How to navigate the pandemic's effect on your digestive health: lifestyle, diets and seeing a doctor

Written by: Dr Ravi Misra
Published: | Updated: 08/04/2021
Edited by: Emma McLeod

Dr Ravi Misra is a gastroenterologist who has continued seeing patients throughout the pandemic. He explains how your lifestyle affects your gut bacteria, irritable bowel syndrome triggers, the consequences of fad diets on your digestion, and why you must consult a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms..

A close up of a person's hands resting on their abdomen

How has the pandemic influenced the UK population’s digestive health?

Eating habits have changed as a result of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, it’s still too early to understand what the long-term consequences are regarding people’s health. However, we can all understand that eating nutritious, home-cooked food is more helpful and positive than frequently eating takeaways.

 

How does a sedentary lifestyle (like the one caused by lockdown) affect digestive health?

Lockdown has caused some of the population to gain weight. Many people are working from home or on furlough, which has resulted in people travelling less for work (or not travelling at all). There are fewer opportunities to be active because of the stay-at-home restrictions that are necessary for tackling the spread of the virus, and people are consistently surrounded by food while at home.

 

What’s more, gut bacteria is vital in food digestion, and the type of lifestyle you live affects your gut bacteria.

  1. Physical exercise increases the presence of beneficial gut bacteria.
  2. A continued sedentary lifestyle will reduce beneficial gut bacteria.

 

Also, prolonged sedentary lifestyles and being overweight are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes.

 

Which foods are good for digestion?

A balanced diet with foods rich in a variety of nutrients is the best way to go. The foods that will improve your digestive health arefruits and vegetables, and drinking plenty of water is important too.

 

As a general rule, natural products (that are free from preservatives) are good for digestive health. Processed foods are best avoided if you want to improve your gut health. Consider which foods have properties that you’re looking for. For example, scientific experiments have demonstrated that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties.

 

How does food trigger digestive issues?

There is extensive research examining the role of food in triggering inflammation. Food is linked to conditions such as heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

 

Food is an important trigger for anyone with IBS . When it comes to symptoms, patients often refer to bloating that is triggered by specific foods, but these triggers will vary between individuals.

 

If you’re having digestive issues and/or have been diagnosed with IBS, my general advice is to try avoiding dairy and gluten products and see if your digestion improves. I’d also suggest keeping a food diary for yourself and to help your doctor establish potential triggers.

 

Stress is also an important factor in digestive health overall as well as irritable bowel disease. Try to identify coping strategies that help you minimise stress.

 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) isn’t only influenced by food, but also by genetics, environment and lifestyle.

 

What is your advice to anyone considering fad diets?

Social media gives fad diets a lot of exposure. Unfortunately, this means that fad diets quickly become popular despite there being limited (or no) scientific evidence that they work.

 

It’s important to remember that people don’t all react in the same way to all foods. I advise against extreme and oversimplified diets – these might actually worsen your digestive health. A fad diet may not work for you in the exact way it worked for someone else and at the same time, cause some harm.

 

As a gastroenterologist, have you seen an increase or decrease in patients consulting doctors about their gastric health?

The way patients consult with doctors has gone through a significant change, but the opportunity to consult your doctor is always available. I believe that there has been a misconception that GP surgeries and hospitals were not treating all health conditions, and as a consequence, fewer patients have come forward to discuss symptoms.

 

For example, we (gastroenterologists) have noticed that the number of bowel cancer diagnoses dropped significantly in the first lockdown because people weren’t visiting their doctor to discuss symptoms. This is something we want to avoid.

 

We strongly encourage patients to address any worries with a doctor and to visit the hospital if they feel unwell. At the root of it all, seeking help as soon as possible and managing underlying health conditions appropriately are central for preventing complications.

 

Click here to learn how Dr Ravi Misra can help you take control and optimise your gastric health

By Dr Ravi Misra
Gastroenterology

Dr Ravi Misra is a highly trained consultant gastroenterologist based at St Mark's Hospital; an internationally recognized hospital in London.

His areas of expertise include the diagnosis and management of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, reflux, bowel cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and abdominal pain. He is an expert in colonoscopy and gastroscopy.

He qualified from Imperial College London in 2005 and undertook specialist training in the North West Thames London rotation. He has completed a fellowship in advanced endoscopy at St Mark’s Hospital and is skilled at diagnostic and therapeutic endoscopy. He took time out of his training to pursue a PhD on the impact of ethnicity on epidemiology, metabolic and microbial profiling.

Dr Misra devotes his career to research as well as highly professional and personalised patient care. He has collaborated with the Centre for Digestive Health at Imperial College to study how the microbiome changes in IBD. Furthermore, he has an interest in the impact of diet in newly diagnosed patients with IBD. His research has provided the opportunity to present at international conferences and publish articles in renowned peer-reviewed journals. 

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