Book Notes – Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ by Giulia Enders

The book | Read in September 2016 | Rating 4.0

As Giulia Enders writes in Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ, there is only one other organ in the body that can compete with the gut for diversity — the brain. The gut’s network of nerves is just as large and chemically complex. The human gut might even have a say in our morality, happiness, and lust for life. Yet science is only just starting to understand and prove this. This is a funny and fascinating book, as well as a welcome education in something that so many of us – scientists included – know so little about.

Book notes

We humans have known since time immemorial something that science is only now discovering: our gut feeling is responsible in no small measure for how we feel.

  • “Our ‘self’ is created in our head and our gut — no longer just in language, but increasingly also in the lab”.
  • The gut might even have a certain influence on our moral thinking. In one study, mice with ‘pimped’ gut flora not only kept swimming for longer and with more motivation, but their blood was also found to contain fewer stress hormones. These mice also performed better in memory and learning tests.

The earlier in life that mealtime calm is introduced, the better. When under stress we not only extract less energy from our food, but we also take longer to digest it.

  • When the brain senses a major problem (such as time pressure or anger), it needs energy to solve it and borrows this mainly from the gut. The gut listens and saves energy on digestion, producing less mucous and reducing the blood supply. If we get repeatedly stressed or angered and keep diverting energy from the gut, we can cause real digestion problems.
  • Stay calm. One theory proposed by research bacteriologists is that stress is unhygienic, or that the altered circumstances that stress creates in the gut allow bacteria to survive there than in periods of low stress.

95 per cent of the serotonin we produce is manufactured in the cells of our gut, where it has an enormous effect on enabling the nerves to stimulate muscle movement, and acts as an important signalling molecule

  • Treating out gut might even treat depression. The American researcher Dr Michael Gershon is interested in the possibility of developing effective antidepressants that only influence the gut, and do not have an effect on the brain.
  • “Perhaps their gut needs a session on the therapist’s couch, and their head is not to blame at all.”

If we decided to say ‘Hi’ to each of our gut bacteria individually, we might just manage it in around 3 million years. Our immune system not only says ‘Hi’; it also says, ‘You’re okay’, or ‘I’d prefer to see you dead.’

Next actions

  • Keep your stress down.
  • If you focus on just one thing, at least try to stay calm while eating.
  • You know this, but only use antibiotics when you need to.
  • Don’t go crazy with the cleaning products but keep things tidy.
  • Wash your veg before you eat them.
  • Avoid sugary carbs and load up on probiotic and prebiotic foods.

It would take an entire international news agency to report on all the events constantly unfolding in just one person’s microbiome. While we lounge about feeling bored, any number of exciting things are happening inside us.