Possumhaw: Ever have that gut feeling?




Shannon Bardwell



"Your brain can be fooled and your heart is an idiot but your gut doesn't know how to lie." 


-- Anonymous 




You know that little pooch you get in your stomach as you age, well I just learned it's not your stomach at all. A friend gave me a book called "Gut," by Giulia Enders. I plopped it on the bookshelf, thinking I would probably not read it. How interesting could a book be on the workings of your stomach ... I mean gut. Then my best friend forever had a colonoscopy and afterwards the doctor asked, "Have you experienced any pain in your left side?" 


The BFF (best friend forever) answered, "No." The doctor continued, "Well, you have diverticulitis and there's inflammation. I'll give you some antibiotics to clear it up." 


With that I delved immediately into the book to learn more about the gut. Here's what The New York Times said about "Gut," "Ender's wonder at the strange ways of the gut is matched only by her incredulity at the limited public knowledge on the subject." 


I flashed back to my own colonoscopy. (All my friends are having colonoscopies and cataract surgeries. It's what we do now.) While waiting on the doctor I stood behind the door examining the life-size poster of the gut. The doctor came in, finding me behind the door. "How does all this work?" I asked. "How does the food go down, then up again, across and back down?" 


The doctor's eyes twinkled, "It's miraculous. You know if the enzymes here," he pointed, "were just a little bit over here it would eat your stomach away." Then he explained a limited version of the miraculous workings of the gut. But there is so much more to learn than by standing behind the door of the doctor's office. I promise you, Ender's book is so entertaining.  


Giulia Enders was doing research for her medical doctorate at the Institute for Medial Microbiology in Frankfurt, Germany. At the 2014 Science Slam in Berlin her presentation on the gut went viral on YouTube -- thus the book. 


My favorite anecdote explaining an intestinal blockage goes something like this: Remember when you were young and you were holding a water hose crimped in your hand and you asked your sister to look down the hose then you let it go and you got grounded for a week. By the way, Giulia's sister, Jill, illustrates the book. Smart girls. Here's some helpful highlights, but I recommend the book: 


Stress of any kind activates nerves that inhibit the digestive process, which means we not only extract less energy from our food, we take longer to digest it, putting the gut under unnecessary strain.  


If you dilute bacteria on your plate cutlery, and cutting board with water, then wipe them with a kitchen sponge you may as well have licked them clean with your tongue. Wet sponges with food particles are nice homes for microbes. 


The stomach starts high on your left side and swings over to the bottom of the right ribcage. Any pain felt lower than that is not a stomachache.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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