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If you read one book this summer…. ‘Gut’ by Giulia Enders

June 4, 2018

I saw this book in a charity shop and am very glad I bought it as it has been the book I have been recommending to clients ever since. The book’s message is very simple and is one that resonates totally with Ayurveda- if we treat our gut well, it will treat us well in return. Ender’s ‘gut manifesto’ offers a wonderful and insightful tour into the least understood of our organs, where Ayurveda perceives many health imbalances start. Indeed, anyone who has had an Ayurvedic consultation will be used to be asked ‘How is your stool?’ as a useful insight into how the gut is functioning and Enders tackles this in the very first Chapter which introduces the Bristol Stool Index.

Anyone suffering from IBS type symptoms might already appreciate that the nervous system has a powerful effect on our guts through the enteric nervous system and the brain/ gut connection is covered in depth here. The gut is presented as the body’s largest sensory organ, vastly dwarfing our eyes, ears, nose or skin by comparison with its ‘huge matrix, sensing our inner life and working on the subconscious mind.’ It is very simply put that a gut that does not feel good can subtly affect our mood, whereas a healthy well-nourished gut can discreetly improve our sense of well-being. Research in this area is at its infancy but we do know that 95% of the happiness hormone serotonin we produce is manufactured in the cells of our gut. Anyone who suffers from anxiety or depression should remember that an unhappy gut can be the cause of an unhappy mind…

Equally fascinating is the world of microbes and the connection between the immune system and our gut bacteria. Enders writes that of our entire micro biome (all the micro-organisms that teem on the inside and outside of our bodies) 99% are found in the gut. She adds ‘our gut micro biome can weigh up to 2 kg and contains 100 trillion bacteria ‘ and that ‘one gramme of faces contains more bacteria than there are people on earth’.  With local obesity levels rising, it is pertinent when Enders asks ‘How might bacteria make us fat?’ and the answers are fascinating. Modern science is making rapid progress in this field and we now know that E.coli makes up less that 1% of the population of our gut, with our GI tracts being home to over a thousand different types of bacteria. The book explores the question of whether the precise nature of the bacteria that colonise us makes a difference with skewed proportions of different bacteria in the gut detected in this suffering from obesity, nervous disease, depression and chronic digestive problems.

Clearly, when something goes wrong with our micro biome, something goes wrong with us and  the vast majority of our immune system is located in the gut (about 80%).  Most of the microbes in our gut protect us by simply occupying spaces that would otherwise be free for harmful bacteria to colonise and it is heartening that these studies reinforce what Ayurveda has been saying for centuries- essentially that the functioning of our guts are central to both health and healing. Having just had my third baby, the role of a natural birth and breast milk in helping colonise a newborn’s gut was especially pertinent. While 100% of the cells that make us up when we start life are human cells, we are soon colonised by so many micr-orahnisns that only 10% of our cells are human with microbes accounting for the remaining 90%! Breastfeeding allows the gut to be colonised very early with helpful bacteria that are instrumental in the development of later bodily functions, such as the immune system.

If you’ve ever wondered about the effect of antibiotics on the gut or the hype around both pro-biotic and pre-biotics, this book provides clear and concise explanations. Enders also navigates allergies and intolerances, such as Coeliac disease, gluten sensitivity and lactose intolerance. With so many people feeling the need to cut out food items such as wheat, milk and fructose she writes: ‘it is good to include these foodstuffs in our diet, since they contain valuable nutrients- but it may be time to reassess the quantities we consume. While our hunter gatherer ancestors ate up to 500 different local roots, herbs and rehear plants in a year, a typical modern diet includes 17 different agricultural plant crops at most. ‘ It is not surprising that our guts have problems with a dietary change of that scale. The book also reflects on the importance of a local diet to health gut flora, something Ayurveda also advocates.

I could go on but will sign off here and hope the above has been enough to persuade you this book offers a fascinating insight in the gut and reinforces so much of Ayurveda’s wisdom from 5000 years ago. Enjoy!