Over the past few decades, more and more parents are finding out that their children struggle with a spectrum of behavioral and chronic diagnoses: Asthma, Allergies, Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia. There are also more adults that are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia later in life. Although all these conditions may seem separate, many people fall into multiple categories, suffering from both Asthma and bipolar disorder, or ADHD, Dyslexia, and Allergies. To add to the stress of parents, many of these children will also go on to become these adults that are diagnosed with psychological problems like bipolar disorder and depression.
Doctors who have seen multiple cases of these diagnoses have found that they all share a common root; many children who struggle with behavioral issues or chronic conditions also suffer with digestive problems. The same applies to adults as well. Adults with ADHD, Autism, Allergies and other chronic ailments may discover that as children, they were often fussy eaters and struggled with digestive health problems. This has led doctors to consider the gut as an integral component of the body’s health, and the source of many of its ailments.
GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It’s a condition where damaged gut flora and chemicals absorbed in the stomach affect the brain and other vital organs creating an imbalance in the body. Children and adults who suffer from GAPS have dealt with misdiagnoses and failed solutions for ages, and are looking for an effective treatment plan.
The gut serves a vital role in regulating the body. It’s where all the food and nutrients consumed by a person are digested, processed, and absorbed into the system. The digestive tract is open at both ends, and as such, is built in a way to protect the body as much as possible from the toxins, chemicals, and micro-organism that run through on a daily basis. For instance, there’s the lining to the gut, which includes a layer of finger-like cells called villi that are constantly renewed in the intestines. The beneficial bacteria in this layer help digest food to be absorbed in the lining. There’s also the enterocytes in the small intestines that contain digestive enzymes.
When the balance of the bacteria in the digestive tract, also called gut flora, is thrown off or destroyed, it affects how well these cells are renewed and their ability to function. When the protective layer doesn’t function properly, the body doesn’t protect itself or nourish itself well. This results in a weakened immune system, toxins that are spread throughout the blood stream, and vitamin deficiencies. Once the immune system is compromised and toxins are spreading, other organs (like the brain) can be negatively affected.
People who struggle from behavioral and physical illnesses may be suffering from GAPS, and thus would also struggle with digestive issues as well: bloating, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, colic, flatulence, or malnourishment. It can start at a young age when children’s diets consist of starchy processed foods more than vegetables and fruits. Over time, the damage to the stomach throws the body off balance, including the chemicals that regulate our moods and cognitive functions. Many patients diagnosed with autism, depression, schizophrenia, ADHD, psychosis, and auto-immunity show high levels of casomorphines and gluteomorphines, which signify a poor gut wall.
When children develop GAPS, they begin to show signs of difficulty processing their emotions in a healthy way and learning new skills. The change in gut flora negatively affects the way nutrients are absorbed, including vital nutrients that affect our thinking. This explains why children with autism tend to be pickier eaters, craving starchy and sugary foods. The lack of nutrients being provided through these foods aren’t fueling the body or helping it function in a cleaner way.
GAPS can begin to manifest itself later in life as well. Adults may not show significant symptoms as children, but by the time they reach adulthood their gut flora has been damaged for years and symptoms start showing themselves. Adults may have urinary tract infections, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or have a recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The most harmful aspect of adult GAPS is that in adult women, the some of the problems can be passed to children during pregnancy. After all, a child receives its first nutrients and flora from within the womb.
90% of the human body is composed of bacteria. The bacteria in the stomach, also known as gut flora, play an important role in breaking down nutrients so that the body can use them. There are three types of flora: essential flora, opportunistic flora, and transitional flora.
Essential flora are high in number in healthy people. They are native to the body and are friendly because they help digest food into nutrients that the cells in the body can absorb. The balance of these essential bacteria also affect the way the body builds cells. Essential flora include Bifidobacteria, Lactobacteria, Propionobacteria, strains of E. coli, Peptostreptococci, and Enterococci.
Opportunistic flora consists of microbes that are meant to exist at differing yet specific levels. More than 500 various species of this flora reside in the gut. They include Bacteroids, Peptococci, Staphylococci, Streptococci, Bacilli, Clostridia, yeasts, Enterobacteria, Fuzobacteria, Eubacteria, Catenobacteria, and others. The opportunistic flora aids in the digestion of food, and breaking down lipids and bile acids.
Transitional flora include microbes that are ingested in the body unintentionally through food and drink. As long as the beneficial flora and opportunistic flora are in balance, these microbes will pass through without causing harm.
