Gut by Giulia Enders

Gut by Guilia EndersBacon Phat
00:00 / 1:12:26

In this episode, we discuss:

Show notes:

What is the gut?

The gut is a complex place. Humans are coelomates, which means our our bodies are open to the outside. Our digestive system is a tube with openings at the mouth and anus that decides whether or not everything that enters the body can pass into the bloodstream.

The digestive process begins in the mouth as saliva and enzymes start to break down food. In the stomach, acid and enzymes continue to break down food, and a mucosal lining protects the wall of the stomach from acid and bile. The stomach is tilted so that food does not travel back to the esophagus, and liquids can pass more quickly to the small intestine because they do not require as much digestive activity as solids.

 

The gut is home to trillions of bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotic organisms. Most of the bacteria in the digestive tract is found in the large intestine, or colon. If bacteria from the colon migrates to the small intestine, due to inflammation, the result is Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth, or SIBO. In a gut with SIBO, food that does not digest properly at the beginning of the system ferments and feeds the bacteria in the small intestine. Symptoms of SIBO include bad breath, excessive gas and bloating, and digestive issues like constipation.

 

Most humans do not have too much stomach acid. Often, the problem is the reverse.

Too little stomach acid, combined with bacteria imbalances and inflammation, leads to a cycle in which undigested food feeds unfriendly bacteria, which causes inflammation and a malfunctioning of the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach. When this valve can no longer remain closed when necessary, what little acid the stomach has travels to the esophagus and creates pain. Antacids introduce bases into the stomach to raise the pH, which means the problem of undigested food cannot be resolved. Antacids might reduce pain associated with heartburn, but since the underlying problems of bacterial imbalance and inflammation are not addressed, they ultimately make a bad situation worse.

Western medicine relies heavily on antibiotics, often in situations where antibiotics are inappropriate or can do more harm than good.

In life-threatening situations, antibiotics are necessary and worth the negative consequences. However, for chronic, non-life-threatening infections and viruses, rampant antibiotic usage results in gut dysbiosis, which may never be fully remedied. The world is too sterile. The body is covered with various microbiomes, like the skin microbiome, and excessive sanitizing and cleaning damage the natural microbe populations and compromise immune systems. Moreover, antibacterial soaps and sanitizers have dangerous ingredients, including triclosan. While triclosan has been banned from many products due to its health effects, it is still nonsensically found in things like mattresses and yoga mats. It seems counterintuitive that antibacterial soaps and sanitizers would not make one healthier. In fact, they can make people with chronic conditions even sicker. The Dirt Cure: Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Happy Child discusses the importance of allowing some dirt into our overly sanitized, chemical, and polluted bodies to counteract the effects of the latter.

The gut and the brain are intimately connected.

Most of the body's nerves are located in the gut. The gut is responsible for creating happiness molecules and releasing and recycling melatonin, which regulates the sleep cycle. Microbes in the gut create serotonin, so an imbalanced gut can lead to mood disorders, including depression. Dr. David Perlmutter's book Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life outlines how he has been able to heal several patients' serious neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis through gut-repairing remedies including fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).

"Meat-eating Westerners"

One of our major critiques of this book is that Giulia links people who are overweight with eating meat without giving any evidence of why one causes or is related to the other. Contrary to what vegans argue, there is no evidence that eating meat causes weight gain. Although humans have been eating meat for 200,000 years and processed, manmade-chemical-laden garbage for only 120, meat has been demonized primarily for all modern chronic disease while processed foods continue to be staples of recommended diets.

"Meat-eating Westerners" is part of why everyone thinks meat is the problem. People say that eating meat is correlated with obesity because as meat consumption increases per capita, obesity also increases. However, the major issue with this argument is that other factors are not considered. Meat has been considered unhealthy since at least the 1950s with Ancel Keys's decision to blame saturated fats for heart disease, so the U.S. government has been recommending people eat less meat for decades. A lot of Americans have answered this call, especially for red meat, but those who haven't engage in other unhealthy behaviors, including smoking. In fact, in a study from 2009 about meat intake and mortality, the authors themselves write, "[O]ther lifestyle factors, such as smoking, physical activity, and alcohol consumption among vegetarians and members of select religious groups can differ substantially from the general population." They also cite smoking as a major confounder for meat eaters.

As we have mentioned on the podcast, one of our goals is to combat the commonly held beliefs surrounding clean eating and meat. It is more mainstream to lump together caring for the environment, eating a plant-based diet, and caring about one's health and reduce meat eaters to people who don't care about their health or the environment. It's also common to stereotype people into political groups based on food consumption. For example, this article states that meat eaters are more likely to be Republican than Democrat. We want to combat these myths about eating meat and offer an alternative view of what a proud meat eater is.

Extra little bits

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Gut, by Giulia Enders, is a great introduction into the gut, especially if you have no background in the topic. Themes are reduced to simple explanations in layman's terms with fun analogies and light humor. At the same time, however, Enders summarizes recent findings in the scientific literature regarding the identified species of microbes living symbiotically in the gut.

Its major shortcoming is the author's acceptance of explanations and remedies offered by modern medicine for many ailments. For example, she believes that consumption of saturated fat found in animal products leads to obesity, and NSAIDS are an appropriate treatment for inflammation. Also, she describes Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) as being a disease that can be treated with a variety of medications, rather than a collection of symptoms caused by a disruption in the gut.

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