Which gut symptoms are most common in your patients?

The Australian Gut Foundation estimates that over 40% of people in the western world experience digestive related problems at some point in their life and during the 17 years I have been in private practice, the majority of patients who have consulted me, suffer some form of digestive related issue – the most common being bloating, excess flatulence, abdominal pain after eating, chronic constipation or diarrhoea, or heart burn. These type of symptoms typically stem from poor dietary choices, or underlying food sensitivities which contribute to poor gut function.

Considering the human gut has the surface area equivalent in size to a tennis court lined with trillions and trillions of bacteria, it’s critical that we look after our gut and overall digestive function, in order to prevent and treat a wide range of illnesses and diseases. In my view, this is where the majority of health problems stem from – our gut.

What questions would you ask a patient?

During my initial consultation, the first thing I ask a patient is about their digestive function. This includes a range of questions related to their bowel function – including frequency, stool consistency, colour, even odour! As grotesque as that may sound, our bowel habits tell us so much about our overall health and wellbeing, not to mention can be an indicator for serious diseases, including bowel cancer.

It shocks me to hear how many people don’t pay attention to their stools and check for anything unusual, or think it’s ‘normal’ to frequently miss a bowel movement. This is one of the reasons I included an entire chapter in my new book – Love Your Gut – about ‘what your poo says about you’, along with a stool chart to help educate people about their bowel health and the various indicators to look out for when it comes to digestive related symptoms.

What are the first steps you take to investigate the underlying cause of symptoms?

The first steps I recommend to both eliminate and prevent digestive related issues and other illnesses and diseases, is to turn your attention to the food you put in your mouth – each and every day. Food has the power to either act as medicine for our body, or create disease, and with each and every meal we are choosing what we want for our body.

But it’s not just what we eat that dictates our health, it’s also the function of our digestive system that largely shapes our overall health and wellbeing, so it’s essential to ensure you have optimal gut health, in conjunction with nourishing your body with the most nutritious food possible. Just like you need to service your car, or weed and fertilise your garden to keep it healthy, we need to maintain our gut health through maintaining healthy levels of good bacteria within our intestines – better known as our microbiome. We can do this by including a few serve of fermented foods in our daily diet, such as naturally fermented vegetables or kefir, or through taking a high quality probiotic supplement each day.

I also recommend paying attention to any foods you may notice contribute to symptoms like gut pain, bloating or flatulence, even diarrhoea, as these can be an indicator for an underlying food sensitivity.   In chronic cases of digestive related issues, I request a comprehensive digestive stool analysis to get a more comprehensive insight into a patient’s digestive function.

What treatments do you typically recommend?

I typically recommend people suffering digestive related symptoms begin with eliminating all processed foods form their diet, as well as cutting right back on sugar, and try eliminating gluten and or cow’s dairy for at least 4 – 6 weeks to establish if they may be suffering any underlying food sensitivities. In most cases I see a marked improvement within days to a couple of weeks in symptoms through making dietary changes and eating more fresh, whole foods. I also recommend supplementing with a high quality probiotic and digestive enzymes to help restore optimal digestive function.

Which symptoms can you treat and when would you refer a patient to a GP?

Most cases of bloating, excess flatulence, abdominal pain after meals or issues with chronic constipation or diarrhoea, can be effectively treated with dietary modifications and certain nutritional supplements, under the guidance of a qualified nutritionist, but in cases where these symptoms are not being alleviated or significantly improving through dietary modifications and nutritional supplements (like a probiotic), within a couple of weeks, or if a patient is experiencing blood in their stool, black stools, or if their stools are suddenly thinner than usual, or if they are experiencing unexplained weight loss or vomiting, or chronic or new abdominal pain that exists for more than a few days, or they discover a lump in their abdomen or rectum, it’s essential that they consult their GP for further investigation and relevant testing to rule out something more serious like bowel cancer.