"The Mind-Gut Connection," 2 Book Reviews

Many thanks to nutrition & herbal therapist, Susan Blanc, from Kitchen Table Remedies and local qigong practitioner, Lulu Featherlight for submitting reviews of this interesting, paradigm-shifting book, published in 2016.

We are delighted to have reviews from a professional practitioner in the nutrition field and a lay reader, simply interested in general topics of good health and food as medicine.

Book Review by Susan Blanc, N.C.

The Mind-Gut Connection, by Emeran Mayer, is a quick, interesting read on an incredibly important topic: the gut-brain connection.  Mayer dives into how our microbes impact that two-way communication. Most of us tend to think of the brain being “in charge” but after learning that 90% of the communication goes from the gut to the brain and only 10% from the brain to the gut, it is clearly time to re-think who’s ‘in charge”!

A key contribution to the field was the author’s early discovery (back in 1991) that there are common signaling molecules providing communication between the nervous system, the gut, the brain, different cells and organs as well as the immune system.

Chapter 7, Understanding Intuitive Decision Making, is especially fascinating and a must-read for anyone interested in what a "gut feeling" really is.  Learning that 95% of the body’s serotonin is stored in the gut—and the role our resident bacteria play in synthesizing it—opens a new window into understanding mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. It is empowering to realize we have great influence on our mood with the food we consume. 

Where Mayer falls slightly short is in his dietary recommendations. While he promotes eating organically farmed foods that are minimally processed, a diet high in plants and fiber, as well as regularly consuming fermented foods, he also (erroneously) states that animal fat definitively causes leaky gut, overconsumption of food, and food addiction. He addresses how the quality of meat that we consume as a country has declined over time, but fails to acknowledge that sustainably raised meat may have a different nutritional profile and physiological effect on our bodies. 

Overall, The Mind-Gut Connection is informative (without being too dense) when it comes to the science of our microbes, and how that affects our physical AND mental health. I would recommend this book as a good resource for anyone struggling with a chronic gut condition, a mental health issue, or just a general interest in the leading edge of microbiome research. Of course all general recommendations need to be tailored to suit the complex health picture of each

individual.

Susan Blanc, N.C. is a nutrition & herbal therapist. She has a private practice in San Ramon, and currently teaches at Castro Valley Adult and Career Education as well as the California School of Herbal Studies. Susan provides nutritional support for a variety of health issues, including digestive, blood sugar, endocrine and cardiovascular concerns. Learn more at her website: www.KitchenTableRemedies.com .

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Book Review by Lulu Featherlight

Dr. Emeran Mayer's expertise is in the emerging science of gut-brain communication. His use of straight-forward language, analogies, stories and examples convey the concepts of mind-gut communication in an “easily digestible” format, supported further by an extensive bibliography of peer-reviewed research, and a useful index. 

The concept of the human microbial supraorganism—and its place in the earth’s web of life—challenges traditional scientific beliefs.  The paradigm shift from the idea of the human body as a complex machine comprised of separate parts to that of a highly interconnected ecological system is not yet fully embraced by current, conventional, clinical practice. When diagnostics are inconclusive (i.e., do not explain a patient’s symptoms), often the medical report conveys that “there is nothing wrong.”  Therefore it behooves us all to understand as much as possible about how our bodies function and what comprises “optimal health.”  This book may be a good starting point for someone motivated to “know more,” particularly about the health consequences of disturbances in the crosstalk between the gut and the brain. 

Part 1 of this book, describing the gut-microbiota-brain composition and connection, was most interesting part of the book for me. I think most of us are aware of and, to some degree, practice the guidelines listed for optimal health. So of the three parts of the book, Part 3 focusing the role of food, was the least useful, from my point of view.

I found the personal stories both inspiring and discouraging. They were inspiring because people who were persistent in their own health advocacy eventually found some resolution. But it was also discouraging to know how often patients are dismissed or misdiagnosed, struggling in some cases for many years, before finding the a healthcare practitioner whose analysis methodologies are comprehsively holistic.

I would definitely suggest trying a library copy of this book first, to see if it captures your attention. Beyond that, The Mind-Gut Connection is a great resource to have on hand, but not a book to be rushed. It is definitely an important book that deserves a thorough reading. 

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