What is the GAPS Diet?
GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, which is discussed in the Gut and Psychology Syndrome book by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. Dr. Natasha created the GAPS protocol, which is a temporary healing diet combined with lifestyle changes, to heal her own son’s autism. This protocol addresses the three underlying factors in a myriad of diseases: leaky gut, gut flora imbalance, and nutrient deficiencies.
In a nutshell, the GAPS Diet consists of:
- Elimination of complex carbohydrates, which feed pathogenic bacteria
- An emphasis on fermented foods and specific probiotic supplements to restore gut flora
- Plenty of nutrient-dense, traditional foods to restore nutrient deficiencies
- A specific series of food-reintroduction
- Lifestyle changes that include various detox and immune-boosting steps
My experience with the GAPS Diet
Why am I a believer in the GAPS Diet? Because I’ve experienced the life-changing results first hand! If you are unfamiliar with my story, here’s the speedy version:
Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at 14, I jumped from medication to medication (with terrible side effects) all throughout high school. They failed to work, and I had to leave college after my first semester because the situation was so severe. Doctors told me that my only option was the removal of my colon, to which I said NO WAY JOSÉ! I thew myself into research and discovered the GAPS diet, which allowed me to regain my health and marked the beginning of my journey with nutrition and a natural lifestyle. For more details, you can read my GAPS Experience post here and My Story here (which discusses why I got colitis in the first place, a question that I’m frequently asked).
I’m not saying that GAPS is all I needed to regain perfect health, because I still have health issues due to the severity of my situation, but I wouldn’t be here writing this blog if it wasn’t for GAPS.
Here are 10 reasons why the GAPS Diet may be the key to turning around your health, as it was for me:
1. You have an autoimmune disease
Did you know that all types of autoimmunity begins in the gut? Studies show that autoimmune disease all have a permeable intestinal lining – commonly called a leaky gut – in common. With a leaky gut, bacterial toxins and undigested food particles escape into the bloodstream instead of being detoxed (in the case of toxins) or fully digested (in the case of food). This creates both an inflammatory response and an antibody response. As a result, antibodies are triggered to your own healthy tissue and inflammation permeates your body.
The GAPS Diet removes foods that perpetuate a leaky gut while flooding the body with the building blocks of healthy tissues. As a result, the leaky gut has a chance to seal so foods can be re-introduced without igniting the antibodies.
2. You want to stop getting every cold that goes around
We have 4-6 pounds of bacteria in our gut and over 70% of the immune system resides in our gut. When the gut bacteria is out of balance, serious health issues like autoimmune diseases may occur in those who are also genetically predisposed. But more mild consequences result from imbalanced gut flora, including a weakened immune system.
If you are want to stop getting every cold and flu that goes around, the GAPS Diet may be the ultimate boost for your immune system.
3. You struggle with chronic candida overgrowth
I frequently get questions about candida overgrowth. My answer? “Forget what you thought you knew about candida and diet!” The Candida Diet is the most common approach to candida, but it falls woefully short of addressing the root cause of this fungal overgrowth. That’s because candida results from a leaky gut, and The Candida Diet only ineffectively starves the candida without fixing the cause.
The GAPS Diet is a much better approach to candida. Yes, it contains natural sugars from fruit and honey, but these sugars, as well as the nutrients in fruit, are important to nourish the body. By fixing your leaky gut with GAPS, you will be able to enjoy natural sugars while eliminating a chronic candida infection.
4. You have arthritis
Did you know that arthritis results from a leaky gut and gut flora imbalance? With a leaky gut, toxins from the digestive tract escape into the bloodstream and attach themselves to collagen molecules in the joints. As a result, the immune system recognizes the collagen as toxic, so it mounts an immune response and attacks it.
Arthritis can be effectively reversed by healing the gut with the GAPS Diet. The body will be able to properly manage inflammation – the inflammatory process with help cleanse the collagen of toxins, but the body will know when to turn off the inflammation to protect the collagen. Further, the arthritic process will not be perpetuated when the leaky gut is sealed.
5. Your child has autism or a learning disability
Autism, behavioral disorders and learning disabilities all start with The Gut-Brain Axis. This is the communication between the nerve cells and bacteria in the gut and the brain. It’s a very complex relationship, which is just beginning to get the attention it deserves from the mainstream medical circle. Now, numerous studies (1, 2) suggest a link between neuropsychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression, and the balance of bacteria in the gut.
The Gut-Brain axis is a very complex relationship, but Chris Kresser gives a very helpful basic summary in his Gut-Brain podcast episode:
[…] Leaky gut causes a state of chronic low grade inflammation. Then the inflammatory cytokines produced in the gut travel through the blood and they cross the blood-brain barrier. One of the problems with inflammation is that it makes the blood-brain barrier leaky so you get leaky brain. And then those inflammatory cytokines, once they get into the brain, activate the microglial cells, which are the second type of cell in the brain. […] Ene of the problems is that unlike the rest of the immune system in the body that has T-regulatory cells that can turn off inflammation in the brain, the microglial cells don’t get turned off. So, when you’ve got an inflamed brain it can be really tricky to reduce that inflammation without some outside help.
