gut_coverTitle: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ
Author: Giulia Enders (with illustrations by Jill Enders)
Publisher: Greystone Books
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3 out of 5
How I got it: I purchased a copy on sale

For the past two and a half years, I’ve had something really weird going on with my stomach: I’ll sometimes be struck with a sensation of pain, burning, and bloating that feels a lot like hunger. Because it feels like hunger, it seems like my stomach is telling me to eat — but eating food doesn’t make the sensation go away. I would sometimes take Tums or Gaviscon to ease the sensation when this first started happening, but neither solution worked consistently.

I had an ultrasound done, and everything looked normal. I even saw a gastroenterologist and had an endoscopy done, but that looked normal too. No sign of lesions or ulcers. However, over time I noticed a few factors that appear to be correlated to this weird hunger pain sensation:

  • Eating lots of oily, fatty food over a few meals in a row
  • Eating lots of tomatoes or vinegar (or other acidic food) in a single sitting
  • Eating food really early in the day
  • The time of year – it happens more often in the fall and winter than in the spring and summer

The one thing I’ve found that seems to stop these feelings before they get too intense is if, while eating, I take a pill filled with powdered hydrochloric acid (aka: stomach acid) and pepsin (a stomach enzyme). So, for some reason, I seem to need more acid in my stomach to make things work. I have no idea what the link is with the time of year, but the problem does seem to be less prevalent if I take vitamin D during the fall and winter.

All of this is an extremely long-winded way of saying this: my stomach is weird and I don’t understand it. I wish I had a diagnosis.

This was a large part of why I bought Gut by Giulia Enders — I was hoping that her book would contain some nugget of truth or casual aside that would make my digestive system and all its foibles suddenly make sense. Unfortunately, it hasn’t; I’m no nearer to figuring out what’s wrong with my stomach than I was before.

That said, Gut is a fairly comprehensive look at the entirety of the gastrointestinal tract, full of intriguing trivia, easy-to-grasp explanations of processes that seem mysterious from the outside, and more than a few squeamish tidbits.

Here’s the rub, though: it reads more like a collection of useful trivia rather than a book with a solid throughline. One can sense Enders’ enthusiasm throughout the book — she came to prominence after giving a popular talk on this topic on YouTube — but a popular video does not a book make.

For one thing, the prose contains several awkward turns of phrase and poor transitions between topics. Whether this is an artifact of the book being translated from German into English or something inherent to Enders’ writing style in her native language I am not sure, but there was overall a clunkiness to the prose that made the experience of reading it feel like being in a very herky-jerky car.

In addition, the books’ ending just falls flat. The final chapter talks about probiotics and prebiotics, but the ending pages just…hang there. There’s no sense of closure, or any attempt by Giulia Enders to round up her thoughts into the sort of fitting summary that you normally expect there to be in non-fiction books.

Finally, considering the nature of the book, it’s almost criminal that there’s no index. Even if the medical knowledge within is aimed towards a general audience, the lack of an index in the back makes the book nearly useless as a reference material.

I dunno. The whole thing just felt half-assed in retrospect.