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Heart. Brain. Stomach. Yes, you read that correct! These are the three most important parts in the human body. Unfortunately, while the heart and brain get lots of attention in everyday life and medical school, the stomach (or the gut) is almost always ignored. The lack of attention to the stomach is what motivated German medical student Giulia Enders to write the wonderful book (and international bestseller) Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ.

Enders provides an engaging account of the workings of the human gut and why it is so important to keep it healthy. She covers diverse topics such as saliva (the gateway to the gut), constipation (bowel movement less than three times a week), the link between the brain and the gut (much more than one would expect), and cleanliness (both outside and within the body). Her message is simple, but profound: If you want to live healthy, take care of your gut.

I have some personal favourites in the book. First, until about three decades ago, only one person in ten had allergies, which has now increased to onein- three. Why? Our excessive, and still increasing, reliance on disinfectants, which is killing good germs with the bad ones. Per Enders, disinfectants have ‘no place’ in the average household. Second, up until the last century, bathing was a privilege in much of the western world. Even as late as the 1950s, most westerners bathed only weekly (‘a bath a week for every German’ was a popular slogan) and the whole family bathed with the same water, starting with the father.

Third, in the modern world, constipation is way more common than most people realise. Between 10 to 20 per cent Americans are constipated, which means they find it difficult or impossible to pass stool without help (either tricks or medication). Such people would benefit from consuming more fiber, preferably through fruits that have both soluble and insoluble fiber.

What is the best way to sit when going to the toilet? Enders reports an Israeli investigation that compared three sitting positions: squatting (known variously as using an Indian style, Turkish style, or Asian style toilet), enthroned on a ‘western style’ toilet, and halfsitting, half-squatting on a low-height toilet. The results overwhelmingly favoured the squatting position, both in how quickly it led to bowel movement and how relaxing it felt afterwards. Enders, however, does not advocate that we all replace our throne-like toilets with the squat type. Instead, she describes a pragmatic and easy way to obtain the benefits of squatting when using a western-style throne toilet (read the book to find out what she is suggesting).

There are very few books that I recommend without any reservations. This book is one of those! I would like to believe that reading this book will get people to think about what goes on inside their stomach, and perhaps even bring about some changes in how doctors are trained to diagnose and treat ailments. As Enders observes, the gut is the ‘most underrated organ’ in our body. If we change how we think about it, we might just become healthier and fitter.



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