What is GAPS?

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A couple weeks ago, before starting GAPS, I posted why my family has decided to start the GAPS diet. It may have made more sense to post the "what is GAPS?" before the "why GAPS?" but the latter was much simpler to answer. Summarizing GAPS is a much more difficult post to write. Next to the Bible, "GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome" is the most eye-opening, information-overloading, life-changing book I have ever read. It got to the point where I had to stop reading it at least an hour before bedtime or my brain would be so full of half-processed information that I was unable to shut my mind off and go to sleep (which is not so good for an already exhausted pregnant woman!) I am not someone who is easily overwhelmed, so I pressed on, knowing that I could never truly eat the same way again.

Knowing just how integral nutrition is to your body--and therefore health, vitality, and life--should not be something that we push off to the side because it might be too difficult to change our habits. The ripple effect that good nutrition has on our entire lives is worth every bit of sacrifice. It's like having a baby: no one really wants to go through the process of actually birthing a child, but it's completely worth it when you get to see your child; you know that what you went through was just a small price to pay for such a precious, priceless gift. In roughly 15 weeks, I will be giving birth to my third baby, so I am acutely aware of the impending pain and subsequent joy, and I feel like our GAPS journey will likely feel similar. There will be times of sacrifice,  frustration, exhaustion, feelings of missing out, and thoughts of "why the heck did I choose this?!" But at the end of it all, I am giving my family a healthy life. This is what keeps me going. This is what makes the sacrifice worth it.

As I mentioned, the GAPS book is so full of important-to-know information that I could never get it all down on a blog post. So if you really want a deeper look, make sure you purchase the book. You will not be disappointed.

Here are some of the noteworthy pieces of information from "Part One: What is going on?" from GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.

GAPS children:

  • "A large percentage of allergic and asthmatic children are dyspraxic and hyperactive to various degrees. Many of them have problems with concentration and attention span, which affect their learning ability... Children who suffer severe eczema in infancy quite often develop autistic features later in life."
  • In most cases, whether looking at a GAPS child or an adult, the person has a history of digestive issues that can be traced back to when they were weaned. Symptoms such as colic and vomiting are often seen in the first year as well.
  • In the second year of a GAPS child's life, they often develop fussy eating habits. They will limit their diet to foods that are starchy and sweet like cereals, popcorn, chips, crackers, bananas, breads, rice, fruit yogurts, etc. and avoid vegetables, most fruit, meats, fish, and eggs.

The digestive system:

The micro-flora of the digestive system is divided into three groups: essential or beneficial flora, opportunistic flora, and transitional flora.

