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How Bad Is Australia’s Gut Problem?


Having good health is very different from only being not sick.” said Seneca the Younger in 50 AD. And that statement needs to be remembered as we examine the state of the nation’s health. So just how bad are the problems associated with digestion and digestive health issues in Australia?  

According to an Australian 2010 study, the estimated incidence  in Australia of just one of the many issues related to gut health – IBD – is high, even compared to other countries with considered high incidences of IBD. The earliest physicians in Ancient Egypt believed that illnesses were the work of gods, evil spirits and sorcery. This was challenged by the ‘father of Western medicine’, Greek physician Hippocrates, who argued that , rather than punishment from supernatural forces, illnesses were the product of environmental factors, diet and living habits. The Savvy Team agree with this simple 2000 year old philosophy.

The ABC’s Four Corners recently aired a controversial documentary (The Autism Enigma) on how gut bacteria might affect autism, but what else is it affecting? Recent research into the connections between the brain, the immune system and gut dysfunction have created a whole new area of research that has led to a growing awareness of the importance of the gut flora, now known as your microbiome.  The human microbiome includes viruses, fungi and bacteria, their genes and their environmental interactions, and is known to influence not only human physiology but also it’s psychology. Your gut affects everything else going on in your body.

Studies show that in any year IBD is more prevalent that epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, eczema and schizophrenia. To explain the issue further, the burden of disability for people living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis is said to be comparable to living with rheumatoid arthritis, severe asthma, or the amputation of an arm. We live in a world of unfolding epidemics, and yet just how many people caring for our health realise that Hipocrates was right?

Research Shows Dramatic Rise In Gut & Digestive Issues

International studies have demonstrated a dramatic rise in the incidence of the following conditions over the past several decades.

  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD)
  • Crohn’s disease (CD) and
  • Ulcerative colitis (UC)

These are all chronic inflammatory disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. The IBD incidence rates observed in Australia are among the highest reported in the world literature. Over 61,000 people have IBD (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) in Australia and the prevalence is expected to increase by 20% for Crohn’s disease & 25% for ulcerative colitis by 2020.

The first study of IBD in Australia was conducted in patients from the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. The second was in a cohort of patients from the same institution who had required the formation of an ileostomy for Crohn’s disease. Both studies revealed high rates of depression, anxiety and poor health related quality of life. These negative factors were contributed to by increased disease activity, but the strongest predictive factor was found to be the use of a negative, maladaptive coping style.

IBD has been referred to as ‘an emerging global disease’ and, “for reasons not yet clearly understood”, is largely a disease of the developed world. Although the cause still apparently remains medically unknown, there has been broad agreement on these three key points:

  • prevalence of IBD has markedly increased in recent decades
  • plus the severity of the condition has worsened
  • onset is most prevalent in the earlier ages of adulthood
  • it is estimated that about 70,000 people in Australia are living with IBD (Wilson et al. 2010).
  • the number of people hospitalised for ulcerative colitis and Crohn disease (the two most common forms of IBD) has almost doubled in the past decade.
  • symptoms of IBS are experienced by about 1 in 10 people
  • but it is probably hugely under-reported as it is a taboo subject

It is estimated, based on recent incidence surveys, that in 2009–10, there were about 27,000 hospitalisations where Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis was recorded as the principal diagnosis. The average length of stay was 6.2 days for Crohn disease and 7.4 days for ulcerative colitis. Chronic inflammation in IBD sufferers results in recurrent incidences of abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, weight loss and rectal bleeding. When experiencing a flare, an IBD patient requires near-continuous care to address their clinical needs, imagine the burden to society of this?

This table outlines the projected prevalence of IBD over the next ten years. Uncomfortable, inconvenient and at times embarrassing, some digestive disorders are also potentially harmful to health if left undiagnosed for long periods of time.

Gastrointestinal diseases are a major cause of illness in Australia, despite the often mild nature of symptoms. The thirteenth biennial health report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian Health 2012 stated “In 2007–08, almost all Australians aged 15 and over (99%) had at least one risk factor for poorer health (such as high blood pressure or not eating enough vegetables or eating food with inadequate nutritients), and about 1 in 7 people had 5 or more risk factors.”

Comparisons among OECD countries show that Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity,which is often linked to digestive issues. In 2007–08, 1 in 4 Australian adults and 1 in 12 children were obese. The prevalence of diabetes more than doubled between 1989–90 and 2007–08, again a condition that has strong links to digestive weaknesses. The study worldwide of the connections between gut, immune system and neurological issues has arisen due to a rapid increase of ”brain-immuno-gut disorders” triggered many believe by toxins, malnutrition and infections.  It has led often directly back to the health of the gut, and the important symbiotic relationship we have to our micro environment.

