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How gut bacteria affect our overall health and wellbeing

Mosley looks inwards at the complex relationship we have with microbes in our gut.

Book cover of 'The clever guts diet. How to revolutionise your body from the inside out'

The clever guts diet: how to revolutionise your body from the inside out, by Michael Mosley. Pp 288. Price £8.99. London: Short Books; 2017. ISBN 978 1 78072 304 4

Although the word ‘diet’ appears in the title, this is not another healthy eating book. With characteristic clarity and lucidity, Michael Mosley explains that this is an approach to eating that will feed the bacteria in your gut, the so-called ‘microbiome’, with myriad benefits to wellbeing.

The gut is teeming with bacteria, and, in recent years, scientists have begun to understand our complex and symbiotic relationship with these microbes and their influence on our weight, immune system, appetite and even mood. We know that the bacteria affect health — just think of the role of Helicobacter pylori in the development of gastric ulcers — and how their eradication resolves symptoms. Mosley cites this and other gut-related disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and how, rather than swallowing pills, they can effectively be cured by a change of diet.

Later chapters provide more details of the specific gut bacteria and their purported benefits to health. It seems that variety really is the spice of life and the more diverse the microbiome, the better. However, it is not all good — colonisation with various strains of E. coli, Salmonella and Clostridium difficile cause serious problems. C. difficile is a case in point. Antibiotics are the standard treatment, but they are often ineffective, while an alternative and rather unpleasant sounding therapy is faecal microbial transplant. This involves inserting a donor’s faecal matter into the recipient’s colon. Interestingly, it seems to work.

A thought-provoking section describes how our microbiome determines the amount of energy extracted from our foods and how this affects our body weight. Mosley dismisses the standard ‘calories in, calories out’ (CICO) dieting tactic. Instead he advances, with some scientific evidence, that it is the make-up of our microbiome, rather CICO that really makes the difference.

The key take-home message from the book is that if we adopt a more personalised nutrition approach we may well solve several health problems. The final part has a good deal of information on the sorts of foods we should be eating to broaden our microbiome, and includes several recipes to help us incorporate these into our diet.

As pharmacists, we often reach for a medicine to cure a health problem but perhaps we need to look inwards. Although still in its infancy, it would seem that nurturing a healthy microbiome goes a long way to finding a solution to many ailments.

Rod Tucker

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202890

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