“A hugely informative and also entertaining look at a part of the body that we should stop ignoring.”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

Constipation seems to have become an Indian preoccupation after Piku so there is an audience out there just waiting to take this book to its heart. Giulia Enders surprising study of intestines and anuses and prebiotics, probiotics and pinworms along the way, takes the reader on an unexpected journey of what most people would consider the deplorable regions of anatomy. The book is actually a work of biology but Enders’ bouncy style makes it go down with ease, rather like a bolus passing through the digestive passage.

She began it because of a student she encountered who had incredibly bad halitosis and who committed suicide the day after she met him. That set her to wondering what it was about our digestive systems that could affect our lives so greatly.

The result is an exploration of various allergies – the result of the digestive system trying to protect the body from the onslaught of an enemy – lactose and other food related intolerances, not to mention the scientific theory behind bad breath. She refers to the gut as the ‘body’s most underrated organ’ and suggests that it might have a greater role to play than previously suspected.

Indians of course would love the sections where she discusses the colour and consistency of faecal matter and traditionalists would promptly ban the commode that throne like seat of so many philosophical musings in favour of the squat toilet – which Enders says is actually the most scientific way to evacuate ones bowels and spend less time doing it. There is actually a measure called the  Bristol Stool Scale which ranks poop on a scale of one to seven!

If that’s a blow to your bathroom reading habits you can easily install a low footstool in front of your throne, put your feet up on it and bend forward to approximate a squatting position while still holding onto that magazine.

Originally written in German, the book is a quirky translation which delves into matters like whether you should or should not fart in front of your lover just yet and the role that your inner and outer sphincters play in controlling these matters. Constipation results incidentally when the two sets of internal muscles are not in sync.

Medicos and the scientifically trained may gulp on encountering things like “If we vomit the raw egg back up after the right amount of time, the results would look like almost perfect scrambled eggs — without any cooking!”  Basically Enders explaining why eggs should be cooked before being eaten to save your insides the effort of cooking them before digestion.

There is a balance between the gut and the brain which very few people are aware of – the gut secretes serotonin during the digestion process and the same serotonin is used in the manufacture of anti-depressants.

In between all this are illustrations by Giulia’s sister Jill and useful notes on taking laxatives and using olive oil – do not use it for your hair because it is incredibly difficult to wash out, make your own salad dressing and cut down on fructose. Most of her notes underscore the message of how much our mental wellbeing relies on what goes on inside us.  And while this kind of writing may be new to the English world, the Germans have embraced this in a previous bestseller about a girl who goes to hospital for a piles operation.

 

Reviewed by:

Anjana Basu

Added 7th February 2016

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