By Robynne Chutkan
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The Microbiome Solution book (and audiobook) is a genuine how-to regarding the health and care of your microbiome written by an enthusiastic advocate for its potential role in ameliorating illnesses and diseases, many of which have as their origin, a sick or damaged microbiome and which more often than not is caused by the habits and practices of modern life.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
This is a book I almost rated at 4 stars due to what I viewed as occasionally excessive enthusiasm together with the absence of notes or references to the research and studies cited. However, it is so packed with actionable information (check out the end of this review), and written by someone with such an infectious passion working on the front lines of gastrointestinal health, that I gave it one half star back.
Author Robynne Chutkan has a deep and unquestionably sincere passion for the topic and a personal stake in the issue partly driven by her young daughter’s own issues with her microbiome. As a matter of policy, I will always turn the Microbiome Bulletin Hype Meter up a notch to “Careful” under those circumstances. (Note: I would give myself the very same rating for the very same reason.)
I turned the meter up one more notch to “Caution” to take into account the lack of any supporting notes or references in the book. Dr. Chutkan does cite specific studies but does not provide the reader any easy way to find the original material. It’s the first book I’ve personally come across that is lacking this basic information. There is also a great reliance on anecdotal information from her own practice.
While I very much value anecdotal information (as evidenced by my “MicrobioME” section) and believe it is a legitimate source of useful information, it is also the most vulnerable to unintended bias.
Clever Turns of Phrase:
“Gut garden,” referencing your microbiome, the community of microorganisms that reside in and on you.
“Too many drugs, not enough bugs,” highlighting the author’s preference for nurturing your microbiome over the use of pharmaceutical solutions.
It would be unfair to say the author is wholly “against” the use of antibiotics as she stresses the important role they have played in alleviating widespread death and misery, but she is very much against their overuse.
The surprise is how broadly she defines overuse. She does not merely mean the creation of increasingly resistant super bugs due to unnecessary prescriptions for sicknesses against which they are innefective (like viral illnesses). She means that people should get more accustomed to toughing out sickness in general rather than reaching for a pill, titling one section, “It’s OK to Be Sick.”
This actually resonated with me as I have long held a similar view. I was simply surprised that a medical doctor would advocate such a thing. (Let me emphasize that she is careful to include all the necessary caveats regarding serious illness.)
GMOs, Gluten, and Stevia
These were some real surprises for me. I have not been all that concerned about GMOS in general believing them to be largely safe for consumption, but Doctor Chutkan believes them to be disruptive to the microbiome. I had not considered this, but it warrants some further investigation. She also includes gluten among foods to avoid which to be completely honest I find to be a bit silly for the general population. See the next section for my thoughts on Stevia.
The author embraces a “live dirty, eat clean” lifestyle in which she admonishes the cultural embrace, particularly in the West, of an antiseptic lifestyle believing it has done us more harm than good. I expand on this in the next section as well.
So what can this book actually do for you?
A lot, it turns out. It is full of not just recipes for meals, but recipes for making your own cleaning solutions, shampoos and skincare products. It has lists of things to ask your doctor when he or she wants to prescribe you antibiotics, and lists on how to prepare for a microbiome-friendly childbirth.
And yes, detailed instructions on how to perform a home stool transplant.
Stool, as in you’ll need a fecal donor.
It is a veritable how-to for the human microbiome and I was personally inspired to change a number of things in my life as a direct consequence of reading this book.
I got a genuine kick out of the author’s refreshingly shameless advocacy for not bathing, suggesting we adopt as a culture “more acceptance to having a discernible personal odor” and “more natural smells,” conceding that it can take “a little getting used to.”
The thing is, I like this idea. Some years ago I made it a habit of skipping showers on the weekend unless I was doing something particularly dirty or sweat-producing believing spending some time “stewing in my own juices” would be good for my skin. I had no evidence for this, never mind a medical doctor prescribing such behavior, but it felt right on an intuitive level.
When I started teaching fitness classes I largely gave it up because I was pretty much sweaty all the time, but I was very receptive to Doctor Chutkan’s arguments and have adopted some of the less drastic measures she suggested for those not quite ready to go fully natural since, as she admits, “feral scent now seems to be a major social liability.”
Yes, yes it does.
So, my evening showers have become much shorter. I use about a quarter of the shampoo I used to, and otherwise only scrub the hairy parts of my body (and my feet a little). I do still wash my face in the morning. I also am using only a very small amount of antiperspirant. (The book has a fascinating argument as to why the use of deodorant upsets the microbial balance of the armpits (mostly for men) actually creating more odor, making it necessary to use even more antiperspirant. Not a bad business model for the antiperspirant industry!)
I’ve been doing this for a few weeks as of this writing with no discernible social consequences! I also frankly “feel” better.
While I’ve long been wary of antibiotics, and really medication of any kind unless absolutely necessary, I am now emboldened to double down on it. I have a young son and am going to be much more inquisitive the next time a doctor wants to prescribe a round for him. (Fortunately he has rarely been sick thus far.)
Doctor Chutkan lumps Stevia (a natural sweetener) in with artificial sweeteners like sucralose (which I will not consume) in her list of “red light” foods that you should avoid or cut back on.
I understand the elevated insulin response sweeteners of any kind can elicit, whether caloric or not, and have been concerned about that, but had not considered that they might have an effect on the microbiome. This will warrant further examination on my part but I have for the time being cut back on products that contain stevia.
Quick Note on The Microbiome Solution Audiobook.
The wrong narrator can ruin an audiobook. This is definitely not the case here. Rebecca Mitchell is outstanding and a perfect fit.
Thanks for reading, and your comments are both welcome and encouraged!
This book, in its various forms, is available for purchase from Amazon.
Please see our Affiliate Disclosure for linking policies.