Don’t Ignore that Gut Feeling

“Were the gut solely responsible for transporting food and producing the occasional burp, such a sophisticated nervous system would be an odd waste of energy. Nobody would create such a neural network just to enable us to break wind. There must be more to it than that.”

–an excerpt from Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders

From breakfast to dinner, allergies to diets, less sugar, more greens — we talk a lot about what we do and do not eat. But what about once we’ve supped our plates clean? Do you feel awkward already? Digestion is a private if not at times taboo topic, but everyone does it, everyday, all the time.

It’s the process in which our food is converted to the energy our bodies use to move and grow. And yet, do we even fully understand what’s happening in there? In her 2014 book Gut author and medical student Giulia Enders argues that our “gut” (she covers all digestive organs, but intensively highlights our intestines) are not only the most misunderstood, but by far our most underappreciated organs.

Frank and humorously straightforward, Enders confidently breaks down the facts of this important process into, well, something easily digestible. So, put your awkwardness aside and get ready to acquaint yourself.

Covering burping and pooping, Enders starts the journey with a top to bottom overview of how digestion actually works. We shouldn’t blush about these uncontrollable functions and their sometimes unwelcome sounds, Enders says, but applaud them! This complex system involves much more than we are aware of.

While it’s hard at work on that omelette, we don’t even lift a finger to consciously help it out.

But maybe we should listen closer, it seems to be telling us more than we realize. In the book’s second part, Enders argues that our intestines have a significant impact in determining our thoughts and moods. They are constantly communicating with the brain, feeding it information about potential intruders, the strength of our immune system or hormone levels. As Enders explains, if our brain is the project manager and our nerves the switchboard, our intestines are the staff out in the field — they know firsthand what’s going on.

Depression, worry and anxiety and other forms of dis-ease do not stem from the mind alone, Enders argues, and taking care of intestinal health, starting with listening to it better, might prove to have much more than physical health benefits.

The last part of the book focusses on bacteria; and there’s still so much more to learn here, Enders exuberantly cheers. Thousands of different types of bacteria call our gut home. We have both good and bad bacteria and they play many roles — together and solo — in the digestive process and for our immune systems. Many things, such as whether we were breastfed or recently used antibiotics, can influence the types of bacteria we have and thereby also what foods we can better digest or are prone to causing inflammation.

Are they tied to our genetics? Enders asks. If so, can this affect our weight gain or loss, sensitivity to some foods, or even to disease like cancer?

Combining scientific knowledge with informal delivery and aided by cute cartoon visuals, Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ is an intelligent introduction to digestion. While at times her explanations may seem childish, Enders does a great job of bringing out all the fascinating biological components and applying it in an accessible real-life scenario. Her exuberant interest is infectious and sure to aid a better connection with your gut feeling.

Giulia Enders’ book Gut is available at the Whitehorse Public Library.

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