“Gut” Health is German For Good Health: Can They Teach Us Something?

Could you imagine a book called Charming Bowels becoming a best seller here in Australia? Well, that’s what happened for German author Giulia Ender’s debut book, Darm mit Charme, about the digestive tract, as it has sold more than 200,000 copies in her native Deutschland (Oltermann, 2014). When you consider that the average denizen of the UK spends some 2,208 hours on the toilet over a lifetime, which is around 92 days, it is a subject we may do well to delve into further (UKactive, 2017). Homo sapiens have been on a self-prescribed journey, over the last 200,000 years, from instinctive animal to doyen of consciousness. We are the intellectuals of the mammalian world; but have we lost touch with our essential selves? Aristotle, Plato, and all those scribes who wrote the Bible steered clear of the waste management function within human beings. This topic has always been beneath the remit of the great philosophers and religious prophets. The spirit rises above the messy realities of the body for the majority of those in the business of pretending genius and divinity. Practical health information, however, pertaining to bowel movements, constipation, defecation, and our gastrointestinal tract may well be linked to real enlightenment on this earthly plane. “Gut” health is German for good health: Can they teach us something?

A Wurst Diät Ist Nein Gut for Our Gut Health

Young German author Giulia Enders has obviously struck a chord in her native land and may well become a global sensation with her toilet tome. We all go to the toilet, even the holiest and most spiritual among us – it is a biological fact of life. We spend intense few years as toddlers and small children coming to terms with this, hopefully with the help of a loving mother and father. Mothers and their children experience first-hand the vital importance of this aspect of human life early on. We soon lose our appreciation of the significance of gastrointestinal function, as we progress through childhood into adolescence. Losing control of your bowels or an accident of this kind becomes somewhat shameful and taboo to the adult-bound human being. Toilet training is an important stage in the development of each individual person, though a visit to a public men’s toilet may shine a light on some endemic failures in this regard. Covid mask wearing has been a boon for this writer in these facilities in lessening the olfactory assault of late. Every dark cloud has a silver lining. Many of us experience ongoing issues with our digestive and gastrointestinal functions. It is a worldwide problem shared by millions and remains relatively underreported due to the culturally averse attitudes to the topic. Germany may be trumpeting the truth from the smallest room in the home. Why Germany? Perhaps it has something to do with all those sausages, a wurst Diät for our gut health ist nein gut (English translation: a sausage diet for our gut health is no good).

How We Can All Become Magicians in the Toilet

There have been other books written about defecating and its importance to our overall health. The American author Paul Theroux penned a sublime novel, Millroy the Magician, which creatively proffered practical health advice on this important activity (Theroux, 1993). Enders and Millroy both agree on not just sitting down on the job for best results. Squatting over the loo puts the body in a better anatomical position for effectively evacuating the bowel. In a somewhat similar relationship to childbirth being too comfortably seated or prone does not facilitate getting something out of the body via these passages. Living as we do primarily inside our heads, we continually forget that we have bodies designed to do these things if we allow ourselves to assume the natural position. Animals like cats and dogs expediently do their business outside with few issues in comparison to us weighty geniuses. The all-too-common haemorrhoid problem in human beings is directly related to too much sitting down on the job. Spending too long on the loo straining to expel faecal matter from an ill-conceived sitting position is at the core of many of our problems. Millroy shows how we can all become magicians in the toilet making waste disappear in the most natural way.

The Gut Brain Axis

Enders argues in her charming book that we, “are unduly proud of the complex achievements of our brain and heart, while regarding our bowels as little more than a shameful tube that produces “small brown heaps and farting noises.” Unfair oh it is all so unfair, and science is starting to tell us why. We now are beginning to understand that our gut health is inextricably linked to our overall wellbeing. Our moods and feelings are affected by the state of our microbiome. What we think, is influenced by the state of our health. Philosophers with sore tummies, generally, do not come up with buoyant and happy philosophical tracts. Our brains are connected to our gastrointestinal function in several ways. Our gut communicates with our brain via the vagus nerve and hormonal neurotransmitters (Bischoff, 2011). Finally, greater respect is coming to our gastrointestinal function and the essential part it plays in our overall health and wellbeing. Understanding the importance of consuming a nutritionally rich diet is at the forefront of this exciting development in human health. Eat more fibre must be the mantra for all those wishing to enjoy optimal health and fewer issues with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Our digestive systems work better when our microbiome is fed a fibre-rich and diverse diet.

