The aim of World Digestive Health Day 2020 is to update healthcare practitioners and the general public on the role of the gut microbiome in overall health and how it can be modulated to treat disease. What actions are you preparing?
In 2020, we are celebrating 15 years of World Digestive Health Day events organized by the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO). With this year’s theme being ‘Gut Microbiome: A Global Perspective’, WGO has curated a variety of tools and resources that consist of webinars, guidelines, expert point of view articles and more. These resources are developed by a WDHD steering committee of two co-chairs and 19 members, who are all experts in gut microbiome and represent a global view.
The steering committee will be preparing a series of short videos and a comprehensive handbook written by them and other worldwide experts in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition, relating to this year’s theme.
World Digestive Health Day is also actively promoted and organized by several partner organizations and also by our 115 national gastroenterology societies that make up the WGO’s membership. Our member societies produce educational materials that are distributed to healthcare workers and patients. They hold workshops, educational sessions at their annual meetings, carry out social media campaigns, and collaborate with the local press to disseminate information about the gut microbiome.
When we talk about taking care of our gut microbiota, is it all about diet and nutrition?
We know that probiotics and prebiotics may promote a healthy gut microbiota
While diet and nutrition represent one of the major factors that shape our microbiome, there are other contributing factors such as the use of antibiotics and other medication that can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria. To what extent the disruption occurs and what it means for our health is still being researched, but we already know that probiotics and prebiotics have beneficial effects for the gut microbiota. If administered in adequate amounts in our diet, they may promote a healthy microbiota.
Gut health is becoming more and more popular among our readers. What exactly does it mean?
With so many foods, drinks, and marketing tactics geared towards improving gut health, it is no wonder that the public is becoming more conscientious about what they eat. The WDHD campaign this year has prepared some FAQs for the lay public about the gut microbiome to dispel myths and misinformation. As we know, gut health refers to healthy and diverse bacteria in the human digestive tract, which contains trillions of bacteria from many species and strains. It also normally contains viruses, fungi, and other micro-organisms. The research on how these components affect our overall health is still in its infancy. The American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Center for Gut Microbiome Research & Education has also developed tools for patients around gut health.
How should we eat for better gut health?
Diet is one of the major factors that shapes our microbiome, from infancy to old age
Diet is one of the major factors that shapes our microbiome and its influence is seen from infancy (breast or bottle-fed) to old age. All components of the diet influence the microbiome but, in simple terms, a diverse diet is good, and fruit, vegetables and fiber are good in promoting a diverse and healthy microbiome.
Do you feel that misinformation about the gut microbiome exists among some practitioners and the general public?
Yes. Much of the science has advanced over the last 10 to 15 years and the scientific community now has a better understanding of how the bacteria in the gut influence human health. By increasing awareness worldwide of the role the gut microbiome may play in diagnosis, and how it can be modulated to treat disease and allay symptoms, we can affect overall human health, in particular in low- and middle-income countries.
Some recent papers point to a link between COVID-19 and the gut microbiota. What can we do in terms of digestive health? Is it possible to strengthen our immune system through diet?
We can regulate the immune system through diet thanks to gut bacteria
Yes, we can definitely strengthen the immune system through diet. The bacteria in the gut help to regulate the immune system. With a good diet, the gut microbiome becomes more diverse, providing a better foundation for the body to regulate inflammation, for example, which is a symptom of COVID-19.
What is your opinion about the gut microbiome tests that are becoming a trend in recent times?
While changes in the microbiome have been linked to various diseases and the microbiome may predict the response to various treatments, we are not yet at a stage where knowing your microbiome is of value in preserving your health or predicting your risk of disease. We still have some way to go in understanding what is truly normal.
You are the first woman to serve as the President of the WGO. One of the objectives in your presidency is to encourage females to serve on WGO committees and therefore make more of an impact on the global community. What can be done?
WGO recognizes the need to diversify its membership and in doing so, increase the participation of women leaders in its committees and interest groups. We are currently developing a Young Members Committee and Clinical Research Mentorship program that will provide opportunities for engagement with like-minded individuals in the field that, in turn, will have an impact on the global community. Additionally, with the support of our WGO Scientific Programs Committee chair, Prof. Carolina Olano from Uruguay, we are continuing to diversify our scientific sessions at our premier World Congresses and joint meetings to include more female experts in the roles of chairs and key faculty.
Most recently at the World Congress in Istanbul, a ‘Women in GI*’ session was held with female panel experts across all four regions, which was met with much success. We invite all women who are interested in making an impact in the global community and want to take an active role within WGO to please visit www.worldgastroenterology.org and apply through their national societies to join our committees and interest groups. We will be opening nominations later this year. For more information, please also email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.