Experts warn Brits of 'serious consequences' when taking gut advice from influencers

A young woman looks worriedly at her smartphone while biting her nails
Turning to social media influencers who are unqualified to give out health advice can lead to misinformation and anxiety. (Getty Images)

Interest in gut health has soared in recent years as scores of people are making their wellbeing a priority and studies have emerged highlighting the importance of the gut microbiome in maintaining overall health.

But while it’s a good thing that everyone is more interested in staying on top of their gut health, new research has found that one generation in particular is getting their health advice from sources that are less than qualified - which could have serious consequences.

Experts have warned against taking health tips from public figures on social media, as they may not be giving out accurate information that is backed by scientific evidence.

Nearly a third (29%) of young people aged 18 to 24 years of age admitted they are turning to social media influencers on platforms like TikTok and Instagram for gut health advice and tips, according to data from Imodium.

Amongst all the respondents, almost a quarter (22%) could be putting their health at risk by turning to unqualified social media influencers for advice about their gut health, the survey suggests.

Female holding tablet in front of body to display coloured x-ray illustrations made out of hand made paper structures
Gut health has become a hot topic in recent years. (Getty Images)

The survey, which involved 2,000 Britons, also found that a third (33%) of respondents look to Google for help, while 27% ask their friends and family for advice.

The results come as the hashtag #GutTok - used by content creators posting and sharing gut health content - has garnered more than 1.1 billion views on TikTok. Meanwhile, the hashtag #guthealth has more than 5.3 million posts on Instagram.

Videos about “gut-friendly” recipes and drinks, “bloat-beating” workouts, and hundreds of thousands of recommendations for products that claim to help reduce symptoms of gut problems proliferate these hashtags, reaching millions of young users every day.

A previous study by Imodium published earlier this year found a third of Britons feel embarrassed to talk about their digestive health, which may pinpoint why so many are turning to social media for advice and solutions instead of medical professionals.

But people must have the confidence to bring up issues with their doctors or nutritionists, so that they can get the right medical advice about how to properly care for their gut health.

Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Online Pharmacy Chemist Click, tells Yahoo UK: "Seeking gut health medical advice from unqualified sources can pose many risks. The source may be inaccurate or misleading, aka 'fake news' and can lead to incorrect self-diagnosis."

He adds that the creation of numerous websites combined with a lack of regulation can make it "challenging" to know whether the health information you're getting online is reliable. "You should always consider the sources and evidence used when obtaining medical advice."

Kanani adds: "The best way to gain medical advice about gut health is by using government backed healthcare resources such as the NHS or by speaking directly with your GP."

Carolina Goncalves, superintendent pharmacist at Pharmica, adds that some of the risks associated with getting gut health advice from unqualified sources includes potentially misinterpreting your symptoms, triggering reactions with medication and not considering any underlying health conditions.

"The symptoms of gastric disorders can be commonly misdiagnosed because the symptoms experienced can vary from minor discomforts to serious conditions," she tells Yahoo UK. "This increases the risk of misdiagnosing the condition, especially if the diagnosis or advice on self-diagnosis is conducted by unqualified sources.

"For example, long-term digestive discomfort can be misdiagnosed as a food intolerance, when in reality it might indicate a more severe underlying health condition like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Consulting with a qualified specialist can enable in-depth diagnosis procedures and allow for earlier detection and treatment of such conditions."

Jessica King, assistant brand manager at Imodium, said of the findings: “Seeing so many people turn to unregulated sources for medical advice is concerning. Listening to advice from unqualified social media influencers, and from unqualified people more broadly, has the potential to be incredibly dangerous.”

To tackle the issue, Imodium launched a free guide to gut health to help people find reliable medical information easily online. The guide, which includes expertise from the brand’s medical team and other accredited medical sources, has “actionable tips” that readers can incorporate into their day-to-day lives.

Watch: Keys to Improving Your Gut Health

Aside from the guide, anyone keen to understand their gut health better or who is concerned about digestive symptoms they are experiencing should speak to their GP before trying any viral diets and “hacks”.

Writing in a blog post, NHS GP Dr Chris George said: “The most important thing is that if you develop new gut symptoms, notice any changes or are worried, then please see your GP to discuss this.

“Sadly, it’s all too often that i see patients in clinic who have self-diagnosed themselves incorrectly or delayed seeking help of fear and embarrassment.”

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should book an appointment with your doctor:

  • Change in usual bowel habits

  • Blood in your poo or from your bottom

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Extreme tiredness

  • A lump or pain in your tummy

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