At some point this year, it’s estimated that around half of the Australian population will complain of a gut problem. It might be reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis or even bowel cancer.
For Alicia, a participant on the panel of new three-part SBS series Michael Mosley’s Reset, the gut issue that sent her body and life into meltdown was diverticular disease: the inflammation or infection of small abnormal pouches formed in the bowel wall.
“I woke up one morning with extreme abdominal pain and I had never felt anything like it before,” Alicia explains in this ‘Better Guts’ episode. “I was lucky enough to see my GP. I had a CT scan and sure enough I had diverticulitis.”
With the condition came pain, severe changes in bowel motion, fever, nausea and vomiting. Alicia’s condition worsened three months later and she ended up in hospital with advanced diverticulitis.
Another guest featured in this episode is gastroenterologist, Dr Vincent Ho. He explains that while diverticulitis is common in older age groups, it is more rare in young people of Alicia’s generation.
“We know that 50 per cent of people aged 60 will have diverticulitis and about 70 per cent of people aged 80 will have diverticulitis,” explains Dr Ho.
However, poor diet can also increase your risk of the serious gut condition.
As Alicia reveals, she ate a lot of overly processed, high-starch and low-fibre foods in her twenties and thirties. Could her diet have actually caused such a serious condition or was it there all along?
Through the advice offered by the show’s trio of experts – Dr Ho, dietician Dr Emma Halmos and clinical psychologist Dr Simon Knowles – we learn there’s a lot we don’t yet know about the gut microbiome and causes of gastrointestinal issues like diverticulitis.
But what we come to understand is that some foods can disturb the balance of your gut microbiome and cause gut health issues.
A review on the impact of diet and lifestyle on gut microbiota, published in the journal Nutrients in 2015, explains that certain microbial population profiles may be associated with specific gut diseases and conditions. However, it’s unknown whether environmental and lifestyle factors, diet or a genetic predisposition are what truly cause these diseases.
The problem is everyone’s microbiome is so unique that the cause of gut problems varies from person to person, and more research is needed at a population level.
“There are about a hundred trillion microbes down there [in your gut],” says Dr Mosley. “It’s an entire world of creaturesbreeding, fighting and influencing us in totally unexpected ways.”
In Alicia’s case, eliminating highly processed wheat from her diet helped her manage diverticulitis.
Catherine, another participant, tells us how she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) at age 20 in 2016. She then experienced a debilitating flare-up last year while on holiday, after a meal she ate disturbed her stomach.
Catherine got relief after changing what she ate and following a low FODMAP diet. This eating plan, created by Monash University researchers to provide relief from IBS, reduces or removes certain foods from your diet. In doing so, it aims to cut down on specific sugar types that may trigger gut issues thereby avoiding discomfort.
Finally, we meet Monica who lives with serious gut issues after she eats all kinds of food. But to date, she’s still not received an accurate diagnosis from a medical professional. Inspired by the other guests on the show, Monica resolves to continue her search for gut-based answers by consulting a dietician.
In the meantime, Dr Halmos advises Monica and other Australians to look after their gut microbiome by consuming high-fibre foods and eliminating highly processed meals from their diet.
“Eat a wide, diverse range of foods: have lots of colours and plant-based foods,” says Dr Halmos. “Basically, follow what a Mediterranean diet would look like. So that’s lots of wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and good healthy oils.”
Dr Michael Mosley’s Reset is a new three-part series, created in partnership with Medibank and produced independently by SBS, exploring some of the latest research on the big health issues that affect so many Australians. It's exclusive to SBS On Demand from 4 March 2019.
If this article has raised concerns or questions, consult your GP or an appropriate health care professional.