Book Review: Brain Maker

Brain Maker Book Cover Brain Maker
David Perlmutter, MD
April 2015

The longer I practice, the more I am painfully aware of how crucial gut health is for overall health.  Anything from neurological concerns, autoimmune conditions, and mood issues. It all begins in, or is in large part affected by, gut health.  Dr. David Perlmutter's book, Brain Maker, aims to explain and explore some of the mechanisms behind gut health, looks at the research surrounding this topic, and provides treatment ideas or ways to improve gut health.

Needless to say, with gut health forefront in my mind, I really wanted to like this book and have something foundational that I can recommend to patients. Unfortunately, it falls short in more ways than one.  As a book geared towards the general public, I found the science explanations to be more advanced and potentially confusing than helpful or educational.  And with no pictures in the book, visual learners might be discouraged you from continuing to read the book.

If you did get through the sometimes pedantic and dry explanations, the middle chapters try to connect research between gut health and various conditions.  While I agree that gut health can affect a wide variety of conditions to varying degrees, I'm not sure Perlmutter understands how research works. I didn't go through and confirm each claim he made from the hundreds upon hundreds of studies he cites in the book, but the few that I did check concerned me. For example, in the text of the book he explained how one study showed that there was a link between a certain condition and gut health in humans.  But the study cited was an experiment done on mice!  While there is some overlap, mice and humans have different physiology so experiments done on mice give us vague clues about how humans will react.  In other words, there definitely could be a link but it is misleading and flat out incorrect to say that this is true for humans. In other health connections that were made were much more hyperbolic than the research he cited shows.  Again, I only looked at a handful of citations that interested me and perhaps have a naive view that if you take the time to write a book citing that much research, then you'll stick to the facts and add your clinical experience to support it.  Upon a more thorough examination, who knows what else I might find.

Science aside, where the book really falls short is his treatment section, where he explains what you, the newly-converted gut health expert, can do to heal and/or prevent any of the conditions discussed. Probiotics, taken in adequate amounts and variety are an important component of improving gut health. And while Perlmutter spends an entire chapter on probiotics, highlighting the different strains and their virtues, not once does he mention dosing or how to a quality probiotic.  The majority of my new patients  that take a self-prescribed probiotic either take a poor quality probiotic or too low of a dose so I was disappointed to find that this book lacked that crucial information.

Why Perlmutter would leave it out is beyond me. My initial thought was perhaps he doesn't want to venture into the gray zone of giving medical advice.  However, in another chapter, he mentions other supplements you can take for gut health, complete with dosing instructions.  So that clearly is not an issue.   On the plus side, he does have a section at the end with recipes for different fermentation products.

To sum it up, if you have a vague awareness that gut health and overall health are intertwined, this book might help deepen that understanding.  However, do not expect this book to give you a step-by-step guide on how to heal you gut.  It's more broad strokes gut health with a little creative interpretation of research thrown in. Personally, you won't see this book gracing my bookshelves any time soon.

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