The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Healthby Published 21 Apr 2015
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The groundbreaking science behind the surprising source of good health
Stanford University’s Justin and Erica Sonnenburg are pioneers in the most exciting and potentially transformative field in the entire realm of human health and wellness, the study of the relationship between our bodies and the trillions of organisms representing thousands of species to which our bodies play host, the microbes that we collectively call the microbiota. The microbiota interacts with our bodies in a number of powerful ways; the Sonnenburgs argue that it determines in no small part whether we’re sick or healthy, fit or obese, sunny or moody. The microbiota has always been with us, and in fact has coevolved with humans, entwining its functions with ours so deeply, the Sonnenburgs show us, humans are really composite organisms having both microbial and human parts. But now, they argue, because of changes to diet, antibiotic over-use, and over-sterilization, our gut microbiota is facing a “mass extinction event,” which is causing our bodies to go haywire, and may be behind the mysterious spike in some of our most troubling modern afflictions, from food allergies to autism, cancer to depression. It doesn’t have to be this way.
The Good Gut offers a new plan for health that focuses on how to nourish your microbiota, including recipes and a menu plan. In this groundbreaking work, the Sonnenburgs show how we can keep our microbiota off the endangered species list and how we can strengthen the community that inhabits our gut and thereby improve our own health. The answer is unique for each of us, and it changes as you age.
In this important and timely investigation, the Sonnenburgs look at safe alternatives to antibiotics; dietary and lifestyle choices to encourage microbial health; the management of the aging microbiota; and the nourishment of your own individual microbiome.
Caring for our gut microbes may be the most important health choice we can make.
"The Good Gut: Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-term Health" Reviews
This is the second book I've read on the topic of the gut, but it felt a lot less comprehensible and interesting throughout the different chapters. It's divided into 10 different chapters, from varieties of bacteria to longlivety, influence on emotions and different ways of absorbing carbohydrates. Most chapters conclude with "a lot has to be researched, we're still very unsure, we know x works on some mice but ..." - didn't give me a lot of satisfaction. It also failed to grasp my attention at explaining basic principles. Too bad. It might be more interesting for you if it's the first book on the subject you've read. My "gut" said I should rate it 2/5.
"The Good Gut" confirms scientifically what I have learned empirically. I am a retired RN who has eaten a whole lot of vegetables, rice and beans my whole adult life. I do eat meat and fish several times a week, but know that I feel better when I eat less meat. Just in the past 2 years, since I retired and have more time, we have added home-made kimchi and sauerkraut to our diet, and I have noticed that this makes me feel even better. I was a single mother who worked all of her life, along with raising a family, and I was born with a low energy level. People like me describe feeling like we were "born tired." If I did not eat well, so that I felt my best, I could not manage my hectic schedule. Eating poorly was not an option for me.
The Sonnenburgs explain in lay terms the complex relationship that all human being have with the microorganisms that we host in our digestive systems. It turns out this relationship may be much more important to our health than we ever realized. The variety and numbers of microorganisms that we harbor can either contribute to our well being, or contribute to a disease process. Without being dogmatic, or preachy, they enthusiastically lay out the pathway for people to follow that will assist them to make the most of this relationship. At the risk of oversimplification, the advice is to eat more whole plants and fermented foods.
One of the most helpful aspects of the story that the authors tell, is that they include their own story, of how their 2 children were born by c-section, had to take antibiotics at times, and now they are working parents with school age children, who need lunch for school every day. So this is a not family living on another planet, but one struggling with the same issues that so many of us are facing, and trying to find a way to live a healthy lifestyle in spite of it all.
I found the science presented fascinating, and helpful. The authors do mention over and over again that this science is a work in progress and there is so much more to discover. I look forward to following the ongoing research. I found the authors sincere, forthright and engaging.
I have only one suggestion for the authors. There is a sentence in the book that states that the microorganisms are not conscious. As a long time student and practitioner of buddhism (all is one) I wonder if this is true. There is a new book out which I also enjoyed called "Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm" which suggests that the bacteria are in fact conscious and intelligent. This possibility adds a whole new wrinkle to this entire subject.
What a highly informative, readable and important book- especially for those of us with GI problems, auto-immune disease, allergies and asthma who have found traditional medical remedies to be inadequate! Microbiologists Justin and Erica Sonnenburg do what few health book authors succeed in doing – provide clear and useful explanations and guidance in language that is neither too informal and condescending nor too dense and highly technical.
The focus of THE GOOD GUT is helping us to understand how the microbacteria in our guts both help and hinder our overall health, and what we can do – particularly in regard to foods we eat, and both probiotics and prebiotic supplements – to increase the diversity of healthy bacteria, combat inflammation and strengthen our immune systems.
