The impact of our gut microbiome on our health and wellbeing is an exciting area of research. Gut microbiota influences many areas of human health, including our brain, our immunity and energy metabolism – and what we eat can have a huge influence on it.
However, it is a complex area to investigate, understand and communicate effectively. So what do the general public know about their microbiota and what interest do they have in their gut health? Where do people get their information on digestive health from and how can we ensure such information is reliable and reflects the science?
An online survey of 1,000 Irish adults was conducted in April 2019 for the healthcare company Scope as part of an initiative to answer these questions. Dubbed the Gut Education Index, the research provided an insight into people’s attitudes towards good digestive health and its effects on, for example, digestive disorders, allergies, the immune system and stress. It also examined Irish people’s knowledge of gut health and where they get their information on digestive health.
“Our report provides credible evidence-based information that will be of particular interest to healthcare practitioners and nutritionists, as well as the general public,” says Sarah Ussher, product manager at Scope.
What interest do the general public have in their gut health?
The company found that the majority of Irish people are not satisfied with their understanding of digestive health or the conditions that can be helped as a result of a healthy digestive system. Many people are keen to know more about the topic, with 46% of people saying they are unsatisfied with their level of knowledge and 79% being open to taking a course to improve their understanding.
Where do people find information on digestive health?
“The survey revealed that the internet is the second most used source of information on gut health after doctors, trumping both nutritionists (41%) and pharmacists (63%),” highlights Ussher. The report notes that easy access to unreliable and unofficial information online can lead to increased anxiety and could potentially be damaging if some of the advice was followed by individuals. The findings indicate the need for better and more reliable resources on gut health that are available on the internet.
What do consumers know about their microbiota?
The survey shows there are gaps in the general public’s knowledge regarding digestive health. With better awareness of how people can support their gut, significant bodily benefits could be achieved.
- 60% of women surveyed have been diagnosed with digestive issues at some stage in their life and over half of them have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Of those that said they suffered from digestive issues, two-thirds adopted a new diet, and over half of this cohort did so without the recommendation of a healthcare professional or nutritionist.
- Over 70% of our immune system is in the digestive tract. Despite the negative impact winter can take on the body, 24% of people did not consider how to maintain a healthy immune system. However, one in three people take new or additional supplements during the winter months.
- The survey found that 81% of allergy sufferers don’t know what products can help alleviate their symptoms, while 35% of people said that their mood is affected by their allergies. There is some evidence that probiotics may help reduce symptoms of allergy.
- 74% of people surveyed have suffered stress in the last six months; 59% have suffered from anxiety in the last six months and 39% say they take supplements to manage symptoms of stress. The survey shows there is a belief that stress and anxiety can cause changes to digestive gut health. Around 6 in 10 people said that changes to their diet have helped them manage their depression symptoms.
How can we ensure such information is reliable and reflects the science?
Among the recommendations from the report was the creation of an information portal dedicated to gut health, IBS, digestive health issues and health conditions that can be helped as a result of good digestive health. Making evidence-based information available to the public in a way that they can easily access it is much needed to help communicate the science on our gut health and its impact on our health overall.