Weblog Archives

  Saturday  September 22  2007    09: 26 AM

book recommendation

The Second Brain:
The Scientific Basis of Gut Instinct and a Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestines

by Michael Gershon

Zoe saw Michael Gershon on TV and had to have this book. Zoe has been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and the last three years had been very painful until this last February. Things are more under control now. This books gives an understanding of what happens between swallowing and shitting. It's really a pretty amazing story. Gershon was one of the first researchers to study the gut, which is turns out to be a second brain that has a few connections to the brain on top of our shoulders but pretty much runs itself. Another concept that surprised me but shouldn't have is that the gut is a tube running from the mouth to the anal sphincter and what is inside that tube is not inside the body. The contents of the tube aren't inside the body until they traverse the lining of the intestines. This story is how the gut gets the food from one end to the other while extracting what it needs to run the body and getting rid of that which isn't needed. Some of the book gets a bit technical but otherwise it's a fascinating description a pretty important part of our body. One that gives us all trouble sooner or later.

From Amazon:

Did you ever tell someone that they think with their stomach? Then you're on the cutting edge of scientific thought, according to researcher Michael D. Gershon. The title of his book The Second Brain refers to the hundred million nerve cells in and around our guts that often act entirely independently of the dictator inside our heads. This isn't so bad--there are some meals we'd rather not have to think about eating, much less digesting. Gershon tells us the stories of his development into a scientist, his determination to promote neurogastroenterology as a legitimate field of research, and the nature of "the brain gone south," all with humor and aplomb.

Though not for the overly squeamish (after all, even if Gershon were to pull his punches, his subject still carries traces of old taboos), The Second Brain is a lively and invigorating read. The illustrations are superb and well labeled; this complements the text, which ranges from clinical to personal, as when the author details the events leading to his mother's tragic death following unnecessary surgery for an ulcer. The interactions between the enteric nervous system and digestion, emotion, and disease are not simple, but Gershon's patient prose explains everything in terms any interested layperson can understand.

As in the best scientific works, The Second Brain informs and inspires, surprising the reader with unexpected complexities and mysteries arising in such a seemingly primitive venue. It makes excellent after-dinner reading.