21 January 2020

6 minutes read time

The Gut

Toilet paper

A selection of further reading

Written for the casual reader, Giulia Enders’ Gut: the inside story is a fun and informative book that answers all of your burning questions including, “Why does acid reflux happen?” and “How do laxatives really work?” As Enders notes, “There is so much about the anus that we don’t know.” Scattered with charming illustrations by Enders’ sister Jill, Gut is a guide to everything our digestive system has to offer.

In I Contain Multitudes, Ed Yong synthesises hundreds of scientific papers to tell the stories of the essential microbes that live within and around us. Using subtle humour and skill, Yong will teach you that cleaning toilets too often makes them more likely to be covered in bacteria, while hospital rooms with closed windows contain more deadly microbes than the fresh air outside. For an explanation of how bacteria evolved in the first place, The Vital Question by biologist Nick Lane reframes evolutionary history.

The Good Gut by Justin and Erica Sonnenburg explains why our gut is responsible for everything from our weight to how we age to our diseases. Including a bonus seven-day, family-friendly, gut-healthy meal plan, the microbiome researchers from Stanford University describe how the Western lifestyle methodically diminishes the diversity of the gut and how you can revive your own individual microbiome. For a more general overview of the human microbiome and what it does, there’s this helpful Guardian explainer.

The blurb describes it as an “approach to the quest for the fountain of youth”; the truth is that father-daughter team B. Brett Finlay and Jessica Finlay offer extensive research in The Whole Body Microbiome. By incorporating interviews with leading microbiologists, scientific researchers and medical professionals, the pair have produced an easy-to-follow guide which doesn’t require any scientific background. Each chapter has its own further reading list, as well as frequent tips and suggestions for a healthier lifestyle.

Another book on longevity: explorer Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones, which delves into the parts of the world where a high percentage of centenarians are living full lives. From Costa Rica to Okinawa in Japan, Buettner observes the daily lives of these communities to learn how we can make healthier lifestyle choices and create our own “Blue Zone”.

Let them eat dirt by Dr B. Brett Finlay and Dr Marie-Claire Arrieta is the first parenting book to use scientific research on the human microbiome, and shows you how to give children the best immune start. Offering practical advice on matters such as whether to sterilise food implements for babies, the use of antibiotics, and why having pets is a good idea, Let them eat dirt is a rallying cry for parents to step back.

Gut Garden by Katie Brosnan is a beautifully illustrated children’s book following the moment food enters our mouths to the moment waste leaves our bodies. Brosnan introduces a variety of good and bad microbes to help children (and adults) learn more about what’s living inside them in an accessible way.

A decade since publication, Michael Palon’s argument that what we eat should worry us, in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, still stands. Polan offers an insight into the three food chains that sustain us: industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food that we forage ourselves. It will make you look more carefully at where your food is coming from.

Half textbook, half recipe book, Dr Megan Rossi’s Eat Yourself Healthy is a go-to gut bible. Covering everything from nutrients to sleep hygiene to exercise, Rossi introduces you to FODMAPs and the delightful humming-bee breath yoga technique, while giving practical advice for common gut symptoms and helping you understand food and your body better.

Justin Sonnenburg’s editorial lays out the lessons we can learn from one of the world’s few remaining traditional hunter-gatherer populations. Based in Tanzania’s Rift Valley, the Hadza hunter gatherers have incredibly diverse microbiomes compared to those living off a Western diet. Also damming of the Western diet is a recent study by the National Institutes of Health, which looks at processed foods vs. whole foods. The results? Even when people eat the same number of calories in processed food as those eating whole foods, people gain more weight from processed foods.

On the battle between companies and physicians over FMT (poo transplants), this article in the New York Times explores a number of demonstration projects underway, including on the skin, vagina, blood and gastrointestinal tract.

In 2019, Bill Gates delivered the Professor Hawking Fellowship lecture at the University of Cambridge. Although we’re still in relatively early stages of research, Gates speaks enthusiastically about how we can fix malnutrition by changing the gut microbiome.

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