more research is still needed.
Dr Wang Yu Tien joins us with nearly 20 years of experience from Singapore General Hospital where he was senior consultant, director of research and a faculty of senior resident training at the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. He is experienced in managing the full spectrum of gastrointestinal and liver diseases as well as endoscopy. His subspecialty interest is digestive function disorders (e.g. Gastroesophageal Reflux and Irritable Bowel Syndrome).