Category Gut Health

Gen Zen: What does taking a healthy dump have to do with your mental health? A lot more than you think

Article first published on TODAY Online

Increasingly, people are becoming aware of the importance of mental health and well-being in our lives. In our weekly Gen Zen series, TODAY looks at ways that we can feel better while coping with the mental stresses of modern life.

  • Psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and depression can influence gut health through the release of stress hormones
  • Yet, poor gut health can also affect mental health
  • This is when microorganisms in the gut are out of balance and produce chemicals that affect the person’s mood
  • The first step to a healthier gut and mind is a diet that promotes gut health 
  • There should also be more collaboration between mental health professionals and gastroenterologists to provide better care for patients

SINGAPORE — Late last year, I chanced upon a website that made an outlandish promise: Get paid US$500 (S$670) each time you donate your stool. 

The website was promoting faecal microbiota transplantation, which is a procedure where faecal matter from a healthy donor is transferred to a gut of a recipient to restore the “balance” of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, and this improves their immunity and digestion. 

However, there was a catch — it is estimated that only 0.1 per cent of the human population is considered healthy enough to qualify as high-quality stool donors. 

As expected, there were some physical factors: The donor has to be young (preferably under 30), athletic, have a certain stool type and have minimal antibiotic use, since these affect the microorganisms in the gut. 

Then, to my surprise, there were psychological requirements as well: A successful donor is typically happy and relatively stress-free, or in other words, is in the pink of mental health. ‘It got me wondering:

What does mental health have to do with gut health, and can eating food beneficial to our gut also help our mood as well? 

HOW STRESS, ANXIETY AFFECT GUT HEALTH

I put some questions to Dr Ganesh Ramalingam, who is medical director and specialist in general surgery of G&L Surgical Clinic.

He said that psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and depression can indeed influence gut health, through the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. 

“These stress hormones can affect how our gut works by changing how quickly food is digested, weakening the intestinal walls and disturbing the balance of helpful bacteria inside the gut,” Dr Ganesh said. He specialises in upper gastrointestinal surgeries, among other procedures. 

This gut-brain link made sense to me — whenever I felt anxious before making a speech in public, or felt nervous about the outcome of a job interview or test result, I would feel my stomach turn and lose all appetite for hours on end. 

And likewise, our gut health can also affect our mental health.

“Inside our gut there are organisms called microbiota that help produce chemicals that affect our mood like serotonin and dopamine,” Dr Ganesh said. 

“When these microbes are out of balance due to factors like diet or medication, it can contribute to mood disorders like anxiety and depression.” 

Indeed, a study in 2019 with a sample size of more than 1,000 participants found that two “beneficial bacteria” for the gut — coprococcus and dialister — were less common in people with depression. Such bacteria can be cultivated by consuming fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fermented foods. 

Another study conducted in Spain in 2009 showed that people who ate the traditional Mediterranean diet — which consists of whole grains, fruit, vegetables, fish, beans and nuts — were about half as likely to receive a diagnosis of depression within a span of four years. 

FIRST STEP TO MANAGING GUT HEALTH: OUR DIET

For those looking to improve their diet and live a healthier life, it may be heartening to know that it can improve their mental health, too. 

“What we eat can have an impact on both our gut and mental health,” Dr Ganesh said.  

“A diet packed with fibre, fruit, vegetables and probiotics supports gut health, which in turn can positively influence mental well-being.”

The reverse is also true. 

“But if we’re loading up on processed foods and unhealthy fats, it can throw gut bacteria out of balance, making us more prone to mental health issues,” Dr Ganesh added. 

This can also turn into a vicious circle if left unchecked: The stress and anxiety triggered by a bad diet can lead to more gastrointestinal issues, which can lead to poorer mental health. 

HOW TO MANAGE BOTH MENTAL AND GUT HEALTH 

When it comes to improving mental health, there is recognition that sports and exercise play a big role. Perhaps it is time other factors such as gut health are taken more seriously as well, Dr Ganesh said. 

