Anybody who has been plagued with gut issues like heartburn and diarrhoea will understand how crucial gastrointestinal health is to overall well-being. With gut-related issues on the rise, it’s important that we pay more attention to our gut “feeling” and develop a more intimate understanding of our gastrointestinal system.By Kezlyn LimOur gastrointestinal system plays a crucial role beyond its fundamental function of food digestion. Studies have shown the association between gut health and other non-intestinal functions such as immunity, mental functions (gut-brain axis), inflammatory responses, and also various chronic diseases1, 2. Bloating, flatulence (passing gas), abdominal pain, heartburn and changes in bowel movements (diarrhoea/constipation) are common gastrointestinal symptoms experienced.Factors influencing gastrointestinal healthIt has been well-established that the gut microbiome is central to good gut health. Each individual has their own unique cocktail of bacteria population in their gut and a variety of factors can influence their gut microbial composition3. The food that we consume is one of the most closely associated factors, while other lifestyle factors include stress and physical activity4. The unique make-up of this system and the inherent differences between individuals are key to fuelling much of the research for personalising nutrition and health.The East-West divideDespite Singapore’s advancements in present-day medical knowledge and technology, there remains a strong use of traditional medicines. Marrying Eastern traditions with Western lifestyle influences, Singapore exemplifies the modern Asian society. However, when it comes to the perception of gut health and healthcare-seeking behaviours, Singapore – like many Asian societies – differs from the West5. Although the prevalence of various gastrointestinal disorders and intolerances are comparable to those in the West, the current knowledge and attention on gut health are significantly lacking in the Asian context. Furthermore, many modern-day medicines are based on Western measures, of which the applicability to Asian populations are often controversial.Gut instinctHave you been neglecting your gut health? People who suffer from poor gut health and symptoms also tend to have a lower quality of life1. The psychosocial impacts associated with gastrointestinal conditions further accentuate the importance of addressing gut health issues. Perhaps it is time to pay attention to your gut “feeling”.ReferencesBischoff SC. 'Gut health': a new objective in medicine?. BMC medicine. 2011 Dec 1;9(1):24.2. Ding RX, Goh WR, Wu RN, Yue XQ, Luo X, Khine WW, Wu JR, Lee YK. Revisit gut microbiota and its impact on human health and disease. journal of food and drug analysis. 2019 Jul 1;27(3):623-31.3. Valdes AM, Walter J, Segal E, Spector TD. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health. Bmj. 2018 Jun 13;361.4. Karl JP, Hatch AM, Arcidiacono SM, Pearce SC, Pantoja-Feliciano IG, Doherty LA, Soares JW. Effects of psychological, environmental and physical stressors on the gut microbiota. Frontiers in microbiology. 2018 Sep 11;9:2013.5. Chuah KH, Mahadeva S. Cultural factors influencing functional gastrointestinal disorders in the East. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2018 Oct;24(4):536.ABOUT THE AUTHORKezlyn Lim is an accredited practising dietitian with research interests in gastrointestinal health, metabolic health and personalised nutrition. She is a research dietitian with the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS). One of the projects she is currently involved in is the Gut health in Australia and Singapore for Science and Innovation (GASSI) study, which explores the bilateral understanding of gut health experiences and dietary factors associated with gastrointestinal health.