Friday, November 6, 2015

Book Review: Brain Maker

It was the subtitle to this book that drew me in - Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain - For Life. Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the New York Times Bestseller Grain Brain, puts forth the idea that the center of our mental and emotional health is determined by the state of our microbiome, the environment of our gut. He hooked me from the very start when he began by talking about the amount of money our nation spends in caring for dementia patients compared to that spent on heart disease and cancer patients (twice heart disease and triple cancer). Dementia isn't simply a problem for my own family, with the decline of my mother, but it is a national epidemic.

I had a three-fold interest in the information presented in this book. First, I was interested in what dietary changes could possibly assist my mother in fighting off dementia and could assist me in fighting off depression and chronic fatigue. Second, I was interested in the statistics for anxiety disorders, since the main character in the novel I am writing suffers from an anxiety disorder. And finally, I was interested in how the gut influences those who suffer from migraine headaches (another ailment of my main character). I found the information fascinating, even if the proposed program seems a bit daunting (perhaps not as daunting as the whole 30 program, which suggested the elimination of so many things I would find hard to give up). I think the biggest hindrance to my adopting this dietary plan would be the prevalence of fermented foods (something I'm not especially fond of nor likely to take the time to make for myself).

The basic premise is that the state of the microbiome is the key to human health. I took great interest in a small section devoted to a relatively new science, epigenetic medicine, or the science of how diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management influence the expressions of our DNA and, eventually, our brain health. After this brief introduction to the importance of one's microbiome, the author provides a questionnaire meant to help the reader determine the level of dysfunction in their microbiome. As I read all the things which can be detrimental to one's brain health, I was surprised that my oldest son is as healthy as he is. He struggled with many of the factors mentioned on the questionnaire. He was born via c-section (meaning he failed to get the vaginal birth transfer of healthy maternal gut bacteria). I received antibiotics, which were passed on to him, in preparation for the c-section. He was breastfed for less than three months and suffered from frequent ear infections, requiring antibiotic treatment and the eventual placement of tubes. I'm sure it is true that we, as a society, have been so eager to eliminate bad germs and bacteria, that we often destroy the good along with it and then wonder why we are sick.

Another interesting, though slightly disgusting, tool the doctor recommends is FMT, or Fecal Microbiota Transplantation. This process involves taking the healthy stool from someone with a healthy microbiome and transplanting it into the gut of an individual suffering from various ailments (it is only used in the U.S. to treat C. Difficile infections, but many of Perlmutter's patients went to other countries for the procedure and found it helpful in battling things like Tourette's Syndrome, Autism, and a range of other difficulties). It is said to be very helpful for individuals suffering from Crohn's. I can see where placing samples from healthy individuals might battle the unhealthy elements in the gut of a patient plagued by health difficulties. Even though it sounds gross, it also sounds promising.

So what does the doctor prescribe? His plan involves six steps: 1) Choose foods rich in probiotics; 2) Go low-carb and embrace high-quality fats; 3) Enjoy tea, coffee, chocolate and red wine for polyphenols; 4) choose foods rich in prebiotics; 5) Drink filtered water; and 6) fast every season. This sounds far more do-able than the strict eliminations many current dietary challenges propose. But still, I'm not sure I'm going to start eating sauerkraut because it will balance out my gut environment with healthy bacteria. I will recommend the book to my parents. The ideas are intriguing and remind me of a similar informative book I read, Clean Gut. Even if the information was simply enlightening for contemplation for the character in my novel, it was worth the read. Moreover, I'm now off to read an article he referenced entitled, "Mind Altering Microbes: Probiotic Bacteria May Lessen Anxiety and Depression," by University College Cork (I see now that this information is old news as it came out in 2011). Next, I intend to head to the author's own website,, to see what other resources he has available.

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