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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder of chronic abdominal pain, altered bowel habit and abdominal distension. It is the commonest cause of referral to gastroenterologists in the developed world and yet current therapeutic strategies are often unsatisfactory. There is now increasing evidence linking alterations in the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiota and IBS. Changes in faecal and mucosa-associated microbiota, post-infectious IBS, a link with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and an up-regulation of the GI mucosal immune system all suggest a role for the GI microbiota in the pathogenesis of IBS. Given this evidence, therapeutic alteration of the GI microbiota by probiotic bacteria could be beneficial. The present paper establishes an aetiological framework for the use of probiotics in IBS and comprehensively reviews randomised placebo-controlled trials of probiotics in IBS using multiple electronic databases. It highlights safety concerns over the use of probiotics and attempts to establish guidelines for their use in IBS in both primary and secondary care.
Asthma is characterised by chronic lung airway inflammation, increased airway responsiveness and variable airflow obstruction. In Westernised countries asthma is a public health concern because of its prevalence, associated ill health and high societal and healthcare costs. In recent decades there has been a marked increase in asthma prevalence, particularly in Westernised countries. It has been proposed that changing diet has contributed to the increase in asthma. Several dietary hypotheses exist; the first relates the increase in asthma to declining dietary antioxidant intake, the second to decreased intake of long-chain n-3 PUFA and increasing intake of n-6 PUFA. Vitamin D supplementation and deficiency have also been hypothesised to have contributed to the increase in asthma. Observational studies have reported associations between asthma and dietary antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids, Se, flavonoids, fruit), lipids (PUFA, butter, margarine, fish) and vitamin D. However, supplementing the diets of adults with asthma with antioxidants and lipids has minimal, if any, clinical benefit. There is growing interest in the possibility that childhood asthma is influenced by maternal diet during pregnancy, with studies highlighting associations between childhood asthma and maternal intake of some nutrients (vitamin E, vitamin D, Se, PUFA) during pregnancy. It has been suggested that maternal diet during pregnancy influences fetal airway and/or immune development. Further intervention studies are needed to establish whether modification of maternal nutrient intake during pregnancy can be used as a healthy low-cost public health measure to reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma.
More than 3 million individuals are estimated to be at risk of malnutrition in the UK, of whom about 93% live in the community. BAPEN's Nutrition Screening Week surveys using criteria based on the ‘Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool’ (‘MUST’) revealed that 28% of individuals on admission to hospital and 30–40% of those admitted to care homes in the previous 6 months were malnourished (medium+high risk using ‘MUST’). About three quarters of hospital admissions and about a third of care home admissions came from their own homes with a malnutrition prevalence of 24% in each case. Outpatient studies using ‘MUST’ showed that 16–20% patients were malnourished and these were associated with more hospital admissions and longer length of stay. In sheltered housing, 10–14% of the tenants were found to be malnourished, with an overall estimated absolute prevalence of malnutrition which exceeded that in hospitals. In all cases, the majority of subjects were at high risk of malnutrition. These studies have helped establish the magnitude of the malnutrition problem in the UK and identified the need for integrated strategies between and within care settings. While hospitals provide a good opportunity to identify malnourished patients among more than 10 million patients admitted there annually and the five- to six-fold greater number attending outpatient departments, commissioners and providers of healthcare services should be aware that much of the malnutrition present in the UK originates in the community before admission to hospitals or care homes or attendance at outpatient clinics.
Epidemiological evidence suggests that a high intake of plant foods is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases. However, the mechanism of action and the components involved in this effect have not been identified clearly. In recent years, the scientific community has agreed to focus its attention on a class of secondary metabolites extensively present in a wide range of plant foods: the flavonoids, suggested as having different biological roles. The anti-inflammatory actions of flavonoids in vitro or in cellular models involve the inhibition of the synthesis and activities of different pro-inflammatory mediators such as eicosanoids, cytokines, adhesion molecules and C-reactive protein. Molecular activities of flavonoids include inhibition of transcription factors such as NF-κB and activating protein-1 (AP-1), as well as activation of nuclear factor-erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2). However, the in vitro evidence might be somehow of limited impact due to the non-physiological concentrations utilized and to the fact that in vivo flavonoids are extensively metabolized to molecules with different chemical structures and activities compared with the ones originally present in the food. Human studies investigating the effect of flavonoids on markers of inflammation are insufficient, and are mainly focused on flavonoid-rich foods but not on pure molecules. Most of the studies lack assessment of flavonoid absorption or fail to associate an effect on inflammation with a change in circulating levels of flavonoids. Human trials with appropriate placebo and pure flavonoid molecules are needed to clarify if flavonoids represent ancillary ingredients or key molecules involved in the anti-inflammatory properties of plant foods.
In 2007, the estimated cost of disease-related malnutrition in the UK was in excess of £13×109. At any point in time, only about 2% of over 3 million individuals at risk of malnutrition were in hospital, 5% in care homes and the remainder in the community (2–3% in sheltered housing). Some government statistics (England) grossly underestimated the prevalence of malnutrition on admission and discharge from hospital (1000–3000 annually between 1998 and 2008), which is less than 1% of the prevalence (about 3 million in 2007–2008) established by national surveys using criteria based on the ‘Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool’ (‘MUST’). The incidence of malnutrition-related deaths in hospitals, according to government statistics (242 deaths in England in 2007), was also <1% of an independent estimate, which was as high as 100 000/year. Recent healthcare policies have reduced the number of hospital and care home beds and encouraged care closer to home. Such policies have raised issues about education and training of the homecare workforce, including 6 million insufficiently supported informal carers (10% of the population), the commissioning process, and difficulties in implementing nutritional policies in a widely distributed population. The four devolved nations in the UK (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) have developed their own healthcare polices to deal with malnutrition. These generally aim to span across all care settings and various government departments in a co-ordinated manner, but their effectiveness remains to be properly evaluated.