I noticed this book in the entrance display of Waterstones and as I’ve been going through the ~ motions ~ with my own digestive system for the past couple of months, naturally I picked it up.
It said it was an international bestseller – I know, an international bestseller about the digestive system!? It must be at least funny, if not educational I thought.
I’ve read before that the gut can have an effect on your emotional well being, and that the sayings ‘butterflies in my tummy’, ‘a gut feeling’, actually have some science behind them. However, I never understood too much about the subject, I just knew from personal experience that when I’m not having a great time mentally, my stomach issues are much worse.
I have also read that serotonin is mainly produced in our gut, which is an important chemical that controls our mood, I’ve always wondered what that meant – in terms of the connections it could mean are there.
There were a couple of things that really interested me in this book, from a perspective of mental illness and digestive issues so I’ll highlight a couple of the things I found most interesting. Moreover, I did find the whole book really charmingly written, I liked the way she wrote it like lots of little stories. I learned a lot about the whole of our digestive system, and it wasn’t boring! Here are a couple of main points that stuck out to me…
Why your tummy doesn’t like stress
When you are stressed, your brain wants to solve the ‘problem’. To do this it needs to borrow energy from our gut. The gut is informed via nerves that we are stressed, and so it decides to save energy on digestion to help with the stress our brain is going through. When this happens it alters the way our gut actually works temporarily. Enders explains how this situation is not ‘designed for long term use’. If our brains think we are in an emergency situation all the time it uses the gut to ‘fund’ this. She goes on to tell us that when the gut has to forgo energy in ‘favour of our brain’ it’s own health suffers and therefore our own. This can cause the gut to become more sensitive in lots of ways – including intolerance to food and basically, poopy problems. It can also mean the ‘bad bacteria’ has more chance of taking over – which can cause illness for us. Even after long term periods of stress or mental illness, the gut can still be negatively effected. Sort of like a ‘pay back’. Which is why you might feel ill even after the initial stressful times you had.
Wheat just wants to survive being eaten by insects! A reason lots of people are intolerant or sensitive to gluten
When wheat is growing in the wild, just hanging out – it doesn’t want to be eaten by predators. It makes it’s seeds slightly poisonous so that insects don’t want to eat it, the gluten has the effect of inhibiting an important digestive enzyme which causes the grasshopper to have an tummy upset. That puts them off doing it again and again.
These seeds are what causes gluten intolerance or sensitivity in humans too. Gluten can pass into parts of our gut in a partially undigested state, Enders tells us. Basically, that means it can end up in places that our body doesn’t want or need it. Some peoples bodies react really badly to this and it causes damage, others find it causes a bit of trouble, and some people are not affected by it at all.
So in simplistic terms, that’s why gluten can be a pain in the butt for some of us, and seemingly fine for others. The book does go into the subject in more detail if you are interested to learn more.
Gut bacteria is a contributing factor to our mood
There have been lots of experiments on mice in terms of depression. A well used experiment involves making the mice swim. This is to see how long they will keep swimming until they give up and die (I know, quite sad). The mice that are less ‘depressive’ will swim for longer before they give up. Scientists test new anti-depressants in this way and it tends to show positive results if they work.