Addressing the GAPS in Your Health
By Nancy Webster
* This is a two part series, the second article can be found at Addressing the GAPS in Your Health, Part 2
[Dear Beeyoutiful Readers: Of all the subjects I’ve written about over the years, I’m most passionate about gut health and am especially excited to offer this first of two articles on the subject. Since “the gut” affects virtually everyone, you’ll likely recognize yourself or loved ones in the examples in my article. After struggling from effects of unhappy digestive systems, our family has learned there IS HOPE for healing! So pour yourself a warm mug of bone broth (see sidebar on page 44-45) and read on! Blessings, Nancy]
“Diet has nothing to do with this,” the pediatric gastroenterologist told me when I asked how our nine year old son could have a chronically impacted colon after eating freshly ground, whole wheat bread, raw carrots, and apples every day.
“Your son is on the autism spectrum. Give him these drugs and this therapy and hope for the best,” the pediatric neurologist told us about our boy. (Later, we would be told this story for three more of our eight children.)
“Here are some steroid cream samples to try on the bumps on his arms, legs, and buttocks,” the dermatologist said of the same son.
“This prescription-strength antacid will take care of your severe stomach pains,” the adult gastroenterologist told him at eighteen.
A Family Affair
Although your story may have a different twist, you probably do have a story. Your pediatrician may have referred your child to a specialist for ear drainage tubes or a tonsillectomy after regular antibiotic treatment didn’t stop the earaches.
Or maybe your child is seeing an allergist. Or a reading specialist for dyslexia. Or a urologist for chronic urinary tract infections. Or a dermatologist for acne or eczema. Or a psychiatrist for ADHD or more difficult behaviors.
Children with problems like these usually aren’t the only ones in the family with health issues. In our family, I’ve been amount the others. After traditional treatments for childhood problems such as earaches and bad skin while growing up, I’ve had an “ornery” tummy. To handle the problem a few years ago, a doctor gave me Miralax (a popular remedy concocted from propylene glycol, a form of mineral oil found in brake fluid and antifreeze!). I also fought off bouts of depression with the typically prescribed anti-depressants.
Maybe in your family, there are teens or adults with painful or irregular menstruation or migraines. Perhaps a grown-up someone suffers from chronic cystitis, mood swings, anxiety, poor memory, or brain fog. It could be the problem is schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, anorexia, or bulimia. Or even Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Most families today have some combination of these stories. The bottom-line cause for these ills is dysbiosis, otherwise known as poor gut health.
From Greeks to GAPS
Enamored with its considerable successes, modern medical practice often fails to give appropriate credit to some foundational wisdom of the ages. About 2400 years ago, the Greek scientist Hippocrates observed, “All diseases begin in the gut.” And certain contemporary-mostly “alternative”-health research affirms the ancient sage’s assertion.
Even if your health problems do not cause specific stomach discomfort, they usually began because of the state of your digestive system. Regardless of (and sometimes because of) how many pills, lotions, and potions-or even healthy supplements-you take, if you do not heal your gut, you cannot be as healthy as you were designed to be. It’s funny (and sad) how today’s allopathic medical community seems ignorant of this simple fact.
The centrality of gut health is the premise behind the highly successful gut-healing protocol of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, a physician in England and the author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome and soon-to-be-published Gut and Physiology Syndrome. The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet, as her program is called, has delivered thousands of patients worldwide from all sorts of physical and mental health problems standard medical treatments could not fix.
The GAPS Diet is strongly endorsed by the Weston A. Price Foundation, and as you may know, Beeyoutiful promotes the WAPF nutrient-dense, properly prepared foods explained fully in Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions However, thanks to the increasingly processed, preserved, and polluted diets of even our great-grandparents, our digestive systems and those of our children may not be able to tolerate all the WAPF-recommended foods until serious attention is given to improving gut function. The GAPS Diet provides a step-by-step path to better digestion-and therefore-better health-by improving tolerance of a wider range of healthy foods.
To understand the importance of the GAPS Diet, it is crucial to grasp exactly how health problems develop in families. It is not genetics in the way we’ve been influenced to think of “passing down” problems to our children. There appear to be familial weaknesses for things like cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and even autism. But more than “genetic weakness”, it’s likely that similar bad diets and lifestyles are the cause for this heightened possibility. So don’t resign yourself to thinking you’re doomed to get your dad’s diabetes or your mom’s arthritis!
Health risks to the next generation start when a baby is born to a mother whose intestinal health is compromised by an over growth of bad bacteria. This could be due to her diet, antibiotic use, past use of the birth control pill, or any of an assortment of other unhealthy choices. The unborn baby’s digestive tract is sterile until, just before being born, he gulps form the womb or birth canal. That fluid contains the same good or bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi as the mother’s digestive tract and determines the starting point for the newborn’s gut health.
