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Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Review: Brain Maker

Brain Maker is purportedly a book about your gut microbes, and how your intestinal flora can contribute to the health of your brain. I use the word purportedly because Dr. Perlmutter exhibits several red-flags that set off my "flim-flam" alert.

First of all, the book spends the first chapter talking like a snake oil salesman. All sorts of promises and exotic claims are made, most of which seem overly aggressive for a topic for which research is in its infancy.

As a matter of fact, a close read of the book reveals that Dr. Perlmutter's claims are indeed excessive. For instance, he cites his own patients' clinical history, but these are all one-offs, and he's careful not to claim that this works in all cases, or even to provide a semblance of success rates for his treatments. In particular, he tells patients to go to Europe to do FMT (fecal microbiotatransplant) operations, because it's still regulated as being too experimental in the US to perform as clinical practice.

In nearly every case, for every published research study he refers to, the study is small (under 30 people), and has not been replicated in a large scale trial. In some cases, his optimism might be merited, but if you're a scientist, one small scale study is hardly sufficient to recommend to lay people as clinical practice!

In the cases where the results are clear, they're also widely known and accepted, such as reference to studies that show that coffee is good for you.

Now it's clear that there's a lot of promising research on our microbiomes, but unfortunately, this book appears to be a quick attempt to cash in, rather than a thoughtful survey of upcoming research. Hence, it is not worth your time.

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