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Swinburne University's Tummy Trouble Trials

Studies have repeatedly found that our overall well-being can be linked to gut health, especially as we age and our body's natural defenses begin to weaken. Poor gut health is typically symptomatic of the overconsumption of processed foods and antibiotics, sedentary lifestyles or increased stress. Locally, some intriguing research is underway at Swinburne University, via trialling and investigating the benefits of a synbiotic health supplement on gut health.

Synbiotic supplements are essentially created by combining prebiotics and probiotics. Probiotics being 'live' bacteria and prebiotics act as a kind of food for the live bacteria. The objective of introducing synbiotics to the digestive system is to redress the imbalance that occurs as we age. Australia ranks third globally for life expectancy at 84.32 years on average, and this research yearns to decipher the impact of gut health on older Australians, a burgeoning and prominent demographic.

At Swinburne, practitioners, Prof. Matthew Cooke and Dr David Barry are already well underway investigating “the effects of synbiotic supplementation on gut health, movement, strength and muscle health in older Australians” explains Dr Barry. His background is in clinical research as a coordinator at a local commercial research organisation Emeritus Research in Camberwell.

Swinburne University Dr David Barry with one of his 'gut health' research patients undergoing tests which will help develop a better understanding of how Synbiotic supplements can benefit us

The absorbing study will be a long-running experience for the participants, who are contributing to the growth of knowledge in a prominent area of health. Participant involvement will be approximately five months (22 weeks), consisting of five visits to our research facility at the Hawthorn campus, as well as two appointments for DXA scans (bone density scans) at Deakin University.

Roughly 74 participants are currently involved, who each undergo exercises and procedures which are used to measure existing attributes prior to conducting the study. First Dr Barry performs an ultrasound on the participant’s stomach, then a grip test is conducted as a measure of strength. Dr Barry then times the participant as they walk in a straight line over a small distance. The participant then performs a balance test by standing on one leg for as long as they possibly can. All of these measures help give Dr Barry the information required to assess the participant's health prior to the study.

Finally, the participant is invited to ask questions and they are provided with information papers and a stool sample kit to gather the data he needs. “We are still recruiting participants for this study (men and women between ages 60 and 85) from the local population around Hawthorn, to both potentially improve their physical performance, provide useful information regarding their gut microbiome and overall health, as well as increase the profile of ageing research at Swinburne for the local community.”

The research being undertaken on this supplement could have many implications on gut health treatment. Dr Barry says, “I’ve always had an interest in Sarcopenia. The word translates into 'poverty of flesh' - as we age, we progressively lose our strength and muscle mass… I’m fascinated with how our gut health and microbiomes in our gut could affect this condition we all face.” Regarding the potential value to the community, Prof. Cooke adds "Firstly, gut health is a topic at the moment that a lot of people are interested in. It is something that affects us all. Secondly, there is a prominent elderly community in the area, who might find it interesting to see how their gut correlates to their overall health."

The overall study is expected to run from November 2022 through to July 2023.

Dr Barry is recruiting participants for this study. He expects enrolment to be open until June 2023.

Interested parties can contact him directly at: or

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