If there’s an imbalance, the flora can begin attacking the body, allowing toxin to enter the blood stream and spread through the entire system. For example, alcoholism may increase certain strands of yeast bacteria in the gut. When these yeast interact with sugars and starches that are eaten, they create alcohol and its by-product, acetaldehyde. These become absorbed into the bloodstream easily, affecting the brain, affecting the fetus of a pregnant woman, affecting the child as he or she is being breastfed. The body essentially creates its own toxins due to a bacterial imbalance which weakens the immunity system and hinders the liver’s ability to decompose old neurotransmitters, thereby creating changes in the behavior of a patient. Toxins make their way to the brain, causing lack of self-control, anger issues, impaired speech development, and more
Doctors recommend that the GAPS diet be followed for 2 years in order to see results. This diet is used in conjunction with individualized guidance from a trained GAPS doctor based on a person’s unique deficiencies and imbalances. There are different general phases of the diet that take place, starting with an introductory diet of six stages.
Starts with a homemade fish or meat stock, which contains essential composites that aid rapidly growing cells in the gut. Stocks also having a soothing effect on the stomach that calms pain. It is recommended to make the stock from scratch using whole chickens or fish, especially joints and bones which aid in healing. Homemade soups are also recommended, including soups made from the stock. Most importantly, probiotics should be added to the diet during this stage. Probiotics can be vegetable based or dairy based, either the juice of vegetable melody or yoghurt. Probiotics help restore normal acid production in the stomach.
Continues with the regular consumption of the meat or fish stock with added probiotics. Raw organic egg yolks are also added to the stock, starting with one egg per day to one egg per bowl of soup. Stews and casseroles can be added at this stage, so long as spices are avoided. The amount of probiotics should be increased, and fermented fish and homemade ghee should be introduced.
Patients continue with all the dietary aspects that have been established. Pancakes made with organic nut butter, eggs, and fresh winter squash are eaten. The pancakes are fried in a pan with ghee, duck fat, or goose fat. Patients can eat scrambled eggs with ghee, duck fat, or goose fat, along with avocado, cooked vegetables, and preferably cooked onions which support a healthy digestive and immune system.
All stages of the introductory diet continue. Grilled and roasted meats are slowly added to the diet, served with fermented vegetables like saurkraut. One to two tablespoons of cold pressed olive oils are added to each meal. At this stage, it is good to start drinking freshly pressed juices on an empty stomach, starting with carrot juice in the morning or mid afternoon. Patients begin with a few spoonfuls, and if it sits well, they move up to a cup of juice a day. Bread can also be baked using any nuts or seeds that are ground into flour. Only a small piece of bread is eaten each day to begin with.
By this point, the diet includes a wide variety of foods to eat daily while maintaining the intake of probiotics, healthy fats, and juices. Cooked apple puree may be eaten. Next, raw vegetables are added, including the soft parts of lettuce and peeled cucumbers. Raw tomato, onion, cabbage, and carrot can be added. If the body is responding well to the carrot juice with celery, lettuce, and mint, the patients begin adding fruit into the mix, like apple, pineapple, and mango. It is still too early to ingest citrus fruits, as their acid content can throw the gut off balance.
6 th Stage
As the diet becomes fully implemented, patients at this stage can begin adding more raw fruits and honey. Cakes made with nut flour and sweetened with dry fruit can add a treat to the daily meal plan.
It is important to note that all stages should be implemented with a low dose and then observed for effects before increasing. If any allergies or negative reactions occur, patients should cease the particular aspect of the diet that is causing it and speak with a doctor. Patients should wait for stools to be normal and diarrhea to clear up before moving from one stage to the next.
*** When patients complete the introductory diet, the full diet can begin. The GAPS diet consists of eating meat absent of preservatives, raw vegetables, eggs, olive oils, and more. Patients on the diet avoid eating sugars, starches, potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, flour, and dairy products, preferably cutting out sugars and starches entirely. An important aspect of the diet is maintaining the pH balance in the gut. Meats, fish, egg and cheese need to be balanced with a serving of vegetables that will alkalize the acids in them. Another simple way to alkalize acids in the stomach is to drink one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in every glass of water.
Supplementing vital nutrients into the diet is another way to combat GAPS. Essential supplements include fatty acids like cod liver oil and fish oil, Vitamin A, digestive enzymes and probiotics, and other supportive vitamins and minerals.
GAPS is a complex disorder, and understanding GAPS and GAPS treatment requires learning a lot. For those interested in understanding this condition, there are resources available. The authoritative book on the subject is Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural treatment for autism, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression and schizophrenia by Dr. Natashia Cambell-McBride.