Stanford University scientists deliver an exhaustive, and sometimes exhausting, survey of the human microbiome.
Buzzwords like probiotic and prebiotic make health news headlines, but how many of\ us really know what those terms mean? Here to explain those concepts, and everything else related to the role of bacteria in our bodies, are two Stanford University School of Medicine scientists with indisputable credentials. Both work in Stanford’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology—Justin as a professor and Erica as a researcher—and while their expertise is impressive and their writing clear, they share so much information that readers may get bogged down in the details and lose track of how it all relates to them personally. Readers looking for the practical applications promised in the book’s subtitle, for instance, may be frustrated by a wealth of what can seem like esoteric experiments and a dearth of details on more conventional matters like precisely how to produce the fermented foods the authors recommend adding to the diet. (Recipes for microbe-friendly muesli, smoothies, scrambles, and similar foods appear only in an appendix.) Meanwhile, scientists will be fascinated by the carefully reproduced studies that highlight surprising findings—stressing a lab animal, for instance, can change its gut microbiota—yet may have misgivings about the Sonnenburgs’ untested views on things like hand-washing routines and infant feeding. Sometimes proof and opinion seem at odds, as when the authors consider the gut bacterias’ possible impact on autism spectrum disorders; though the experiments cited are inconclusive, the Sonnenburgs express unexpected optimism that a connection will one day be found. The authors’ enthusiasm for their subject is evident throughout and may be enough to maintain interest in both lay and academic readers. Andrew Weil provides the foreword.
An informative guide to the gut in search of its best audience.