Gut disorders are a significant burden on the health and wellbeing of the Australian community: 1 in 100 Individuals have Coeliac Disease; 1 in 200 individuals have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Ulcerative Colitis & Crohns’ Disease) and 1 in 7 individuals are affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID) affecting one in seven Australian adults and is also common in the USA, Europe and many Asian countries. This condition is characterised by chronic and relapsing symptoms; lower abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, wind, distension and altered bowel habit (ranging from diarrhoea to constipation) but with no abnormal pathology. The diagnosis of IBS/FGID should be made by a medical practitioner.
Another major focus for the team is understanding the phenomena of apparent wheat and gluten-intolerance in individuals who do not have coeliac disease. Our research examining whether gluten can cause gut and systemic symptoms in the absence of coeliac disease (so-called ‘non-coeliac gluten sensitivity or NCGS) has gained considerable international recognition.
Diet therapy, which is commonplace for the management of coeliac disease, is underdeveloped for the other chronic intestinal diseases. The Department of Gastroenterology conducts a major program into the application of diet as therapy for the treatment of such disorders.
The team is known worldwide for the development of a new diet therapy to treat the gastrointestinal symptoms (abdominal pain, bloating, wind and altered bowel habit) associated with IBS. This dietary approach involves restricting certain poorly absorbed short chain carbohydrates they have named FODMAPs (which stands for Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Disaccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols) from the diet of patients with IBS. Our research laboratory has established techniques to measure FODMAP content of foods.
FODMAPs can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine. Mal-absorbed carbohydrates are fermented by gut bacteria to produce gas. Current research strongly suggests that this group of carbohydrates contributes to IBS/FGID symptoms. FODMAPs are found in a wide range of foods.