He believes that the link between gut health and mental health means that a “multidisciplinary approach” is needed. 

“In my view, mental health professionals can include gut health assessments in their treatments, considering factors like diet, stress and gastrointestinal symptoms,” he said. 

They might then suggest dietary changes alongside other stress management treatment and even refer their patients to gastroenterologists if their gut problems are suspected to be affecting their mental health.

Similarly, gastroenterologists could ask about patients’ mental health during consultations and work with mental health professionals as needed. 

“They can also educate patients on the gut-brain connection and suggest lifestyle and diet changes,” Dr Ganesh said. 

What’s The Difference: Gut Health Test VS Scopes

Article first published on G&L Surgical

An individual’s overall health and well-being are interconnected with their gut health. Various tools and tests are available to ensure the gut functions properly, two of which are gut health tests and scopes. Both have their unique place in health assessments, yet they vary significantly regarding their procedure and purpose. 

This article aims to delve deeper into these two assessment approaches, dissecting their characteristics and differences and providing guidance on choosing between them.

Understanding Gut Health Tests

Gut Health Test Singapore, AMiLi Test, G&L Surgical, Dr Ganesh Ramalingam

Gut health tests offer a comprehensive picture of an individual’s digestive system. The primary purpose of these tests is to evaluate the health and diversity of the gut microbiome – the army of trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the gut. A healthy gut microbiome is crucial as it can influence everything from digestion to mental health and even immunity.

Through a simple stool sample collected at home, gut health tests can reveal the types of bacteria present, their relative abundance, and the overall balance of beneficial and harmful species. Additionally, these tests can shed light on your body’s ability to break down dietary fibre, an essential function linked with bowel regularity, cholesterol management, and blood sugar control.

Inflammatory markers are another key parameter measured by gut health tests. Chronic inflammation in the gut can lead to conditions such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). By measuring these markers, a gut health test can potentially identify signs of inflammation before they become symptomatic.

Gut health tests are appreciated for their non-invasive nature and accessibility. The procedure involves the comfortable privacy of your home and the ease of using a collection kit sent by mail. It’s a user-friendly option that empowers individuals to take control of their gut health.

However, gut health tests have limitations. While they provide valuable insights into the microbiome and inflammation, they aren’t designed to detect anatomical abnormalities or more serious underlying conditions like ulcers or malignancies. For these concerns, a more in-depth examination may be necessary.

Understanding Scopes

Colonoscopy & Gastroscopy, Gut Health, G&L Surgical, Dr Ganesh Ramalingam

Scopes, on the other hand, offer a thorough, direct inspection of the gut. Scopes, such as gastroscopies and colonoscopies, involve inserting a long, thin tube equipped with a light and camera through the mouth or rectum to explore the digestive tract.

The primary purpose of scopes is to visually detect abnormalities that could be causing symptoms or could potentially lead to more serious conditions. This includes ulcers, polyps, diverticula, and even early signs of cancer. Scopes allow for a level of precision and detail that gut health cannot provide.

Moreover, scopes also offer the unique advantage of therapeutic intervention. Healthcare professionals can perform biopsies, remove polyps, or treat bleeding areas during the same procedure.

While the term ‘invasive’ may sound alarming, it’s important to remember that these procedures are carried out under appropriate sedation or anaesthesia to minimise discomfort. However, preparation for the procedure, potential risks, and recovery time are factors to be considered.

Key Differences Between Gut Health Tests and Scopes

When comparing gut health tests and scopes, the first difference that comes to mind is their invasiveness. Gut health tests are non-invasive, providing a wealth of information from a simple stool sample. Scopes, however, require a more hands-on, internal exploration of the digestive tract.

Moreover, the information provided by each method differs. Gut health tests offer insights into the gut’s microbiome, inflammation levels, and food intolerance, which primarily relate to wellness and potential non-critical issues. 

Scopes, on the other hand, aim to diagnose diseases and conditions by physically examining the gut, making them a more suitable tool for people with specific symptoms or concerns.