Our guts have 100 trillion bacteria, most of them (at least among us Westerners) good bacteria, but which are starving due to antibiotic use, household cleaners and sanitation procedures that kill healthy bacteria, and our reliance on fast-food simple carbohydrates and saturated fats instead of adequate plant-based fiber.
Fiber, which the authors refer to as MACs (for microbiotic accessible carbohydrates) such as that found in whole grain bread, nuts, bananas, and berries nourishes the healthy bacteria in our guts, strengthening our immune system. Likewise, prebiotics such as onions, garlics and legumes are critical for health, and fermented foods such as yoghurt with live cultures (NOT sweetened and NOT frozen), kefir, pickles and sauerkraut are particularly significant sources of nutrients for healthy gut bacteria.
"The cells that line our intestinal wall sit side by side, like tiles," the Sonnenburgs tell us. "In between these cells is a network of proteins that serve as the grout. The grouted, tiled wall is the barrier that keeps the microbiota and particles of digesting food from crossing into our tissue and bloodstream. Ideally, bacteria stay within the boundaries defined by the tiled wall, that is, inside the tube. Studies suggest that probiotics can help reinforce the gut barrier by nudging intestinal cells to produce more protein "grout."
We feed our healthy gut bacteria through probiotics – both via eating the right foods and taking probiotic supplements. But each of us has a different microbiotome (due to our genes, diet, geographical location and daily exposure) responsive to different probiotic cultures – and only a dozen or so such as acidophilus are available so far on the U.S. market.
Clearly, research pertaining microbiotomes and probiotics is still in its infancy, but the microbiology of the gut is an exciting, growing field. Within a decade, doctors may routinely check the microbiotomes of patients, and rather than rely on pharmaceuticals and medical procedures, prescribe individually determined foods and probiotic supplements which specifically maintain healthy gut bacteria and combat the unhealthy bacteria. If only the pharmaceutical industry would not stand in the way!
I was also intrigued by the Sonnenburgs' discussion of gut instinct, and the connection between the brain and the gut, which confirmed for me the value of my own tendency to think with my gut and trust my gut feelings.
THE GOOD GUT is loaded with helpful advice. In addition to giving food and supplement advice, the authors refer readers to the Healthy Gut Project, from which we can receive a detailed report of our microbiotomes. In the final section of the book, they include a few dozen microbiotome-friendly recipes - most which involve food which can be bought in the supermarket and the health food store, and don't require lengthy cooking times. Some of these are Indian foods, but others are common American foods and health foods.
I personally am already gaining considerable benefit (less gas, belching and constipation, which have been plaguing me for years) from three of the recipes – the morning microbiota smoothie, the chickpea Greek salad and crunchy unsweetened yoghurt parfait with hazelnuts and blueberries.
The Sonnenburgs recommend restricting meat, but for those of us who are meat-eaters, I wish they had given some suggestions in regard to beef, chicken and fish. As a result, however, of becoming allergic to antibiotics, and of recently reading and reviewing PASSIONATE NUTRITION (Jennifer Adler and Jess Thompson), I have become convinced that the antibiotics in beef and chicken have been weakening my immune system, and am now buying to grass-fed, free-range and organic meats only, despite the additional cost.
I also began taking probiotics. Although the brand that I am currently taking only contains acidophilus, I feel sufficiently informed as a result of reading this book and subscribing to Consumer Labs (which tests supplements and notes the specific brands with the highest ratings) to choose future probiotic supplements which provide a variety of diverse cultures.
I highly recommend THE GOOD GUT not only to everyone suffering from gastro-intestinal and auto-immune problems but also to everyone who wishes to improve their health and effectively combat the dire effects of the processed foods, additives, simple carbohydrates and saturated fats that are contributing to disease and obesity. I'd rate THE GOOD GUT more than 5 stars if that were possible.
The bad: sometimes the science is a bit too thin.
The good: it's the most well-rounded book I've seen, and it's practical. That's what I love. I've read 3 other books talking about the science and theory, but in this book you are actually presented with examples of what the authors do in their everyday life to support each theory.
Although there aren't as many scientific articles referenced as in other books of the sort, the conclusions are the same. I saw 4 or 5 major principles related to obesity, autism, and others that appeared in other books with extensive evidence, and in this one with less evidence, but at the end of the day, you know the theories contained are right, even if with less justification.
Due to how comprehensive and practical it is, I consider it to be the best book I've read on the gut and intestines, even with the small tradeoff of little evidence at times. Excellent informative read. To re-read.
We're right on the cusp of A LOT of science that will change how we think about the gut and its role in our health. The Sonnenburgs do a great job outlining how the gut works, and explaining many of the early results of small studies that have a lot of promise for how we may someday approach the gut as an ally in our health. I wish there were more definitive, action-oriented changes that this book would suggest, but it's just premature - and not the fault of the Sonnenburgs. I hope they continue to write such accessible work as new developments emerge.