The bestselling book “Gut” by Giulia Enders is a fascinating account of what is going on inside our gut. It is written in humorous, easy style that makes complex scientific topics understandable and fun.
The book touches on a wide range of issues from the way our gut is organised to the various ailments that may occur if we don’t pay attention to our nutrition.
What interested me most as a psychotherapist is the gut/brain connection and the way in which the health of our gut could influence not just our weight and general wellbeing, but also our mental health.
It is now generally accepted in scientific circles that people with digestive problems sometimes also suffer from nervous disorders of the gut. But doctors often tell these people it is “all in their heads” and, without access to the latest research, patients have nowhere to turn.
Giulia Enders states that her aim in writing the book was to bring the latest scientific knowledge to people suffering from unpleasant conditions, so they can do something about it.
She goes on to explain, supported by the latest research, that there is more to our “self” than our brain. Scientists are beginning to question the view that the brain is the sole and absolute ruler of the body. The gut’s network of nerves is called the “gut brain” because it is just as large and chemically complex as the grey matter in our heads and our “gut feeling” is responsible in no small measure for how we feel.
Signals from the gut can reach different parts of the brain, so where do they usually end up? Psychotherapists will be excited to learn, that the areas they do reach include the insula, the limbic system, the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus and the anterior cingulate cortex. The responsibilities of these areas can be roughly defined as self-awareness, emotion, morality, fear, memory and motivation. That means that our gut has a certain influence on all these areas.
Researchers in the team lead by John Cryan found, that mice fed on Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a strain of bacteria known to be good for the gut, performed better in memory and learning; their blood also contained fewer stress hormones.
The book is full of further fascinating facts on similar research on humans. There is also a chapter on connection between IBS and other unpleasant diseases affecting our gut, and depressive illness.
The author goes on to explain how prolonged stress could affect our gut flora, as brain is borrowing energy from the gut in stressful situations.
Psychotherapists will also be interested to read about the work of Dr Michael Gershon, who is working on developing antidepressants that only influence the gut and hopefully will avoid unpleasant side effects of the conventional antidepressants.
Anyone who agrees that an unhappy gut can be the cause of an unhappy mind will enjoy reading that book. As will anyone who is suffering from anxiety, depression, or digestive disorders, and who cannot find the answers in the mainstream medicine.