Choosing the Right Assessment Approach

Gut Health Test, Scope, G&L Surgical

The choice between gut health tests and scopes largely depends on individual circumstances, symptoms, and medical history. If you’re suffering from severe, persistent symptoms, a scope might be the most suitable option as it can provide more definitive answers. On the contrary, if you’re generally healthy and want to improve or monitor your gut health, a gut health test might suffice.

It’s important to understand that this decision is not one to make in isolation. Collaborating with healthcare professionals and discussing these options with them ensures an appropriate and beneficial decision for your health.

Conclusion

To wrap up, gut health tests and scopes are two sides of the same coin, each offering valuable insights into different aspects of gut health. While gut health tests provide a broad overview of your gut microbiome and markers of inflammation, scopes offer a detailed visual assessment and the ability to treat abnormalities.

As always, the choice between the two should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider, factoring in individual health, symptoms, and personal preferences. Together, these tools contribute to a well-rounded approach to gut health, paving the way for improved overall wellness.

If you’re unsure where to start, don’t hesitate to contact our team. Our team of professionals will be able to advise you based on your symptoms, lifestyle, and medical history. Take control of your gut health today and start your journey towards a healthier, happier life.

The Role of Probiotics in Gut Health: Insights From Dr Ganesh 

Just last week, a patient came to me with a question about the benefits of probiotics and how they benefit our health. Through our conversation, I was surprised at how often people overlook the function of probiotics, which can directly influence your overall well-being, particularly your gut. 

So today, as a gastrointestinal doctor who’s spent years navigating the world of gut health, I’ve put together this article to shed light on the critical role probiotics play in enhancing your gut health. 

Understanding Gut Health

To get started, what exactly does “gut health” stand for? 

The term “gut health” refers to all activities in your gastrointestinal (GI) system, which in turn is a vital player in maintaining one’s holistic health. Within the gut is a vibrant and diverse community of microorganisms which form an ecosystem known as gut microbiome. This ecosystem influences different areas of your well-being, spanning from digestion processes to influencing your immune system. 

During my extensive experience in the field, I have discerned that a myriad of prevalent digestive complaints stem from a disrupted microbiome. These disturbances might manifest as mild issues like bloating and inconsistent bowel habits or escalate to more severe conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Diverticulitis. Being able to identify and rectify microbial imbalances in our gut is the key to how you can build a resilient gut health. 

With that said, how do Probiotics play a role in rectifying these imbalances?

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics

Firstly, probiotics are living beneficial bacteria naturally found in certain foods and supplements. Their primary role is to support a balanced gut microbiome, promoting better digestion and overall health. 

The presence of these healthy bacteria is similar to having “caretakers” for your gut microbiome; they interact to help improve your digestive functions and create a robust internal system that is resilient to other health issues.

Now, having grasped the role of probiotics, it seems only natural to delve into their close relatives – prebiotics – and differentiate between the two. Prebiotics can be considered the ‘food’ for the friendly bacteria in your gut. Predominantly found in fibre-rich foods, they provide a nurturing ground for beneficial bacteria to flourish and multiply, even though they are non-digestible by human enzymes.

Simply put, while probiotics are the actual beneficial bacteria, prebiotics serve as their nourishment, fostering a harmonious relationship that is vital in maintaining a vibrant and healthy gut environment.

Benefits of Probiotics for Gut Health

When talking about the benefits of taking probiotics, there are definitely numerous advantages to it. From personal observation, they aid in enhancing digestion and facilitating better nutrient absorption.

In addition, through consuming the right strain of probiotics, patients have also reported that probiotics helped regulate their bowel movements and even relieved some troubling conditions such as constipation.

Some common foods that introduce probiotics to your system would include:

  • Yoghurt
  • Tempeh
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Pickled vegetables (eg. pickled cucumber, radish)
  • Sauerkraut

Conclusion

In essence, prioritising your gut health with probiotics can transform your overall health. The cornerstone of vibrant health lies in a robust gut.