What happens in our bodies when we eat a meal or swallow a drink?
Many people would rather not know the answer and yet the last few years have seen more and more evidence about the importance of our digestive system to overall health and well-being. Three separate specialists from different branches of medicine and health have all told me in the last year that the gut is now considered as a second brain: a highly integrated system that manages a set of processes as complex as all those neural pathways. When a surgeon, a physiotherapist and a mindfullness teacher all sang the same song I began to sit up and pay attention.
Which is how I came to be reading Michael Mosely’s book: The Clever Guts Diet: How to Revolutionise Your Body From The Inside Out.
I’ve seen Michael Mosely multiple times on British television through his Trust Me I’m A Doctor series and he always struck me as the kind of man who isn’t swayed by fads or pseudo science of the kind trotted by many a clean eating celebrity. He has a deeply inquiring mind that often leads him to take extreme actions in a search for answers. In this case, his desire to know how the digestive system really works, what foods might trigger problems like allergies or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and cancer, led him to an experiment with a live audience at the British Museum.
After a meal of steak, chips and kale washed down with apple juice he then swallowed a microscopic camera called a “pillcam”, which captured digital images of his gastrointestinal tract . The idea was to watch in real-time what happened to his meal.
Your gut is astonishingly clever. It contains millions of neurons – as many as you would find in the head of a cat. It is also home to the microbiome, trillions of microbes that influence our mood, weight and immune system.
Mosely loves those microbes. He can name the different species of the 50 million microbes (mainly bacteria) that live in the gut and make up the microbiome.
The bad news? A diet limited in variety and heavy in processed food – along with antibiotic overuse – has ravaged the modern microbiome. This helps explain dramatic increases in health conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, allergies, food intolerances, asthma and eczema.
But there is good news in the book too. It’s possible, says Mosely, to halt the damage and reboot the system back to health with a gut-friendly eating regime. Avoiding fruit juice is an early piece of advice. It moves through the body so quickly there’s little time for its nutrients to be absorbed. Worse still: it creates a spike in blood sugar levels. Sugar encourages the growth of the microbes that love sugar,. They crave even more of it – telling your brain (and you) to eat more … and more…. In the meantime, the good microbes get destroyed.
So message number one: cut down (or even better, out) uncessary sugar.
Message number two: encourage the growth and variety of “good” gut microbes, by eating probiotics (fermented foods that contain live bacteria and yeast) and prebiotics (certain vegetables and pulses containing indigestible plant fibre).
The Clever Guts Diet is based on research Mosely conducted for more than a year during which he interviewed multiple experts and read scores of research papers. The result is a treasure house of insights and factual information. It’s often amusing. Often provokes a reaction of Yuck when you read it. But it’s also thought provoking. This is not a book for anyone who feels in the slightest bit queasy when confronted by information about bodily functions but it is definitely a book for anyone who wants to take back control of their health.
About the author
Michael Mosely was an investment banker who retrained as a doctor. After studying medicine at the Royal Free Hospital in London and qualifying as a doctor…he decided that he was better suited to the world of television. He has made numerous science and history documentaries for the BBC, first behind the camera and more recently as a presenter.
He has won numerous awards, including being named Medical Journalist of the Year by the British Medical Association in 1995.