Friday, February 17, 2012

Fresh reviews - Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS)

Ever since I stumbled into the world of read food, I've been hearing about GAPS, or Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It's a book by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, MMedSci (neurology), MMedSci (nutrition), and it is astounding.

I requested my local library order a copy, and finished it a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately I've had to return it, so don't have it with me as I finish writing this post. The thoughts I'm setting down here are what I've been mulling over since reading the book. I recommend you get your hands on your own copy to read and mull over, as I'm really only glossing over the book here.

Beneficial bacteria
Upon discovering her son was autistic, Dr Campbell-McBride set about researching possible causes and cures. What she learned is that all health begins in the gut, even mental health.

We need to have the right balance and quantity of digestive bacteria/gut flora to be truly healthy.

In a healthy gut these bacteria literally coat the walls, providing a natural barrier against invaders (bad bacteria), undigested food, toxins and parasites that would otherwise penetrate the gut wall and get directly into our bloodstream.

Beneficial bacteria are able to neutralise toxic substances, poisons, and many carcinogenic substances. They also digest food and convert it into nourishing substances for the gut lining to absorb.

If we don't have the right quantity and balance of gut flora, consequences can be dire.

Bad bacteria
Obvious effects of poor gut flora are digestive disorders and diseases like leaky gut syndrome, Chrohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and Celiac disease. But Campbell-McBride has also linked pyschological disorders such as autism, A.D.D, dyslexia, dyspraxia, A.D.H.D, depression and schizophrenia with digestive disorders.

Many of us today have compromised gut flora because they've been passed down from our mothers, who have had theirs damaged by antibiotics, the contraceptive pill and our overly-processed Western diet. We then pass our less than ideal bacteria on to our children, and digestive disorders become even worse in the next generation.

If we don't have the right kinds of gut bacteria in the right quantities, we can't absorb the nutrients in food, so we become malnourished. Certain foods, such as dietary fibre and lactose, cannot be digested at all without the help of specific beneficial bacteria, which is why some people find themselves intolerant to them.

Without protective gut flora, we also open ourselves up to harm from various invaders, which come in the form of toxins in our food and the environment, toxins produced by bad gut bacteria, vaccinations, etc.

20 years ago autism was virtually unheard of, afflicting only about 1 in 10,000 children. Today that figure is more like 1 in 150. And it's not because it was labelled differently 20 years ago. If that were the reason, there would be a lot more autistic adults about than there are.

No, the reason we are witnessing such a huge increase in the number of allergies, intolerances, psychological disorders and diseases like autism these days is because of the state of our guts. Many more children today are born with severely disturbed gut flora.

Dr Campbell-McBride makes the point that she has never met an autistic child who didn't also have digestive disorders of some sort. They are typically very picky eaters due to discomfort and the cravings caused by the bad bacteria ruling their guts. Most autistic children will seek out the starchy and sweet foods that continue to exacerbate their problems.

Children with very disturbed gut flora have weakened immunity, without beneficial bacteria fighting off invaders for them. These children can only take a certain amount of attack before their bodies turn on them.

There's no knowing what the tipping point to autism will be. For some children it is a vaccination that does it, as documented by Dr Robert Wakefield who found the measles virus in the gut lining of several autistic children he studied.

However, not all autistic children have been vaccinated, so that can't be the only cause. Other environmental and internal factors can also be the straw that breaks the camel's back, so to speak.

Other psychological disorders
Without the right types of beneficial bacteria predigesting food in GAPS people, other psychological problems like dyslexia,  dyspraxia, A.D.H.D. and A.D.D. can occur. This is because different proteins in food enter the blood stream undigested and have a drug-like effect on people, akin to an opiate.

With schizophrenics, Dr Campbell-McBride believes it is the toxins produced by bad bacteria that are affecting their brains and causing the symptoms of schizophrenia.

And then there are diseases like anorexia nervosa and bulimia that also have their roots in the digestive tract and so can't be healed by psychology alone.

Whatever the problem, Dr Campbell-McBride has seen it improve with the right diet - one that heals the gut and promotes beneficial bacteria to take back control of the digestive tract. She has coined this diet, GAPS.

The GAPS Diet
The GAPS Diet is set out in three stages, starting off very strict and getting slightly more relaxed as the gut is healed and foods re-introduced without problem.

The diet eliminates problem foods like starches and sugar (which are difficult to digest and/or which feed bad bacteria), while increasing consumption of healing foods like vegetable juices, meat, egg yolks, home-made yoghurt, stocks and broths (which are detoxifying, easy to digest and/or feed beneficial bacteria).

People typically need to follow the GAPS diet for two years to see true healing, and they mustn't ever return to a typical Western diet of refined flours and sugars or their symptoms could return.

Dr Campbell-McBride includes many GAPS friendly recipes in her book. She also offers tips for getting picky eaters to switch over to a GAPS diet.

GAPS is highly recommended for people with Celiac Disease, who need to do more than eliminate gluten to see true healing. It concerns Dr Campbell-McBride that current medical advice for sufferers of Celiac disease is only to avoid gluten. People with Celiac disease used to be advised to cut out all starchy foods, and had much better results than they do now with the gluten-free focus alone.

More information
You can read an outline of the GAPS diet here.

For a more comprehensive summary of Dr Campbell-McBride's book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, read what the Weston A Price Foundation has to say about it here.


  1. wow Emma, thanks for the summary, I need to read that book!

  2. I've been VERY interested in trying GAPS for years as I had 12" of my colon removed in college and have had digestive problems all my life. I know my children would benefit as well. However, I don't have the energy to prepare separate meals and I haven't been able to figure out how to do it with egg and nut allergies in the family...
    We are in the process of transitioning to a gluten/casein free diet for two of the four in the family (the other two are doing it in support of us and to help me reduce the amount of stress over meal planning). We'll see how that goes before we take any other drastic steps!

  3. Perhaps a more balanced view is needed. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

  4. great review Emma. i have the book and have been trying to get brave and try it... I think about how I have avoided so many foods for over a year now and if I just got organised and did GAPS I might be eating some of those foods now.


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