The message about eating a healthy balanced diet is one that doctors and nutritionists have been repeating for decades. The “Five a Day” mantra about consuming a minimum of five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day has passed into common parlance, even among some children.

Yet, in recent years, scientists have been telling us that caring for our digestive health is about more than simply feeling healthier and more energetic. You may have heard your gut described as your body’s second brain. This is because growing evidence has emerged about the role played by our digestive system in our mental and brain health.

The reason for this is that your digestive system contains billions of bacteria, both good and bad. The good bacteria play a crucial role in your body’s digestive and immune systems, helping to regulate hormones as well as your body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals and eliminate toxins, your immune responses and your mental health.

How Your Gut is Linked to Your Brain

The Enteric Nervous System (ENS) is the name for the 100 million nerve cells that line your gastrointestinal tract. Its primary function is to control digestion but the ENS also communicates back and forth with the brain, letting it know about the overall health of the digestive system and its immune system.

If the balance of good and bad bacteria is disrupted and the bad bacteria start to proliferate you can develop gut dysbiosis. Too much harmful bacteria, yeast and sometimes parasites can damage the mucosal layer of your gastrointestinal tract so instead of it being smooth, it becomes permeable, allowing food proteins to enter the bloodstream.

Leaky Gut

Referred to as intestinal hyperpermeability, or leaky gut syndrome, it can activate your immune system, leading to inflammation and food sensitivities. Poor gut health is linked to a weakened immune system, joint pain, headaches and fatigue as well as more obvious gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating or reflux.

People with leaky gut, as well as other bowel disorders such as Celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome have been found to be more likely to suffer from mental health problems like depression and anxiety, as well as autoimmune diseases.

Recent studies link digestive function to certain cognitive functions such as thinking skills and memory. Ninety per cent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive system. Serotonin – often called the happy chemical – performs a wide range of functions in the body including contributing to wellbeing and happiness. It is used to transmit messages between nerve cells and helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles and the body’s internal clock. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression.

Looking after Your Gut Health

Inflammation or irritation of the gut can be linked to eating too much processed, sugary and fatty food. Conversely, therefor, a healthy balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit, protein and complex carbohydrates will help to support the balance of good bacteria in the gut and prevent inflammation.

Advanced diagnostic testing can help to determine if you have food sensitivies that are affecting your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Certain supplements, such as probiotics, may help to rebalance the gut bacteria. You may also benefit from the advice and support of a nutritionist who might be able to devise a nutrition plan for optimum gut health.

If you are concerned about your gut or bowel health, a private bowel specialist can provide prompt diagnosis, treatment and support for a wide range of conditions ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to inflammatory bowel diseases and even bowel cancer.

World Digestive Health Day: How a healthy gut and early diagnosis can help to reduce bowel cancer across the globe

The 29th May is World Digestive Health Day (WDHD), organised by the World Gastroenterology Organisation. This is information about this year’s focus:

“Globally, cancer is the second leading cause of death, with an estimated 18 million cancer cases around the world. Of those cases, 4 of the 7 top most common cancers are from the digestive system. It is because of this world health burden that the World Gastroenterology Organisation and The WGO Foundation have selected the Early Diagnosis and Treatment of GI Cancer as the focus of the 2019 World Digestive Health Day campaign.

Modifying or avoiding key risk factors, early detection, screenings, and treatment can reduce the number of deaths caused by cancer. By increasing awareness worldwide, and in particular among low- and middle-income countries where 70% of cancer deaths occur, the WGO global network of WGO member societies, partners, and sponsors can raise the level awareness.”

Dr Jamie Murphy supports the World Digestive Health campaign and its goals to raise awareness of the benefits of healthy living to prevent bowel cancer, as well as early diagnosis and intervention.

Early diagnosis is vital to the success of treatment of bowel cancer, so if you are experiencing any symptoms, we urge you to seek the help of a medical professional, either your GP or preferably a specialist who will be able to offer you a prompt and accurate diagnosis.

If you are not experiencing symptoms but are over 50 or have a family history of bowel cancer, it is also important to take preventative measures via bowel cancer screening.