Book Review: Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, MD
Title: Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain - for Life
Author: David Perlmutter, MD with Kristin Loberg
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Year Published: 2015
Rating: 4 stars
Remember the phrase “you are what you eat”? It’s truer than you know! In Brain Maker Dr. Perlmutter gives a quick (and occasionally dirty) lesson on how your gut microbiome - all the teeny tiny bacteria in your digestive system - affect your health. The science behind it is so profound, you may want to consider changing your diet before taking medication or looking to alternative therapies for any cognitive or nervous system disorder you’re struggling with.
Perlmutter definitely gets your interest piqued from the get go. In the introduction of the book he gives you a quiz to judge your gut health - but doesn’t give any explanations of what your answers mean. For that you have to read the 3-part book, leaving you invested in the outcome.
Part 1 composes the bulk of the book, and gives you the foundation to understand why your gut health is so important to your overall health. During these chapters you learn things like how your birth story determines your gut development, the value of dirt (no seriously, the subheading is “the ‘dirty’ secret of modern plagues), and the link between your gut and several different medical disorders including:
It’s all very interesting, especially because of the perspective Perlmutter has as a neurologist.
“As a neurologist, for example, I find it intriguing to note that today’s antidepressants purportedly work by increasing the availability of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and yet the precursor for serotonin - tryptophan - is tightly regulated by the gut bacteria.”
Everything he mentions is backed by a *lot* of research as well. So much so that if you don’t believe what he writes, you can go to the notes section in the back, find the citation for the scientific paper, book, article, or online resource, and read it yourself. Even if you do believe the findings - which you should- you may want to read the original source anyway because the results are fascinating.
“Some of the studies are downright eye-opening. . . . When scientists give healthy people with no signs of depression an infusion of a substance to trigger inflammation, classic depressive symptoms develop almost instantly.”
All of this brings up an important point: Perlmutter dives into the science to make sure you understand the significance of the studies he cites. This can be overwhelming at times, but he discusses this information like he’s telling a story, which mitigates the information overload you can feel. It’s easy to imagine him reading passages of the book as though he was a TED talk presenter.
To break up the monotony there are occasionally client stories that show the amazing effects changing your diet can cause in your life, and boxes of additional scientific information that don’t quite fit in the narrative.
After convincing you of how your gut health is key to your overall health, Perlmutter starts naming the specific things that negatively affect your gut in Part 2. These are probably the two shortest chapters in the book, and they focus on your diet and drugs/medications.
Which brings us to Part 3 - the section you’ll probably be eagerly waiting for after reading the first 7 chapters. Here Perlmutter guides you through the sources of good bacteria for your gut, breaking down all the foods and supplements that support them. In my opinion, these pages are the most valuable part of the book - I seriously wish they were on a cheat-sheet checklist you could reference at the back of the book because that would be more helpful than continuously flipping through Part 3 to find this information.
Although the book doesn’t have a cheat sheet at the back, it does end with a sample meal plan and recipes to get you started - which is great because this diet is very different from the standard american diet.
Overall I think this book is a great resource for anybody looking to improve their gut health, but especially for those who are new to the idea of gut health improving overall health. Perlmutter really breaks down the info as though you have no idea what your gut has to do with your brain health, and slowly builds up the info until you want to overhaul your diet and preserve brain health for all time.
Unfortunately this means that if the information is more familiar to you, you may not get as much value out of it. As someone who is more familiar with this topic I can honestly say I found the scientific research I hadn’t heard of before and breakdown of the gut healthy foods and supplements to be the most valuable parts of the book.