What is GAPS
GAPS is an acronym for Gut and Psychology Syndrome.
This concept was created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, M.D. She is the author of the book: “Gut and Psychology Syndrome: natural treatment for autism, dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, depression, and schizophrenia. ”
The GAPS method establishes the connection between the digestive system, (specifically the intestinal flora), and the rest of the body (especially the brain).
The GAPS method involves a specific diet, the detoxification of the body, and taking specific dietary supplements, to restore the health of the digestive system.
What happens typically in a GAPS patient?
Usually the newborn “GAPS baby” inherits of an abnormal intestinal flora from his parents. This is due to the fact that his / her parents (most often the mother) already have an unbalanced flora themselves. This can be due to antibiotics or other medications, inappropriate nutrition, or even to the exposure of heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum, and to various chemicals. These chemicals will be passed onto the baby via the placenta, and also via the vaginal flora at birth.
The disturbed intestinal flora of the baby causes him / her to have difficulties to digest, and will trigger digestive problems quite soon after birth (acid reflux, colic, diarrhea, constipation, etc.), which will lead to dietary deficiencies and intestinal wall inflammation.
The intestinal wall of the baby becomes then permeable. This is called “leaky gut syndrome”, and this leaky gut syndrome will create food intolerances and / or allergies, typically to dairy, but possibly to other foods as well.
Because the digestive tract is irritated, it affects the child’s ability to digest properly; the poorly digested food creates toxins, which then encourages pathogenic bacteria to develop in large quantities within the intestines. These toxins then pass through the porous intestinal wall (“leaky gut”), and proceed to the bloodstream, where they are then distributed throughout the body. When these toxins reach certain organs, such as the child’s ears-nose-throat, it creates infections such as rhinitis, otitis, bronchitis, etc. These infections are usually treated with antibiotics, which will disrupt the gut flora even further. This is the beginning of a vicious cycle of infections-antibiotics-infections, etc.
After a repetition of this vicious cycle, a certain number of toxins accumulate, and overload the detoxification organs (liver, kidneys, lungs, skin), which become overwhelmed, and this creates a permanent stress on the immune system. When the immune system is compromised, chronic allergies will appear, such as hay fever, eczema, dermatitis, asthma, and diverse repetitive chronic infections.
In adulthood, this vicious cycle will frequently contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases and / or chronic fatigue, chronic infections, hormonal problems, etc.
When toxins affect mostly the brain, we call this Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and when the rest of the body is affected, it is called Gut and Physiology Syndrome. In reality and in every single case, patients suffer from both syndromes. For example, typically an autistic child also suffers from chronic infections, eczema, bed-wetting, asthma, and / or constipation or chronic diarrhea.
What are GAPS symptoms?
In the case of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, the symptoms are: hyperactivity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning disabilities, behavior or social integration problems, obsessions, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, drug abuse, dietary behavior problems, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and autism, just to name a few.
In the case of Gut and Physiology Syndrome, the symptoms are: chronic infections such as sinusitis, ear infection, strep throat, cystitis, vaginal infections; autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus; skin problems such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, hives, allergies; respiratory problems such as asthma, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), persistent cough, bronchitis; and digestive problems such as colitis, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, gas, bloating etc.
The Wonderful intestinal flora
The intestinal flora is composed of a community of bacteria, parasites, viruses, protozoa, etc. which cohabit in harmony. It nourishes the whole body: the brain, the heart, the kidneys, the liver, etc., and it affects absolutely the ENTIRE body. We can compare the gut flora to the roots of a tree.
If the flora is healthy, we can say that the body and the brain are also healthy. But if the flora is unbalanced, it will affect any part of the body and any function of the body.
It is estimated that the intestines permanently contain about 3000 pathogens, which could make us sick, but these pathogens are “under the control” of the intestinal flora if it is healthy, and allows us not to be “infected” by these bacteria.
The Human Microbiote Project (HMP 2007-2015) is a worldwide project that studies the intestinal flora of individuals all around the world. The first conclusions of this project have already revealed many phenomenal attributes of the intestinal flora. For example, the human body consists of 10 times more bacteria than human cells, which means and in other words, that we are just a “shell” hosting millions of bacteria…! It is now well understood that 85% of the immune system is located on the intestine walls, and that if the intestinal flora of an individual was by chance sterilized, this individual could not survive.
