Even in the absence of comprehensive scientific testing (which author Chutkan, a clinical gastroenterologist, admits still has gaps), the argument in The Microbiome Solution is pretty compelling. Processed foods and the over-prescription of antibiotics to fight everything from acne to Crohn’s disease, it claims, has thrown the balance of the human microbiome – the colonies of bacteria that inhabit our digestive system – out of whack.
She believes a return to ‘dirty’ food (grown rather than manufactured) and letting our bodies be sick when they need instead of fighting off every minor bug with pharmaceuticals will combat the myriad modern inflammatory syndromes like colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Even without the clinical stories Chutkan writes about there’s no arguing human health has changed drastically over the last century, with formerly unknown conditions like autism spectrum disorder and food allergies now rife. The Microbiome Solution not only makes a good case that increasingly ‘mechanised’ food production is one of the causes, it goes further, suggesting we clean and disinfect ourselves too obsessively on the outside as well.
A medical term called dysbiosis lies at the heart of our upset microbiomes, and Chutkan isn’t the only doctor suggesting it might be behind a host of inflammatory bowel diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, obesity and even cancer.
The book starts with a chapter that introduces us to the concept of a delicately balanced garden that’s set down through gestation and birth and maintained (or not) by our diet and exposure to toxins, something few would argue has gone through the roof thanks to modern food production.
Each chapter opens with a story from her practice, usually a desperate patient at the end of his or rope after endless courses of drugs that do little long term good. In some cases it takes a radical diet detox and up to several years (Chutkan claims just one course of antibiotics can throw the microbiome out for months), but often a change in diet and stopping all the medication causes a life changing shift.
There’s a whole chapter containing everything you ever wanted to know about fecal microbiota transplant (and plenty you didn’t, including the fact that you can do it at home yourself if you so desire), and a section on recipes and lifestyle to help you – as Chutkan puts it – live dirty and eat clean.