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Getting to the Guts of the Matter: A Book Review.

I often remind my clients that gut health is vital. Let me introduce you to a wonderful book that helps to explain why!

Giulia Enders is a doctoral student in gastroenterology in Germany. Her publication, Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ first appeared in Germany as Charming Guts, and this was also an apt title.

It is scientific throughout, yet scattered with funny personal anecdotes. It is practical – even a little bit gross-out in some places – yet she manages the whole thing in an utterly gentle (and charming) way.

Enders starts with a testimony of what drew her to ‘guts’ in the first place. First, she managed to shift a severe skin problem by treating it as an ‘intestinal condition’. Later, she was haunted by meeting a man whom she suspected of gut problems – who then committed suicide the next day. These experiences fuelled her medical research into gastroenterology and microbiology, though these studies also revealed just how little is publicly understood about intestinal health.

As Enders puts it, the gut has been – in terms of scientific understanding – the poor relation compared with the heart and the brain. So she began this book, ‘to show, in an entertaining way, why the gut is so fascinating, what exciting new research is underway, and how we can use this new knowledge to improve our daily lives’.

It is arranged in three sections: first, looking at the structure of the gut, and how food intolerances are gut-related; second, how the gut responds to food and the environment, including a fascinating section on the ‘gut-brain axis’ and why mood can be affected by intestinal function; and finally, how our individual ‘ecosystems’ of personal microbes – 99% of which live in our guts – are built up, altered, and supported.

What is satisfying about this book, is the way that recent scientific studies are analysed with a light touch, and made interesting and helpful for the normal, non-scientist reader. Controversial subjects such as cholesterol, antibiotics, probiotics and hygiene are tackled in a thoughtful and balanced manner – alongside practical tips, such as how to poo most effectively (!), how to avoid digestive upsets, and how clean you should really be.

Evidently, Enders is fond of guts – endearingly so! I am sure she is right to be. After all, as she points out, they constitute two-thirds of our immune system, they make our food useable, and they make more than 20 unique hormones. Above all – as she mentions at the beginning – they are at the core of our overall well-being, potentially affecting everything from skin condition to our deepest emotions.

It is shocking to realise how new much of our current understanding about the gut is. For example, no one started to map out human bacteria until 2007. As a result, there has been a lot of noise in our news media about the latest discoveries, and is not always easy to tell what is accurate. Having a scientist’s careful analysis of recent research is therefore very welcome, especially when it is balanced by a sense of humour. Enders set out to entertain as well as inform us about gut health, and I do believe she succeeded in both attempts.

Happy reading!

Best wishes, Emma

Emma Maitland-Carew, Nutritional Therapist in Oxford and Bloxham, Oxfordshire

If you or someone you know suffers from digestive complaints, feel free to ring me for a quick chat to see if I might be able to help.

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