The guts of it: don't self diagnose

Gut issues are a hot topic. How the food you eat affects the microorganisms in your gut - and how your gut microbiome affects your health - is being keenly studied by researchers worldwide. In Australia, hospital admissions for severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to food have doubled in the past decade for no clear reason, while admissions for children under four with anaphylaxis due to food allergy have increased five-fold. Scientists have also discovered imbalances in the gut can affect your mental health and have linked gut disturbances to serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s and type 2 diabetes. It’s thought that in the future, modifying gut flora may be a common treatment for such illnesses. The gut-brain connection has also sparked multidisciplinary research. Psychologists in Melbourne are currently having great success treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome with evidence-based Gut Directed Hypnosis. In this fascinating, fast-paced but complex arena, some public confusion has arisen due to unsubstantiated claims by self-appointed health gurus that certain food groups are harmful to your health. Paradoxically, some followers may be unnecessarily removing nutritious food from their diet in the hope of better health. This edition we explore gut issues including Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the gut microbiome, 'leaky gut', food allergies and intolerances, faecal transplants, and the low FODMAP diet.

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While the temptation to self-diagnose gut issues and cut out certain foods from your diet in the hope of better health may seem harmless, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
 
Kelly Conte, a dietician practising at Campaspe Family Practice, says people should never self diagnose the cause of their gut symptoms because they may be signs of a serious underlying medical condition.
 
Symptoms that commonly have people reaching for Dr Google include constipation, diarrhoea, cramping, bloating and excessive gas. Kelly advises anyone concerned about their gut symptoms to see their GP to rule out conditions such as Coeliac Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
 
‘Your GP can then refer you to an Accredited Practising dietician (APD) to give guidance on intolerances and help improve your symptoms,’ she says.
 
Kelly treats many patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a condition characterised by chronic symptoms that include lower abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, wind, and altered bowel habit (ranging from diarrhoea to constipation) in the absence of abnormal pathology. Monash University researchers report one in seven adults worldwide suffer from IBS. 
 
Kelly says there has also been a rise in the number of people with non-Coeliac gluten sensitivity.
 
‘A lot of people are doing self-diagnosis and going off all gluten, for example, without any proof of an allergy or intolerance.
 
‘Some people translate “gluten free” as “healthy”, but not all GF food is healthy for people, although it is healthy for someone with Coeliac Disease. GF foods can be high in sugar and other ingredients.’
 
What to do if you have gut symptoms:

  •  see your GP. Your GP may refer you to a gastroenterologist or an accredited dietician for further diagnosis and treatment
  • be aware of stressful events that make your symptoms worse
  • see a psychologist if you are experiencing serious anxiety
  • exercise regularly and practise meditation, yoga or tai chi. These are beneficial to the gut microbiome.