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BOOK REVIEW: The Mystery Gut by Prof Kerryn Phelps AM with Dr Claudia Lee & Jaime Rose Chambers

| 18 January 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Mystery Gut by Prof Kerryn Phelps AM with Dr Claudia Lee & Jaime Rose Chambers

Pan Macmillan Australia
August 2017
Paperback, $27.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Non-Fiction/Health & Personal Development


For too long it was assumed that the gut was a mere food processor in the body. But recent research in this area has revealed that the gut is actually quite a complex interface and – like the brain – it has its own nervous system. The gut also impacts our general wellbeing, immunity, mood and memory. The Mystery Gut is a well-researched and highly readable book and guide that explains our digestive system and some common conditions and issues. It also offers practical advice, recommendations and recipes to improve your gut health.

The gut is a complicated environment of nerve connections and chemical reactions and interactions, with its own active bacterial population. The functioning of the gut not only governs the absorption of nutrients, but also modulates the immune system, influences brain function and can also affect other parts of the body, such as the skin, muscles and joints.

This volume is written by Professor Kerryn Phelps, an academic and doctor with decades of experience working in the medical field. The co-authors are: Dr Claudia Lee, a GP with over 15 years’ experience and Phelps’ daughter, Jaime Rose Chambers, an accredited dietician and self-confessed foodie. These three ladies are not gastroenterologists but they do have a wide range of experience treating patients with different gut ailments at their clinic. Some of their patients’ experiences are included here as case studies, like the following:

Josie had no idea she was lactose intolerant: “I had a large milky coffee and yoghurt with my breakfast every morning without fail. I assumed bloating was normal, and that it was coffee that got me racing to the bathroom before work.’ It was while investigating the cause of her severe adult eczema that we discovered a strong family history of bowel cancer, and referred her for endoscopy and colonoscopy to exclude any precancerous polyps, and to check for bowel conditions such as coeliac disease or bowel inflammation which may cause a similar skin condition. Fortunately only lactase deficiency was detected, and this discovery was transformative, as it allowed Josie to reduce lactose and jump-start her health with better energy to continue her other investigations. It was also an insight into listening to the signals the body was sending and noticing how other foods and lifestyle factors, such as sleep and stress, were affecting her eczema and health.

This book is divided into five separate sections. Part one educates the reader about how the gut works and describes our gut microbiomes. It also offers us advice about how to cultivate a good microbiome with your typical recommendations like: have a good diet, exercise regularly, stress less and sleep well. The next few sections describe different symptoms like nausea, bloating, and other issues you should never ignore without seeking medical intervention. The final part is penned by Chambers and contains 30 healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

One of the most difficult parts of the mystery gut journey is making changes to your diet. Every day in our clinic I see people who’ve been advised to make changes to their diet by a doctor or a specialist. Invariably, they will have attempted this diet change themselves and be feeling pretty miserable, eating from a small list of ‘okay’ foods day in, day out.
My job as a dietitian during a mystery guy journey is to consider all of the foods available to my patient, then put together a nutritious but exciting meal plan that not only helps return gut function to normal, but also makes food and meals more interesting – and something to look forward to. After all, food is for health, but it is also for the soul.

The Mystery Gut is easy to understand and it’s well-referenced. It also does not promise to be a cure-all for every ailment and advocates seeking medical help and assistance for more information. As a starting point for those concerned about their health and gut function, however, it’s a good little guide. Topics like normal bowel motions are described and shown in a diagrammatic form using the Bristol stool chart. This can help dispel misconceptions and help people to get a good grasp on what is considered inflammation or dysfunction versus what is normal.

In medical terms, bowel function is a focus from the day you’re born, when a thick green/black paste called meconium, which has accumulated during embryonic life is discharged from the bowel to signal that it’s now open for business. This is yet another cause for celebration in any life. From then on, the number and consistency of bowel motions are discussed relating to infant feeds and wellbeing, followed by the ups and downs of toilet training. But once bowel function becomes a habit, it becomes a private one, and people often tell us that they assumed their irregular or infrequent bowel action was ‘normal, as it was never discussed.’

This volume advocates taking a stool pathogen PCR test if you suspect that you have a parasitic infection. This is tricky territory with some practitioners claiming in the media that these tests are unnecessary because some people have gut parasites that are harmless or cause no symptoms. But the writers here state that these can be useful to properly diagnose problems in the individuals that have symptoms and in order to formulate targeted treatment plans.

If you think your symptoms could be due to a parasitic infection, you’ll need to see your doctor to arrange a stool pathogen PCR test. If it shows that a parasite is present, your GP should recommend treatment with appropriate antibiotic and probiotics or refer you to a gastroenterologist or an infectious disease specialist who will provide treatment. Bear in mind that the antibiotic or antibiotic combination they recommend may change over time depending on current thinking and knowledge of pathogen sensitivity or resistance to medications.

There is also a chapter in this guide about the potential relationship between the gut and patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, which is likely to meet some controversy due to the somewhat contentious nature of this illness in some circles. One thing that is apparent from these parts of the book is that more research needs to be carried out because there are still a lot of unknowns with respect to the gut’s role in our body and its relationship to different ailments.

The Mystery Gut is ultimately a handy guide to an important part of our bodies and an area that requires more medical research and attention. It tackles various medical conditions from irritable bowel syndrome and food intolerances through to stomach ulcers, bowel cancer, and more. It breaks these down and explains them in a way that is quite easy to follow and digest. The Mystery Gut will help educate and inform people about normal gut function and how their guts could be impacting their health from obvious stomach upsets through to issues with their skin, joints, mood and more. This book will never replace face-to-face medical interventions but it is still a handy go-to guide for people wanting to get clued up on a topic that is elusive and sensitive, but by no means insignificant.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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