Melbourne: The number of people suffering from stomach problems, be it tummy ache, bloating, wind or cramps, is on the rise, it has been revealed.
Dr Anton Emmanuel, consultant gastroenterologist at London’s University College Hospital, blames “excess hygiene in childhood lowering gut immunity, stressful modern lifestyles, erratic eating patterns and our greater intake of processed food”.
Better diagnostic methods and awareness of gut issues also mean more people are seeing their doctors to be diagnosed.
Many people with tummy troubles are careful with what they eat, yet find that the symptoms remain.
“I often see patients who are unwittingly making their tummy symptoms worse,” Dr Emmanuel said.
Leading digestive experts have revealed how we could be unintentionally upsetting our gut.
Bran: Doctors often advise adding a handful of bran to cereals to help with constipation because bran is an insoluble fibre, meaning it fills the stomach up and stimulates the bowel. But bran can actually exacerbate some forms of constipation.
Potato: Jacket potatoes are often seen as a healthy option as they are low fat and a good source of vitamins B, B6 and C and fibre, while helping to fill us up, but often we add fillings like butter and mayonnaise, which is where trouble starts.
The same problem can happen with seemingly innocuous salads and sandwiches - fat in mayonnaise and salad cream can mean trouble for your tummy.
Honey: Just because it’s natural, honey isn’t always good for us.
“Honey can cause digestive issues,” Dr Read said.
“It contains lots of fructose and this is not well absorbed in the gut, so can be fermented to gas and cause bloating. If you add honey to a bran cereal, you might be heading for stomach trouble,” Read said.
Another sweetener that can cause bloating and IBS problems is sorbitol. This is a sugar substitute in many cough syrups, sugar-free mints, chewing gums, ice creams, diet foods and drinks.
Mild curries - many people will choose a korma or pasanda over a spicy curry in the belief that chilli irritates the gut - but the high fat content in the cream and ghee (an Indian butter) in mild curries is often what’ causing the problem.
Onions – “Onions contain poorly absorbed fermentable sugars, known as FODMAPs,” Dr Read says.
“These are sugars that are incompletely absorbed in the small intestine but travel down to the large intestine or colon where they are fermented - releasing gas. For many people this will cause bloating,” Read says.
If you think onions might affect you in this way, make sure they are thoroughly cooked - this makes them more digestible.
Seven a day – we’re all meant to be eating seven fruit and vegetables a day but this can affect many people with sensitive stomachs.
Coffee and chocolate – a coffee and some chocolate is just the sort of end to a meal that can lead to stomach cramps, heartburn and bloating.
Coffee acts like a laxative, by increasing contraction in the small and large intestinal muscles. This can cause pre-digested food to move into the intestine, triggering stomach cramps.
It can also increase heartburn by relaxing the valve between the oesophagus and stomach. This can occur even with decaffeinated coffee.