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A New York Times Bestseller
A cheeky up-close and personal guide to the secrets and science of our digestive system
For too long, the gut has been the body’s most ignored and least appreciated organ, but it turns out that it’s responsible for more than just dirty work: our gut is at the core of who we are. Gut: The Inside Story of our Body's Most Underrated Organ gives the alimentary canal its long-overdue moment in the spotlight. With quirky charm, rising science star Giulia Enders explains the gut’s magic, answering questions like: Why does acid reflux happen? What’s really up with gluten and lactose intolerance? How does the gut affect obesity and mood? Communication between the gut and the brain is one of the fastest-growing areas of medical research on par with stem-cell research. Our gut reactions, we learn, are intimately connected with our physical and mental well-being. Aided with cheerful illustrations by Enders’s sister Jill, this beguiling manifesto will make you finally listen to those butterflies in your stomach: they’re trying to tell you something important.
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Giulia Enders, MD is a two-time scholarship winner studying medicine at the Institute for Microbiology in Frankfurt. Her presentation of Darm mit Charme (Gut Charm) won her first prize at the Science Slam in Berlin and went viral on YouTube.
Jill Enders is a graphic designer whose main focus is communication in science, and the founder of a collaborative network of designers and scientists.
David Shaw was born in Leeds, UK. He has worked at Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international news broadcaster since 1995. Shaw has an M.A. from the University of Bath in Interpreting and Translating German and Russian, where his thesis was on the adaptation of German Television news texts for an international, English speaking audience. He regularly translates books from German to English.
Chapter 1: Gut Feeling
The world is a much more interesting place if we look beyond what is visible to the naked eye. There is so much more to see! If we start to look more closely, a tree can be more than a spoon-shaped thing. In a highly simplified way, spoon” is the general shape we perceive when we look at a tree: a straight trunk and a round treetop. Seeing that shape, our eyes tell us spoon-like thing.” But there are at least as many roots beneath the ground as there are branches above it. Our brain should really be telling us something like dumbbell,” but it doesn’t. The brain gets most of its input from our eyes, and that information is very rarely in the form of an illustration in a book showing trees in their entirety. So, it faithfully construes a passing forest landscape as spoon, spoon, spoon, spoon.”
As we spoon” our way through life like this, we overlook all sorts of wonderful things. There is a constant buzz of activity beneath our skin. We are perpetually flowing, pumping, sucking, squeezing, bursting, repairing, and rebuilding. A whole crew of ingenious organs works so perfectly and efficiently together that, in an adult human being, they require no more energy than a 100-watt light bulb. Each second, our kidneys meticulously filter our blood much more efficiently than a coffee filter and in most cases they carry on doing so for our entire lives. Our lungs are so cleverly designed that we use energy only when we breathe in. Breathing out happens without any expenditure of energy at all. If we were transparent, we would be able to see the beauty of this mechanism: like a wind-up toy car, only bigger, softer, and more lung y. While some of us might be sitting around thinking Nobody cares about me!”, our heart is currently working its seventeen-thousandth twenty-four-hour shift and would have every right to feel a little forgotten when its owner thinks such thoughts.
If we could see more than meets the eye, we could watch as a clump of cells grows into a human being in a woman’s belly. We would suddenly see how we develop, roughly speaking, from three tubes. The first tube runs right the way through us, with a knot in the middle. This is our cardiovascular system, and the central knot is what develops into our heart. The second tube develops more or less parallel to the first along our back. Then it forms a bubble that migrates to the top end of our body, where it stays put. This tube is our nervous system, with the spinal cord, including the brain, at the top and myriad nerves branching out into every part of our body. The third tube runs through us from end to end. This is our intestinal tube the gut.
The intestinal tube provides many of the furnishings of our interior. It grows buds that bulge out farther and farther to the right and left. These buds will later develop into our lungs. A little bit lower down, the intestinal tube bulges again and our liver has begun to develop. It also forms our gall bladder and pancreas. But, most importantly, the tube itself begins to grow increasingly clever. It is involved in the complex construction of our mouth, creates our esophagus, with its ability to move like a break dancer, and develops a little stomach pouch so we can store food for a couple of hours. And, last but not least, the intestinal tube completes its masterpiece the eponymous intestine or gut.
The masterpieces of the other two tubes the heart and the brain are generally held in high regard. We see the heart as central to life since it pumps blood around the body. The brain is admired for its ability to create a dazzling array of new mental images and concepts every second. But the gut, in most people’s eyes, is good for little more than going to the toilet. Apart from that, people think, it just hangs around inside our bellies, letting off a little steam” every now and then. People do not generally credit it with any particular abilities. It would be fair to say that we underestimate our gut. To put it more bluntly, we don’t just underestimate it, we are ashamed of it more guilt feeling” than gut feeling”!
I hope this book will change that by making use of the wonderful ability that books possess to show us more than the world we see around us. Trees are not spoons, and a gut feeling is a good feeling!
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