Another factor here is bacterial toxins escaping from the leaky gut and actually going to the brain. The GAPS Diet offers a comprehensive approach to seal the leaky gut and eliminate bacterial toxins properly.
6. You have depression or a mental illness
Mental illness isn’t a head problem, it’s a digestion problem. Depression, OCD, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia all can be addressed with the GAPS diet. Thousands of people have used the GAPS diet to address various mental illnesses with amazing results.
If we aren’t eating the right foods and digesting it properly, then we deprive our body of the tools it needs to regulate our moods. By correcting digestion and providing the body with the building blocks of health, GAPS addresses the following aspects which are at play in mental illness:
- neurotransmitter deficiency, which results from impaired protein digestion and imbalanced gut flora
- hormone imbalance, which is tied into all types of chronic disease
- leaky gut-brain axis, as discussed above, which basically means brain inflammation. It results from a permeable gut lining, which is a problem for all individuals with chronic disease
- higher levels of toxins, which results in nearly all forms of chronic disease because the detox mechanisms of the body is compromised.
7. You have stubborn hay fever and allergies
Did you know that seasonal allergies originate in the gut? We must have a healthy balance of gut flora to regulate histamine. My friend Sarah, at The Healthy Home Economist, explains in her post Pollen Is Not The Problem:
One such toxin produced by several types of gut pathogens (Proteus, E. coli, Staphylococci and others) is histamine which is actually an important neurotransmitter in the body. When these microbes grow unchecked in the gut due to a lack of beneficial flora, they overproduce histamine causing many functions in the body that react to histamine to go haywire as excessive amounts pour into the blood.
Is Benadryl your best friend? If so, you know you potentially suffer from an overgrowth of pathogens in your gut that are overproducing histamine! (Read more)
Sarah recommends the GAPS diet to rebalance gut flora and address the root cause of histamine overproduction.
8. You have anemia
Like all disease, as Hippocrates said, anemia begins in the gut. Severe anemia that is non-responsive to iron supplements indicate an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria.
Pathogenic bacteria use iron build biofilms, which are a protective mechanism. There’s a great article on this called You and Your Gut Flora on Paleo Leap:
Opportunistic bacteria and pathogens that take over when the gut flora becomes unbalanced create strong mesh-like structures called biofilms where they reside, hide from the immune system, thrive and multiply. Those biofilms are formed with the help of metals like calcium, iron and magnesium as well as carbohydrate structures called polysacharides. These metal and mucus structures act as a shield and make it very difficult or even impossible to attack the residing intruders with antibiotics or probiotics alone. (Source and read more)
The body is wise, and it will always take steps to prolong health. So the body “hides” iron – keeping it out of the bloodstream – so that the iron cannot be utilized by the pathogenic bacteria. But that means that iron can’t be utilized for beneficial uses, either. A holistic approach to anemia means addressing the pathogenic bacterial overgrowth with The GAPS Diet.
9. You have eczema
Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, holistic practitioners agree that the underlying cause relates to leaky gut and food intolerances. Many people have successfully used the GAPS Diet to reverse eczema, seeing results within a few days of starting the program!
If you or a family member struggles with eczema, know that eczema is a visible sign of underlying imbalances in the digestive system. Even if the eczema is mild, it’s your bodys way of telling you, “There is something much more serious going on here – please fix it before things get much worse!” The GAPS Diet will address these underlying problems.
10. You have taken (or are taking) oral contraceptives
In the GAPS Book, author Dr. Natasha discusses how oral contraceptives cause some irreversible damage to healthy gut flora. Sadly, since gut flora is passed on from mother to baby, the mother’s imbalanced gut health is passed on to her children, and likely even her grandchildren. Birth control pills also cause numerous nutrient deficiencies, such as B vitamin deficiencies, and disrupt most of the hormones in your body – a topic which I discuss here.
The good news, however, is that you can vastly repair your gut flora, nutrient deficiencies and hormonal imbalance with the GAPS Diet. I recommend it to any woman who has taken birth control pills and wants to improve her health, as well as the health of any future children that may be in the picture.
Get started with the GAPS Diet
If you are ready to address the root causes of your health issues with the GAPS Diet, I would highly encourage you to sign up for The GAPS Class, a one-of-a-kind online/live support resource for The GAPS Diet. It’s designed and taught by Certified GAPS Practitioner Melanie Christner, who is also a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner.
If you are more of a self-starter, you can embark on the GAPS journey yourself with the original GAPS Diet Book! I have many GAPS recipes on this website, and you can find additional GAPS cookbooks on Amazon.