Food and Behaviour Research

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18 July 2019 - Nutraingredients - Public in the dark about gut health, survey reveals

Nikki Cutler

microbiota

What does the general public know about the importance of their microbiome, where do they go for information and what do they do to improve their gut health? A healthcare company-sponsored survey set out to investigate.

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What does the general public know about the importance of their microbiome, where do they go for information and what do they do to improve their gut health? A survey on 1,000 adults has answered these questions and more.

A survey, dubbed the Scope Gut Education Index, carried out on behalf of healthcare company Scope, surveyed 1,000 Irish adults aged 18+ via online survey to find out people's attitudes towards good gut health and its effects on specific areas such as digestive disorders, allergies, the immune system and stress.

Antibiotics

In the report foreword, Dr Megan Rossi, founder of the gut health clinic, says one of the most informative statistics to come from this report is people’s attitudes towards and use of antibiotics for flu-like symptoms.

The report reveals that 1 in 4 people attended a GP for flu-like symptoms last winter and a whopping 68% of people were prescribed an antibiotic.

What's more, 25% of patients expect to prescribed an antibiotic when attending a GP.

The report states that the 'considerable number' of people who attended a GP with cold or flu-like symptoms and were prescribed an antibiotic is 'worrying'.

Dr Rossi adds: "Public education surrounding antibiotics is incredibly important in the prevention of over-use antibiotics, which can lead to increased risk of gastrointestinal issues, among several other negative outcomes."

The report also found that women are more likely to strongly believe that changing their diet and taking supplements, such as probiotics, in the winter months benefit the immune system.

Women’s health

Probiotics are becoming increasingly well recognised as a way to prevent yeast and urinary tract infections in women, yet this knowledge doesn't appear to have translated to the general public as yet.

Almost half of the women surveyed said they have experienced yeast infections before, while over half of Irish females have experienced urinary tract infections.

Out of those who spoke to a professional, family member or friend about their UTI or yeast infection, only 37% of those were advised to take a probiotic.

Anxiety

Another issue that gut health has been scientifically proven to influence, is anxiety.

Scope's survey shows that there is a belief that stress and anxiety can cause changes to digestive gut health, with almost half (42%) of people take supplements to help manage depression and just over 4 in 5 people saying exercise helps them manage symptoms of anxiety.

However, women are more likely than men to report dietary change and use supplements to help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, showing huge room for improvement when it comes to education on how gut health influences stress.

And when it comes to migraines, more than 3 in 10 people surveyed said they suffer but they rely on their family members more than medical professionals for help (44% vs 29% for a doctor) and one third of those who suffer from migraines never visit a healthcare professional to review their treatment plan.

Allergies

Further general knowledge gaps were revealed when it came to the subject of allergies with more than 4 in 10 of the people surveyed saying they suffer and two thirds of these people saying they use medication to treat their allergies.

What's more, 19% of people said they have 'tried everything' but nothing seems to work, while 81% don’t know what products can help alleviate symptoms.

Information sourcing

The results reveal, quite clearly, that people want to be educated on digestive health. In fact, a sizeable 46% said they are unsatisfied with their level of gut health knowledge and 79% said they would be open to enrolling in a related health course.

Whilst a commendable 76% of respondents said they use their GP to find out information about digestive health, the internet was revealed to be the second most used source for information on the subject.

In light of these results, Scope has recommended 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.

It also recommends a dedicated information campaign from the Department of Health to raise public awareness of gut health, IBS and other digestive health issues, plus additional support for healthcare professionals aimed at reducing instances of unnecessary antibiotic prescription.

Dr Rossi says  that too often in her clinic, she has seen people being misled in their desperate search for information on gut health to help their symptoms.

"Instead of improving their health and happiness, their quest for better gut health was resulting in anxiety and added stress, owing to the copious numbers of somewhat misleading opinion-based blogs that fill people’s search engines. Providing the public with easy-tounderstand, evidence-based resources is key to getting the most out of gut health and is something I am very passionate about."