The intestinal flora forms a thick and sticky layer to protect the intestinal wall; it produces vitamins B, K and digestive enzymes. It is also capable of chelating heavy metals. This has been proven in an experiment: where a first group of rats received antibiotics, and then mercury. The second group of rats just received only the mercury. The first group of rats developed mercury toxicity, but the second group did not. This proves the protective and chelating effect of a healthy intestinal flora.
What can damage the intestinal flora?
Many things, but the first is certainly the abuse of antibiotics, which has created a real epidemic of disturbed gut floras in our modern countries! Of course antibiotics have their purpose, but when given repeatedly, and especially to young children, who are still in the process of developing their immune system, then the antibiotics pose a real problem. Repetitive uses of medications are also contributing to the deterioration of the intestinal flora.
Other contributors to unbalanced flora are chemicals: cigarette smoke, pesticides, fertilizers, detergents, plastics, household cleaning products, cosmetics, etc., have invaded our daily lives, and contribute greatly to modern diseases, including the degeneration of intestinal flora.
Then come heavy metals: mercury, aluminum, lead, cadmium, etc., are now recognized as neurotoxic. Autistic children are often suffering from heavy metals toxicity to a great extent.
Added to this, is the fact that non-breastfed babies have fewer chances to develop a healthy intestinal flora, because infant formula, cow milk, or even soymilk are not appropriate for the newest and sensitive digestive system of an infant.
For these many reasons, a lot of people can certainly benefit from the GAPS diet, and start to improve their health.
What do we eat on GAPS diet?
First there is a list of foods to avoid:
- All cereals (pasta, bread, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, rye, wheat, spelt, etc.) and any cereals derived foods (flour, crackers, pancakes)
- All starches: potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes.
- All sugars and sweeteners except for raw honey
- All legumes (including soybeans)
- All prepared, take-out, type of food as it contains colorants, preservatives,
flavor enhancers, and additives.
Foods to Eat:
- Homemade meat and fish stocks and broths
- Soups made with these broths and stocks
- Bone marrow, cartilage, gelatin
- All meats, poultry, fish, and crustaceans (preferably wild, grass fed, organic)
- Organ meat: liver, kidney, heart, sweetbread, gizzards
- Eggs, organic pastured fed, free range
- All vegetables without starches
- All ripe fruit
- Dried fruits, nuts, and seeds after being soaked.
- Fermented milk products (yogurt, kefir, sour cream)
- Raw honey (unheated)
- Fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, Kim chi, fermented vegetable juice)
- Animal fats: butter, ghee, bacon, goose, pork, duck fat, and beef tallow.
- Organic, virgin, cold pressed oils, coconut oil, palm oil, and avocado, fresh or dried coconut.
- Desserts made from almonds or coconut flour, eggs, butter or coconut oil, plus carrots, squash, zucchini, butternut, fresh or dried fruit.
How long does a person stay on GAPS?
The GAPS regimen is not for life, even if it was the case, a person would be totally healthy. After re-balancing the intestinal flora, and repairing leaky gut, a person doesn’t need to continue on GAPS diet for the rest of her / his life.
On average, it takes about two years, but this remains very individual. Some people may reintroduce some food after 6 months or 12 months, others only after 5 years of the diet. Everything depends on the progresse and challenges of an individual. The length and the practicality of the GAPS diet is always something to discuss with a Certified GAPS Practitioner, so he /she can accompany you and guide you through the process. People suffering from GAPS issues generally have multiple health challenges, so it takes time, patience, and perseverance.
I consider GAPS diet as a very important basis on which the body can be profoundly nourished in order to repair itself. However, I always combine specific treatments in parallel to the GAPS diet, and according to each individual case with specific protocols to strengthen the immune system, to detoxify heavy metals, to treat candidiasis or parasites, or to support of the neuroendocrine system, etc.
The GAPS method will improve many patients’ health, and many symptoms and pathologies. When dealing with autism, the earlier the patient starts the diet, the better the expected results. The GAPS method has given hope to desperate families, who could not find satisfactory answers for their children. It has allowed moms and dads who knew instinctively that something could be done, for their children to recover from autism, and to live a healthy and normal life. It’s certainly worth making the effort!