GAPS. Have you heard of this diet? Perhaps you’ve seen the GAPS book cover or the website and thought, “I don’t have any of those conditions, so it’s not for me.” Or someone’s told you all the things you cannot eat and you thought, “No way!”
For many reasons, people find GAPS overwhelming, irrelevant, or unapproachable. Today, I’d like to demystify it.
This is a “big picture” kind of post. I want you to grasp its vast implications without being overwhelmed by fine details. (More details will follow in the months to come in our GAPS series.)
The Heart of the Matter
Or rather, the guts. The author of the GAPS Diet, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, believes that we cannot be healthy without a healthy gut.
A healthy gut is a healthy, thriving population of beneficial organisms — she calls it a “micro-world” — that functions both to protect and nourish us.
GAPS is an acronym that stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. (When I heard her speak at Wise Traditions 2011, she mentioned it also stands for Gut and Physiology Syndrome, a companion book she is writing.)
If the gut is not healthy, we cannot be nourished well or protected against infection.
“A human digestive tract is a long tube open to the outside word at its start and at its end. Whatever harmful things there are in the outside world, our digestive system is a perfect entrance for them into our bodies. We eat and drink plenty of micro-organisms, chemicals and toxins every day.
How do we survive?
One of the major reasons is the fact that the whole length of the digestive tract is coated with a bacterial layer, much like a thick layer of turf, … providing a natural barrier against invaders, undigested food, toxins, and parasites.
And, just like a soil unprotected by turf becomes eroded, the gut wall suffers if its protective bacterial “turf” gets damaged.
How do our indigenous bacteria protect the gut wall?
Apart from providing a physical barrier, they work against invasive pathogenic microorganisms by producing antibiotic-like substances, anti-fungal volatiles, anti-viral substances … that dissolve membranes of viruses and bacteria, they engage the immune system to respond appropriately to invaders. In addition, by producing organic acids, the beneficial bacteria reduce pH near the wall of the gut to 4.0–5.0, making a very uncomfortable acidic environment for growth and activity of pathogenic “bad” microbes, which require more alkaline surroundings.
… if the beneficial bacteria in the gut are damaged and are not functioning as they should, then the “walls of the city” are not protected very well. Without protection, the gut wall is open to invasion by anything that comes along: a virus from vaccination or the environment, a ubiquitous fungus such as Candida Albicans, various bacteria and parasites and toxic substances, all of which are very capable of damaging our digestive system and causing a chronic inflammation in its walls.
… To make the situation even worse, without well functioning gut flora the gut wall not only becomes unprotected, but also malnourished. Normal gut flora provides a major source of energy and nourishment for the cells, which are lining the digestive tract. The beneficial bacteria living in the gut … digest the food, converting it into nourishing substances for the gut lining. … When the gut flora is compromised, the lack of nourishment it would produce adds to the damage of the digestive wall structure, which would further impair its ability to digest and absorb nutrients.”
–Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, GAPS book (page 16-17).
I know that was a lengthy quote, and since I told you we would demystify GAPS in this post, I want to do a quick review of the key points from the quote.
This is what you should take away:
The human gut is open to the world and takes in harmful substances day in and day out. We survive the onslaught if the human gut is protected by a thick and healthy bacterial layer. If the bacterial layer gets damaged, it cannot digest food well, nor can it protect us from invading parasites, fungus, virus, and harmful bacteria.
“A well-functioning gut with healthy gut flora holds the roots of our health. And, like a tree with sick roots is not going to thrive, the rest of the body cannot thrive without a well-functioning digestive system.” –Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, GAPS book (page 24).”
So… a healthy gut is vitally important!
Now there’s one more question to answer before we get to the implications of having a compromised gut and then the basic principles of healing — what causes this damage to the gut lining, leaving it susceptible to enemy invasion?
How Does the Gut Get Damaged in the First Place?
I’m glad you asked. Here’s a summary of the causes of gut damages, as shared in the GAPS book on pages 34 through 36.
- Diet. The modern diet of too many sugary foods and processed carbohydrates, as well as low fiber, feeds the bad guys. They looooovvvveeee sugar.
- Antibiotics. They’re indiscrimate about what they kill, good or bad organisms in the body.
- Bottle-feeding. Babies are born with a sterile gut. Breast milk passes a healthy mix of bacteria to the baby (provided the mother is healthy). Bottle-feeding gives a different mix of bacteria that leaves the child pre-disposed to health problems.
- Disease. Infectious diseases can damage the gut flora.
- Stress. Our gut can usually recover from short-term stress, but prolonged stress can permanently damage healthy gut flora.
- Other factors. Physical exertion, old age, alcoholism, pollution, exposure to toxic substances, extreme climate, babies born via C-Section, etc.
Pretty much everyone in today’s world has suffered from one or more of those factors. Could it be that most people are ideal candidates for the GAPS diet? Very possibly.
The Huge Implications
A compromised gut — abnormal gut flora — leads to all kinds of psychological and physiological ailments. Yes, the ones listed on the book cover above, like autism, ADHD, depression, and schizophrenia. But also eating disorders, fatigue, food allergies, environmental allergies (this is my story), nutritional deficiencies, infections (virus, bacteria, yeast, fungus, parasite), joint pain, hormonal imbalances, anemia…
We don’t need to get into the specifics each of these in this big picture post. We just need to understand how important healthy gut flora is, and how, if it is damaged, our health suffers. We also need to understand that the bad guys produce toxins in our bodies, disrupting or blocking important body systems (like hormones, metabolism, immune system), and eating our nutrients. That’s the bad news.
The bad guys need to be stopped and gut health restored!
So let’s get to the hopeful part of GAPS.
Reversing the Damage
We’ve laid out the problem, now let’s talk about the solution.
The GAPS diet is all about reversing damage in the gut and providing true nourishment for a nutrient-starved body.
You should not be surprised that a goal of the GAPS diet is to get rid of the invaders. But how exactly is this done?
- Deprive them of what they like to eat (sugary, processed carbohydrate foods) so they die off and therefore quit disrupting body systems, producing toxins, and generally wreaking havoc.
- Outcompete them with a high-quality probiotic supplement such as Bio-Kult.
- (Sometimes, people need to be under the care of a GAPS physician to treat specific parasitic or fungal infections.)
Another goal of the GAPS diet is to nourish the body. We do that by eating nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest, non-sugary foods, like:
- pastured meats
- healthy fats
- cooked and fresh veggies
- limited fruits
- fermented foods
Now you know what the GAPS diet is about — why it’s appropriate for many people and what it’s goals are. At least you know it in a nutshell, even if we haven’t gotten to specifics yet.
Where Do You Go From Here?
I (and guest posters) will cover a whole host of GAPS topics in the coming months in this GAPS series (each Wednesday). This series is not a replacement for the GAPS book — not in any way, shape, or form. So, the GAPS book is necessary reading for anyone interested.
If you missed the first post in this series, please check out Why I’m On The GAPS Diet.
Any questions or comments? What do you think of the GAPS diet so far? Did you learn anything new? Are you intrigued? If you found it overwhelming, do you still? Please share in the comments.
Disclaimer: Please realize that I’m not a doctor and that I’m not giving medical advice in this post. Please consult your health care professional to for medical advice.