Being Good To Your Gut

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

With more consumers placing importance on health, they are also becoming aware of how to better take care of their bodies. What better place to start than with the gut and our gastrointestinal health? Professor Wang Chin-Kun shares more. By Michelle Cheong

Before we go into the specifics of how to better take care of one’s gut and gut health, what exactly is gastrointestinal health, and why should we start with this to improve our overall health?

GI Diseases And Asia

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is very important and it is the first touching area for eating materials, which is set to work after every meal. When something happens to the GI tract, the energy supply and nutrients supplementation could be greatly interrupted and even terminated, Professor Wang said.

Dietary behaviour, environmental factors, sanitary condition, social stress and genetic genotype can induce digestive disorders and GI diseases, such as colorectal cancer, gastroesophageal reflux disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease.

Rapid growth has been seen of gastrointestinal diseases in Asian populations during the past two decades. Both incidence and prevalence rates have shown a notable rise, and GI diseases are increasingly the cause of morbidity and mortality in Asian countries.

In the World Cancer Research Fund’s annual ranking of the top 20 countries with the highest incidence of stomach cancer, three Asian countries were ranked in the top five: Korea placed first with an incidence of 42 per 100,000; Japan third with an incidence of 30 per 100,000; and China fifth with an incidence of 23 per 100,000.

Ulcerative colitis is now one of the most common GI diseases afflicting Asian countries.

According to Professor Wang, GI diseases are linked with changing environmental factors brought on by industrialisation, changes in diet, improved sanitation and the increased use of antibiotics.

So what can be done to improve GI health?

Improving GI Health

Prebiotics and probiotics can be effective in improving and maintaining GI health. Prebiotics are a special group of specialised materials, i.e. dietary fibre, which beneficially nourishes the good bacteria already present in the large bowel or colon.

Prebiotics therefore act as a fertiliser for existing good bacteria, helping them to grow and improving the good-to-bad bacteria ratio. This ratio has been shown to have a direct correlation to health and overall wellbeing, from stomach to brain.

In contrast, probiotics introduce good bacteria into the gut, being live bacteria themselves, and usually include the lactobacteria and bifido species, and while they have been shown to be effective in managing certain gastrointestinal conditions, they do not have the same power that prebiotics do.

Prebiotics can typically be obtained from natural vegetables, fruits and cereals. Diets can also be fortified with prebiotics by adding the resources of these plant materials. Probiotics on the other hand, are found in yoghurt and dairy products. Powder or pills with a high density of probiotics could be helpful for fortification in products.

At the moment, challenges for GI health in Asia include GI diseases such as colorectal cancer, gastroesophageal reflux disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease. Looking forward, the prevention and treatment of these diseases would likely be trends, and manufacturers can capitalise on this opportunity by formulating more prebiotic and probiotic-fortified products, so as to improve consumer gut health.

Note: Professor Wang Chin-Kun will be speaking more about bioactives for GI at the upcoming Vitafoods Asia show in Hong Kong.