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Functional Bowel Disorders

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

Gut health is one of the most talked about topics within the health industry as we are discovering all the various ways our gut health is impacting our health both physically and mentally. A quick google search will reveal a multitude of trend terms to improve gut health but how do we know if how gut health is not ideal?

Indicators of poor gut health include abdominal pain, altered bowel habits, bloating, excessive flatulence and visible distention of the abdominal region. It is common for these symptoms to wax and wane, making it hard for us to pinpoint possible causes for our symptoms. What is even more confusing is the overlap of symptoms with other disease states such as endometriosis, diverticular disease, and coeliac disease.

After the exclusion of other disease states if symptoms persist, they are collectively termed “functional bowel disorders”. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common functional bowel disorder worldwide, with 7-15% of the population and more women than men diagnosed with IBS before the age of 50 years old.

First line treatment and long-term management of functional gut disorders is dietary modification. Consultation with an accredited practising dietitian who is experienced in the management of gut health has been shown to result in more effective, and quicker symptom improvements among patients with functional gut disorders compared to those who to self-manage.

A quick stocktake of the volume and frequency of caffeine, alcohol, total fat intake and fluid intake may indicate areas for dietary modification to improve gut health. Fibre intake is also an important dietary component which can be self-assessed. One of the most common factors contributing to functional gut disorders is the lack of fibre, in particular insoluble fibre found in most wholegrains, nuts, and seeds. Fads diets such as “ketogenic” and low carbohydrates diets are typically lower in fibre overall and may contribute to the exacerbation of functional gut disorders.

If simple dietary modifications have not yielded significant symptom relief, exclusion diets such as the low FODMAP and the low food chemical diet may be introduced. Considering the complex nature of exclusion diets and the increased risk of nutrient deficiency and malnutrition that is associated with these styles of eating if they are undertaken for prolonged periods of time and are not adequately supplemented, it is not recommended that they be undertaken without adequate dietitian support.

If your gut health is not what you think it should be, make an appointment with Accredited Practising Dietitian Sharnie Dwyer for individualised care and improved symptom management.

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