short and sweet
This book covers many topics. It deals with brain, nervous system, and gut physiology, scientific studies of behaviour, hormones and the gut microbiome, the author’s own experiences with patients and his very personal experiences with nutrition and weight loss. Unfortunately, the author is not a true narrator, it lacks clear structure and I miss a solid (final) editing of this book. With all the facts, ideas, and anecdotes, the topic is hard to follow.
Who is the author?
Gregor Hassler is Professor of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at the University of Friborg in Switzerland. In the introduction he tells how, at a young age, he had problems with the intestines. It is one of the reasons why he went to study medicine. He will do research and it will show – in his own words – that people with a lot of body fat are generally impulsive and extroverted, while being underweight is accompanied by fears and anxieties. From this arises his fascination between mind and brain, food and gut. He believes that the gut is essential for a good balance between health and disease, and thus intentionally speaks of the gut-brain connection (not the gut axis, as is often the case). Hassler regularly cites cases of the practice in the book.
What is this book about?
The book is about the different parts of the gut-brain connection. There is a separation from the vagus nerve, which is the main neural pathway from the gut to the brain. There is a chapter on the hormones that send messages between the gut and the brain, such as oxytocin, dopamine and the satiety hormones. There are chapters on the brain’s reward system, gut bacteria, the immune system, leaky gut, and parasites. The book is not easy to read. I am very interested in the subject and have read books about it before, but here I regularly drop out. Hassler doesn’t have a smooth writing style, his sentences are so scholarly and he’s so filling in so many little facts and anecdotes, that you lose the thread. Still, some parts are interesting. I regularly find explanations, for example on brain physiology or the nervous system, helpful as well.
Hasler regularly relies on his personal life, or talks about patients from the practice. Then the style suddenly changes from dry scientific to somewhat simplistic and almost caricature. It is remarkable that he only shares success stories. For example, he discusses a number of patients using LSD as a treatment, breaking through years of problems after a single session. Or he reported prescribing yoga or mindfulness with great success in severely traumatized or depressed patients. It sounds too good to be true, especially since it shows in the rest of the book just how intricate the gut-brain connection is. His thoughts on nutrition are great here and there. He is a proponent of the “protein lift hypothesis” (people need 200 calories of protein per day, and if they eat less, they remain “hungry for protein”), and he claims we can’t become addicted to salt (“pamper yourself again with some sea salt.” High quality!” is advice from the book and is a hunger advocate for weight maintenance. Overall, the book is a wonderful mush of science, physiology, anecdotes, anecdotes, and beliefs. I think the book could have been made clearer with good final editing, and structure Explained and above all: necessary deletions.
What can you practically do with this book?
Not much. After reading the book, you’ll better understand how the brain relates to the gut (and the rest of the body). So you can pay more attention to nutrition, or to the proper functioning of the digestive system. But what exactly you should eat, or how you can improve digestion, the book does not provide practical tools for this. We hope you’ll take his advice to treat yourself to “quality sea salt” with a grain of salt.
The subject matter of the book is incredibly interesting. The author clearly demonstrates how complex our bodies are, and how ingeniously our gut and brain work together. The book could have been more readable and organized. I’m afraid a lot of people will give up halfway (or sooner) and that’s a shame.
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