Dr. McBride writes:
Amongst all the parents of GAPS children I have met, the mother always invariably has signs of chronic gut dysbiosis…The most common health problems (of the mothers) are: digestive disorders, asthma, eczema, hay fever and other allergies, migraines, PMS, arthritis, skin problems, chronic cystitis, and vaginal thrush. These conditions seem to be unrelated, but they are all children of one parent-Gut Dysbiosis.
She notes, too, that fathers contribute to vaginal flora, so dad’s gut health also affects the child’s well being.
Feeding in infancy also contributes to a baby’s present and future health. It is commonly known that “breast is best,” and that formula-fed babies routinely suffer more health problems. However, if the breast delivers milk from a mother with bad gut flora, the baby is getting the same bad bacteria. While the natural antibody protection of breast milk helps the baby hold off manifestations of health problems until weaning, the “polluted milk” is still harmful in the long run (although still preferable to formula). A nursing mom can benefit her baby’s tummy flora by improving her own gut health.
“Insult to injury” happens to many babies within days of being born, when their immature and often unhealthy digestive tracts are inundated with immunizations. Then come solid foods. Most moms start their children on starchy cereal and fruit, favorite foods of the Candida fungi baby most likely got from mom’s body. Next come easy-nibble foods like crackers and cookies, and it’s not long before ear infections and antibiotics start. With that, the Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome spreads to another innocent family member.
The Inside Story
Gut-related problems show themselves in an assortment of ways.
When bad bacteria overwhelm good bacteria, there is no protection for the lining of the gut. It degenerates and cannot digest and absorb food properly, leading to mal-absorption, nutritional deficiencies, and food intolerances. Protein molecules from undigested food leak through the gut wall into the bloodstream, causing allergic reactions and aberrant behaviors.
In a healthy gut, rich with beneficial flora, dietary fiber helps the body to absorb toxins, activate metabolism, recycle bile and cholesterol, and more. But in an unhealthy gut, fiber can actually be harmful to the digestive system by housing bad bacteria and aggravating inflammation in the gut wall. That’s why the early stages of the GAPS Diet are strictly low in fiber.
A startling number of people these days claim to be lactose intolerant as they age. Doctors say this is caused by the disappearance of lactase, the enzyme required to digest lactose (milk sugar). Howerever, some people still manage to digest milk perfectly well. Why? Because these folks have the right bacteria in the digestive system to perform the job. So if a person improves digestive health, he or she may again be able to handle dairy products.
Children or adults with gut dysbiosis generally show vitamin deficiencies, especially in the Vitamin B group, the ones essential for mental and emotional stability. This is because another job of a healthy gut is to manufacture vitamins and amino acids. Supplementation is a good crutch, but it is not the best long-term solution, because it does not address the root of the problem.
Iron deficiency is another condition which comes with an “off” gut. Pathogenic, iron-loving bacteria take over and prevent the body from absorbing the iron in food. These bacteria actually feed on iron supplements, making the anemia worse, so many people with GAPS are pale and lack energy.
The most famous bad guy in unhealthy guts is the fungus Candida albicans. Dr. McBride believes many of the symptoms blamed on Candida are a result of gut dysbiosis, because Candida albicans thrive with many other opportunistic, pathogenic microbes. This includes bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and other strains of yeast. All it takes to give Candida and its buddies a leg up is a course or two of broad-spectrum antibiotics.
I listed the problem of gut leakage above but want to explain a bit more, since food allergies and intolerances have become such a problem for many people. When normal gut flora is present, the intestinal wall is strong and impermeable. But if things get out of whack, spiral-shaped, bad bacteria, Candida, and parasites pike roots through this protective wall so partially digested food particles “leak” into the bloodstream. The immune system sees these particles as foreigners and triggers sneezing, extra mucus production, and other allergic-like reactions to get the blood clean again.
This is why food allergies or intolerances can crop up even though they many not have been a problem at an earlier time. Nothing is wrong with the food. It simply doesn’t get digested properly before leaking through the damaged gut wall. On this point, Dr. McBride concludes, “in order to eliminate food allergies, it is not the foods we need to concentrate on, but the gut wall.” She notes that many food intolerances disappear when the gut wall is healed, and that true deadly food allergies are rare.
Hippocrates knew that all health problems begin in the gut. With a proper understanding and treatment of the digestive system problems, it could be that most of our health problems just may end there as well.
[If you can’t wait three months for the “rest of the story” in the next Beeyoutiful catalog, I encourage you to study Dr. McBride’s website www.GAPS.me Next time, I’ll report on why a gluten-free diet may not be sufficient for healing, explain ways to clear up stubborn infections without antibiotic use, and tell a few more stories about the GAPS diet and its healing effects on members of our large family-including a “booster diet” which helped relieve most of our daughter’s problems with autism.]
Nancy Webster is one of Beeyoutiful’s more prolific researchers and writers, a homeschool mother of eight, and a leader of the Southern Middle Tennessee chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation. She lives with her family on their “partially working” farm in Tennessee.