Book review: What’s Up with Your Gut?

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What’s Up with Your Gut? Why you bloat after eating bread and pasta…

Authors: Jo Waters and Professor Julian Walters
Publisher: Hammersmith Press, 2016

Special offer price: £9.99 paperback; £5.99 e-book edition (link to Hammersmith Books will open in a new browser window)

Review by: Mary Farmer

Those grumbles in your gut explained

Now that I have been retired for several years, I find that when I am with my female chums of a similar age, we spend quite a bit of time discussing our ailments and those of other friends. Just as my mother used to do, much to my pretend scorn and amusement. We call it our “ailments slot”, or, as another friend refers to it, “the organ recital”. If this gets a bit too detailed or graphic, especially if the subject is to do with problems in the digestive tract, my nurse friend puts her hand over her head in mock despair, “TOO MUCH INFORMATION!” she shouts and we all giggle like five-year olds.

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A book that ventures where few have gone before

This book is not titled “What’s Up with Your Gut?” for nothing: it dares to go where few health books have dared before, especially when discussing one of the “three Ps”, namely, “poo” – a term not bandied about lightly in polite conversation, unless you are a new Mum or a dog owner. Even then, we revert to baby language, rather than dry, medical terminology.

The Brits appear to be especially reticent and avoid talking about troubles in the lower tum, even with their doctor or nurse. For such a normal function, this must seem strange to other societies, where lavatorial events are all part of daily life viewed without embarrassment. So it is somewhat refreshing to find two authors who have co-written all about our internal rumblings: what can and does go wrong, giving us clues to uncomfortable symptoms; possible causes; when to go to the doctor and likely treatments.

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Frankness is important to get the best medical help

In order to assist the doctor or nurse to help you, it is best if you can put embarrassment to one side and “tell it how it is”, using the words that one would not normally dare to utter. The authors also point out that it is not always “something we ate”. Many modern lifestyle changes may have an impact on why our guts are playing up, from obsessive hygiene practices to increased numbers of Caesarean section births and bottle feeding. All of which result in changes in gut bacteria, which have lately been given much greater prominence in our understanding of gut and general health. And one should not forget the everyday stresses and strains imposed on us in this crazy modern world in which we live.

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A helpful guide to the anatomy and common pathologies of the digestive tract

The book begins with an overview: brief descriptions of common pathologies, some useful information on anatomy and physiology of the gastrointestinal tract, not forgetting the close relationship between brain and bowels. It then looks at symptoms in more detail, possible causes and what to do next, illustrated by real-life case histories.

There are whole and detailed chapters on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Coeliac Disease, Watery Diarrhoea, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD, Cancer, Indigestion, and problems with the back end.

A glossary helps one’s understanding of the more obscure medical terminology.

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Experienced health writer and expert in gastroenterology combine resources

Professor Julian Walters is an expert in molecular and cellular function of the small intestine, working in the research laboratories at Imperial College, London, based at The Hammersmith Hospital. Put more simply, this means that with the advance of further understanding of how our genes work, he has been able to investigate inflammatory processes in the gut, such as are caused by Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease and others and how gut hormones are affected. In a leap away from previous conventional thinking, he has made the connection with these and excessive bile acid production, thought to be associated with malabsorption of nutrients, thus resulting in excessive diarrhoea in patients with IBS. (Bile is produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder).

Jo Waters is a health writer of more than 30 years’ experience in many aspects of medicine and, as a result of hearing so many stories from ordinary people about troubled tummies over the years and those who fiddle aimlessly with their diets to little or no avail, decided it was time for a definitive self-help book on the subject.

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New approaches to treating chronic gut problems

Based on Professor Walters’ work and that of Dr Kamram Rostami, two completely new approaches to treating some gastrointestinal problems stand out: one is the previously mentioned bile acid malabsorption (or bile acid diarrhoea – BAD) and the other is non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). There are three million people in the UK estimated to have IBS with severe diarrhoea, a third of whom may well have bile acid problems, while several million may have NCGS.

Putting these two aside, this book is for millions of people worldwide who have chronic gut disturbances, which affect their lives to a greater or lesser extent, but emphasises that it is not a substitute for seeking medical attention. However, it enables the patient to clarify their symptoms and gives useful pointers for those for whom medical or dietetic advice has so far not been helpful.

It also opens the door to new thinking for old fashioned dietitians like myself, steeped as we were in so-called conventional wisdom.

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Lots of information presented in an accessible style

What’s Up with Your Gut? is clearly written in a chatty style, easy to understand, and allowing one to go straight to the symptoms that are most worrying for the reader. Though I would suggest it is best to read the introduction and the guide on how to use the book first.

Readers are urged to try to get a definitive diagnosis from their doctor, and not to self-medicate. Nor to use the book as a replacement for medical advice. Rather it should complement it. I would say that it is a useful addition to one’s shelf of health books and can think of many of my friends who have been waiting patiently for this!

Further resources

Former NHS dietitian Mary Farmer writes a regular nutrition blog for Independent Living. Her latest article explores the fashionable food fad, so-called clean eating.

2 Responses to “Book review: What’s Up with Your Gut?”

  1. Laura Branigan February 22, 2017 at 10:43 am #

    This is the 1st time I’ve read that being gluten-free can also be beneficial to non- coeliac sufferers. Taking gluten out of my diet has made a huge difference to my usual daily frequent diarrhoea problems and ‘firmed’ things up – it has changed my life and no longer do I need to take anti-diarrhoea tablets. Laura B

    • Frances February 22, 2017 at 8:03 pm #

      Great to hear that going gluten-free is working so well for you!

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