Coronavirus and your gut
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Have you found it harder to cope with your digestive condition since Covid19 hit? Here's what you need to know, and where you can get help.
If you have a chronic digestive problem like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or live with a condition like diverticulitis or ulcerative colitis, you may be worried about the impact coronavirus could have on your health. This is completely understandable. From a shortage of toilet paper and handwash to restrictions on GP visits and medications, there are many ways that COVID-19 is making daily life difficult, and this may be more keenly felt if you have an ongoing gut health issue. Unfortunately, stress and anxiety can trigger your digestive symptoms or make them worse. And right now, it can be difficult to find evidence-based advice among all the noise. So I've rounded up the best resources and advice for you, from expert and trusted sources in the UK and Australia. I'm sorry I can't be with you to help, but I hope this provides some comfort and support.
Please note: COVID-19 affects the respiratory system, rather than the digestive system, however if you have coronavirus you may experience some sort of gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea and nausea.
For everyone, the best advice is still:
wash your hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds;
cough and sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it immediately; and
avoid touching your face.
The IBS Network is a UK charity which supports people with IBS, and is staffed and governed by a team of clinical experts. Here, they answer all your questions including:
Does having IBS put me at increased risk from coronavirus? (no, although if you have other health conditions you might be at higher risk)
Will there be shortages in my medication? (it should still be available, but you may be given a shorter prescription each time to manage supply chain issues - talk to your GP or pharmacy)
This blog post from the IBS Network has some great tips, including ways to relax (exercise and fresh air if you can), sticking to a routine and taking control of the way you respond. The Network also has an IBS hotline for people in the UK and a supportive Facebook group, and you'll find links in both these articles.
The team of researchers at Monash University in Victoria, who discovered the benefits of the low FODMAP diet for IBS, have a new blog series. This is the first, with some simple and creative tips on hygiene.
The medical research charity Guts UK explains that most gut conditions don't put people at risk of severe COVID-19 illness, unless you have another medical problem such as diabetes or hypertension. If you are on immunosuppressive treatment for Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, this might increase complications if you get infected but your GP or consultant will always provide support and medical advice.
From today, Australians will be able to access bulk-billed telehealth consultations with your doctor and many other health professionals — meaning you won't have to pay any out-of-pocket costs. Telehealth consultations are virtual appointments conducted over the phone or video conferencing services like FaceTime, Zoom or WhatsApp.
Finally, international evidence-based website The Conversation has published an article by Tim Spector, renowned gut microbiome expert and Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London on ways that you and your loved ones can to keep your gut healthy during the pandemic. Enjoy a plant-based, fibre-rich diet (easier to do now with that glut of pulses you bought, as long as it doesn't trigger your symptoms), enjoy fruit and veg frozen, canned or fresh if you can get it; get your daily serve of probiotic yoghurt; and if you don't have a sensitive gut, you can try fermented veg like sauerkraut or kimchi. It's not a cure for COVID-19, but a healthy diet and plenty of rest will support your immune system, which is so important right now.