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The Second Brain by Michael D. Gershon, M.D.
The Scientific Basis of Gut Instinct and a Groundbreaking New Understanding
of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine
Book Review by William Alford, Director of Resources, AGMD, Inc.
THE SECOND BRAIN. Copyright © 1998 by Michael D. Gershon, M.D. All rights reserved.
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
Dr. Michael Gershon is known as the father of neurogastroenterology. It is primarily through his decades of effort that the enteric (gut) nervous system has come to be recognized as an autonomous system of such complexity that it can truly be called the “second brain” of the human body. Dr. Gershon was also responsible for proving that serotonin is a primary neurotransmitter in the gut and these investigations, long rebuffed in the neuroscience world, have lead to the discovery of numerous other gut neurotransmitters by other investigators.
He has written this book in a first person narrative that gives it a very “human” and personal perspective for such a valuable medical subject and this will appeal to the lay person. While the topic can be rather complex at times, the book has a definite beginning, middle, and ending in the style of fiction and so engages the reader more than any dry medical text to entertain as well as inform.
The first part relates his early years as a radical medical pioneer working hard to convince his peers that serotonin was a neurotransmitter in the gut. The courage, difficulty, and perseverance are as inspiring as any science biography that you may read.
The middle section is a wealth of information about how the gut works. He takes you through a mouth to anus tour of anatomy and neurochemistry with the additional fascination of why things are the way they are from an evolutionary perspective. Soon you will have an appreciation and insight that will be sufficient to grasp the startling notion that there really are two separate brains in the human body and how they must work together. The reader can then understand why so many of the drugs that are intended for the brain in the head also have action in the brain in the gut.
The third section details his current work and the direction that research is now taking by many others around the globe that may very soon bring new understanding to what are now known as “functional diseases”. It is surprising to learn that Crohn's disease was once considered a mental illness until its pathology was finally understood. Dr. Gershon is certain that many other gastrointestinal diseases still described as “functional” by most in the GI arena, will fall out of this grouping with further research. In his own words, “I would like the readers of this book to realize that the discovery of the brain in their bowel is a breakthrough for hope.”