The Nutritionally Barren Highway of Fast Foods

Eat less processed food and complex carbohydrates. Millroy was a powerful advocate for helping young people get off the nutritionally barren highway of fast foods. Adolescents are led by their senses toward excitement and the morally bankrupt advertising sector fill those ads for the fast-food industry with colour and sound. Soft drink companies and burger chains lead our kids astray like the Pied Piper. Addictions to convenient comfort foods set young people up for unhealthy adult lives. It leads their prematurely tired bodies to troubles in the toilet department even before middle age. Governments take no responsibility for this situation allowing multinationals to prey on their constituents hawking nutritionally inadequate products for profit. We the taxpayers pick up the bill in the end via huge health sector costs for the failing health of our citizens fed on this rubbish for years. It is an ever-expanding vicious cycle, with governments in the grip of lobbyists and political donations from these large, vested interests. You may have observed how governments have inquiries into these matters but never act on the recommendations. Thus, they are able to keep both sides happy by doing nothing but appearing to be attempting to do something. The cynical nature of politics is enough to send you running to the toilet.

The History of the Toilet

The modern flush toilet, here in Australia, is a seated commode. The ancient Romans had bench seat public toilets with holes bored into concrete or stone. Going to the toilet was a social occasion in Rome, where participants caught up on news whilst having a crap. Bottoms were wiped with a sea sponge on a stick, sometimes soaked in vinegar – ouch! European royalty and the well off in the Middle Ages had the ‘garderobe’ and the commode. The garderobe was a curtained off area with a hole in the wall or floor to a waste pit. Night soil men were employed to empty these pits. The commode was a piece of furniture with a seat and lid over a pot to catch the poo and pee. The first flush toilet was invented by Sir John Harrington, a godson of Elizabeth 1, in the sixteenth century. However, it was not until 1775 that the S-bend was invented to limit the foul odours inherent in the toilet situation (BAUS, 2021). There was a Thomas Crapper who was hired by Prince Edward in 1861 to construct lavatories in royal palaces in Britain. Famous names like Henry Doulton and Edward Johns have made names for themselves in the toilet business.

Technology often defines our human behaviour, and the modern toilet is no exception. The fact that we, here in the west, have all ended up sitting down on the job is due to the design of the modern toilet. In the east, many toilets remain a hole in the ground, where participants squat over said hole. Instances of haemorrhoids are far fewer in Asia than in Europe and its New World colonies. You can, however, take matters into your own hands and defeat the seated position by placing your feet on the toilet seat and squatting whilst defecating. Try it and see what you think. You might be surprised and find it remedies the need to strain. There may be room for a rethink on toilet design here in Australia and an opening for a clever entrepreneur on this basis. The noise around IBS and toileting issues will only get louder, as so many of us are suffering in this regard. Those ingenious Germans may not just be great designers of automobiles but have a few other good ideas up their sleeve.

Gesundheit = To Your Gut Health

As far back as the 1940’s Germans had an awareness of human microbiota and were developing probiotics and prebiotics. Also, due to prolonged food shortages over decades from WW1 onward the state was interested in optimising the nutritional element in limited food sources for the population. The Germans were, also, aware of the problems with diets very high in meat consumption in terms of the bacteria this produced and fed in the microbiome. Whereas diets high in plant fibre were far healthier and promoted longer lifespans.

To conclude, Giulia Enders has introduced the world to the concept of the charming bowel, perhaps resurrecting the profile of this misunderstood organ. This nutritional scientist from Frankfurt’s Goethe University is rewriting the toilet training book for homo sapiens of all ages. She is encouraging us to stop sitting down on the job and to get up and squat instead. I blame all those over-indulged kings overeating and spending too much time on the commode throne with the Groom of the Stool wiping their backsides for them. It has set such a bad example to us all. It seems that we can yet learn much about our microbiome and the gut brain axis. Understanding the importance of a nutritionally diverse diet with plenty of plant fibre is essential for good health. There are some wonderful organic probiotic and prebiotic products now available to assist with remediating your gut health. Enders and Millroy the Magician have your back end when it comes to righting wrongs in the gastrointestinal realm. Das ist mein bottom wahrheit (English translation: This is my bottom truth).

By Sudha Hamilton

Sudha Hamilton is a natural health writer, historian, and chef. His published titles include House Therapy: Discover Who You Really Are At Home; Healing Our Wellbeing; and Sacred Chef