The Savvy Team work to educate people as we help them recover from the symptoms of gastrointestinal problems, and we do this with great success. We’ve come to the same conclusions: that often digestive disorders affect not only blood sugar issues, and weight gain, they also affect the immune system and can even affect the mind. These metabolic, immunologic, neurologic, digestive disorders are often initially only giving low-level disturbances which most people ignore. However they build up over time and can lead to severe, chronic conditions that may never be traced back to the initial issue. The Savvy Team work to ensure that all areas are covered in the individuals recovery, so a person regains a better version of health than they may have had for decades. In fact, that is a common comment people make, after following our programs.

Other Gut Issues

Acid-related symptoms are very common and Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) or peptic ulceration are the major manifestations of acid-related illness. About 20–40% of adults in western countries have GORD-related symptoms from time to time. Symptoms that are persistent (eg, occurring more than twice per week) or severe may interfere with normal activities and reduce quality of life. Although acid-related complaints such as heartburn, acid regurgitation, or pain on swallowing are a common feature of GORD, patients may suffer from symptoms such as the following:

  • Upper abdominal/stomach complaints
  • Lower abdominal/digestive complaints
  • Nausea
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Other complaints (eg, related to breathing or the throat)
  • Reduced general well-being.

The Australian Health 2012 report explains that while knowledge of the genetic basis of disease is advancing, there is also growing awareness of the broader social and economic conditions that contribute to disease. Known as the social determinants of health, these are the conditions into which people are born, grow, live, work and age. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are two conditions characterised by recurring symptoms of abdominal pain, discomfort and alterations in bowel habits.

Many People Live With Multiple Chronic Conditions

To make matters worse many people in Australia are living with unrecognised digestive issues, because they are dealing with other more obvious and more widely accepted chronic problems. Living with multiple chronic conditions takes its toll on more than a person’s health—it also affects their quality of life and leads to increased health costs. In 2007–08, 2% of people reported four or more concurrent health conditions.

This figure was higher among those aged 65 or older (8%). Arthritis and high blood pressure were the most common diseases co-occurring with another more severe disease or disorder, and these two conditions also featured in other comorbidities [the presence of one or more additional disorders (or diseases) co-occurring with a primary disease or disorder]. As well, 1% of the disease burden in Australia is Rheumatoid arthritis -a chronic, inflammatory disease that can cause significant morbidity, joint damage, early disability and premature mortality. It is the most common autoimmune disease in Australia.

In 2011 a new World Health Organisation report featured information about noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in 193 countries, as global leaders were about to meet at the United Nations level to discuss the situation. Their urge to governments was to prevent these easy-to-prevent diseases, yet their numbers are still on the rise. “This report indicates where each government needs to focus to prevent and treat the four major killers: cancer, heart disease and stroke, lung disease and diabetes.”

Many Chronic Diseases Are Preventable

The report listed many other also preventable diseases, and one of growing concern for most governments was the rapid increase of bowel disorders and digestive complaints. The above WHO Report (2011) lists these premature diseases as largely preventable. According to the estimates, noncommunicable diseases are the top cause of deaths worldwide, killing more than 36 million people in 2008. Gut problems and all things related to digestive disturbances have a large part to play in these noncommunicable diseases.
Is This New News?

Back in the 19th century, Dr William Arbuthnot Lane, who originally believed the cure for bowel diseases was a colectomy, spent 25 years of his life trying to get people to see they ha total control over the health of their gut. He later totally changed his mind on what he had been practicing surgically, and was eventually disbarred as a result of his emphasis on natural strategies for health.. With cancer and heart disease the major killers in civilized society, it became apparent to Sir Lane that faulty eating habits were responsible for the increasing incidence of chronic degenerative diseases — conditions essentially non-existent in native cultures.

He even wrote a book, Rethinking Cancer DVD, first published in 1929, containing a wealth of information vital to maintaining optimum health. Sir Lane was severely chastised by the medical establishment of his time for his “radical” views on the importance of diet, detoxification and other lifestyle changes.

“Getting the right advice early will help restore you to proper functioning and enhance your sense of wellbeing,” says Food and Nutrition Australia who are strong advocates of “fecal transplant” of a healthy person’s stool into the gut of another person to replenish the missing species. This can be a solution to someone who is chronically ill but with a cost of $45,000 plus, it is beyond the reach of most, and beyond the interest of more.

The Savvy Team have proven strategies to help you get back on track without having to use such drastic measures. A healthy gut is a multi-species society: it is the cooperative product of the human body supporting and living a symbiotic relationship with trillions of bacterial cells from a thousand or more species, say the leading support groups in the Savvy Team.

If you pay attention early enough, you do not destroy the 25% of the thousand or so species that should populate the gut (approx: 250 species) which is the cause of most IBS and IBD sufferers. Avoid antibiotics if at all possible. There are many safer things you can do naturally to reduce the irritation, the inflammation and the ulceration of the digestive tract.

If everyone as adults just followed the basic premise of the Savvy Team of looking after the overall health of the body with their simple three-step philosophy, and paid attention to the overload of toxins, the overwhelming malnutrition and the repeated infections people succumb to, our bodies would be so much healthier.

If you would like information on the programs we have to help you do this, contact your savvy support person or [email protected]


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