Make this the year you focus on your digestive health
Gut Health Lifestyle choices, awareness of symptoms and early action will help maintain your digestive health, says Consultant Gastroenterologist Ian Forgacs, President of the British Society of Gastroenterology.
There is no better time than now to consider your digestive health. The festive season often makes us aware of our digestive tract, sometimes painfully, and the New Year is traditionally a time to start healthy new habits.
Keeping your digestive tract in good health is always a wise choice. Doctors can do a lot, but healthy lifestyle choices, awareness of symptoms and taking early action on any concerns will reduce your risk of suffering from gut diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, which covers ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), coeliac disease and gastro-intestinal cancers.
Doctors, researchers and the public have plenty of work to do. Colon cancer is the UK's number two killer, but awareness, screening campaigns and early action can save lives: diagnosed early, nine out of ten people survive it; diagnosed late, only one in ten. So make it one of your New Year resolutions to find out about the symptoms and if you have any concerns, visit your GP. If you have been sent an NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Test kit overcome any squeamishness and use it.
Researchers are investigating the underlying causes of many diseases of the digestive tract. Some may lie in the relationship between the bacteria in the bowel - collectively called the microbiome - and the immune system. IBD, for instance, may be caused by the body's immune system losing the capacity to tolerate some of the benign bacteria in the microbiome. Researchers are also investigating possible links between the microbiome and IBS.
Large-scale studies examining possible genetic factors in Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis have shown that people with specific genes are at increased risk, but more work needs to be done.
We already know the faecal transplants can treat c.difficile infection, but research is ongoing to find out whether they can treat other diseases.
On the treatment front, a range of new biological therapies using genetically-engineered antibodies has been developed to target the inflammation of the bowel in IBD. These could have a major impact on thousands of lives. Records show about 300,000 people have IBD in the UK, but there are thought to be many more - perhaps half a million.
But digestive health cannot just be left to scientists and doctors. Most digestive problems are the result of our lifestyles. High alcohol consumption, smoking, overweight and poor diet all increase the risk of digestive tract problems and cancers so make 2015 the year you look after your digestive health. Consider joining the Dry January campaign (dryjanuary.org.uk) to give your gut a rest from alcohol and see the Be Clear on Cancer Campaign from January 26th to February 22nd. This year it is about oesophagogastric cancer www.nhs.uk/be-clear-on-cancer
Take charge of your digestive health - the more you respect your gut, the healthier it will be.