  • Beneficial flora is the "friendly" bacteria and in a healthy person, these should be the most numerous type of bacteria
    • Beneficial bacteria causes the gut wall to have an acidic pH which is inhibits growth of pathogenic microbes
    • Beneficial bacteria provides a physical barrier and also produces substances that dissolve membranes of viruses and bacteria
    • Beneficial bacteria provide energy and nourishment to the cells in the digestive tract; if beneficial bacteria is lacking, then the digestive wall becomes impaired
    • When beneficial bacteria is absent, the villi degenerates and becomes unable to digest and absorb food properly, which leads to malabsorption, nutritional deficiences, and food intolerances
    • Dietary fibre cannot be digested without the help of beneficial bacteria. The bacterial action between beneficial bacteria and fibre produces many benefits to the digestive system and entire body, but when the good bacteria are damaged, fibre becomes a good habitat for pathogenic bacteria and causes inflammation in the gut wall
    • Many types of beneficial flora are responsible for synthesizing various nutrients; when the gut wall is damaged, we develop vitamin deficiencies, despite adequate nutrition or supplementation
    • Most people with abnormal flora have various stages of anemia. This is caused by the body's inability to absorb iron, but more importantly, people with damaged gut flora often have a specific group of pathogenic bacteria in their gut that consumes iron. So, supplementing with iron makes the bacteria grow stronger and does not remedy the deficiency
  • Opportunistic flora is comprised of many types of microbes that are capable of causing various health problems. In a healthy person, their numbers are limited and controlled by the beneficial flora, and should not cause issues.
    • Many of these bacteria, when in small numbers and controlled by beneficial bacteria, fulfill some beneficial functions
    • It seems to be that the types and numbers of our opportunistic flora determine what diseases we will get (if not kept under control)
    • Candida is a common fungus in this area that causes many people to have problems;
      • Candida flourishes on a sugar and processed carb diet
      • Broad-spectrum antibiotics have no effect on Candida, but they kill most other microbes in the body (good and bad) which leaves nothing to control the Candida and it grows and thrives
    •  Certain microbes, when not controlled, damage the gut wall causing it to become "leaky"
      • Partially digested food gets through the leaky gut wall and into the blood stream, where the immune system attacks them, thus causing food allergies and intolerance. Often when the gut wall is healed, allergies disappear
    • Certain cells in the body produce histamine naturally; histamine is also produced by a few types of opportunistic flora which causes the body to produce too much histamine
      • Common symptoms of too much histamine in the body: allergies, constantly low blood pressure, excessive production of body fluids, dysfunction of the hypothalamus with hormonal changes (PMS is a common result), emotional instability, sleep abnormalities, addictions, and others
      • An excess of histamine is commonly seen in people with depression, schizophrenia, addictions, and autism
  • Transitional flora is what we consume through food and drink. In a healthy person, the beneficial bacteria keeps these microbes from doing any harm as they pass through the digestive tract. But if the beneficial flora is not functioning properly, then this group of microbes can cause disease.

Dangers to gut flora:

  • Antibiotics
    • Many GAPS people have been exposed to numerous courses of antibiotics during their childhood for reasons such as ear infections, chest infections, impetigo, and through breast milk when treating mastitis in the mother
  • Pain killers or analgesics
  • Steroid drugs
    • A course of steroids most often corresponds with fungal overgrowth, particularly Candida
  • Contraceptive pills
    • "This group of drugs has a devastating effect on the gut flora. By the time a woman is ready to have children, she has been on these drugs for a long period of time and has an abnormal gut flora. A human baby is born with a sterile gut and acquires most of its gut flora from the mother. So if the mother has an abnormal gut flora, that is what she will pass to her child, predisposing this child to eczema, asthma and other allergies, and in severe cases to learning disabilities."
  • Diet
    • Sugary foods and processed carbs increase fungi, Candida, Streptococci, Staphylococci, Clostrida, Bacteroids, and other bacteria. They also promote population of worms and other parasites.
    • A diet high in fibre from grains has a negative effect on gut flora, predisposing the person to IBS, bowel cancer and nutritional deficiencies. Fruit and vegetables provide a better quality and easier to digest fibre.
  • Stress
  • Age
  • Alcoholism
  • Pollution
  • And more...

The immune system:

  • People with GAPS have a compromised immune system
    •  The immune system even starts to produce antibodies attacking the body's own tissues, including the brain and the rest of the nervous system
    • Virus from vaccines or the environment have a greater chance to survive and persist
    • "Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is the master of allergic reactions in the body; it is very active in people with asthma, eczema, hay fever, and other allergies. In a person with abnormal gut flora this Th2 system becomes overactive, which predisposes the person to atopic or allergic type reactions, chronic inflammation, autoimmunity and many other undesirable effects."
    • An "imbalance between Th1 and Th2 immunity with underactive Th1 and overactive Th2 is a usual picture in chronic viral infections, allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome, candidiasis, asthma, eczema, autism and most other GAPS conditions."

The gut-brain connection:

  • "One should not look at, let alone treat, any organ without taking the rest of the body into account... One area of medicine is particularly prone to look at its organ separately from the rest of the body, That area is psychiatry. Mental problems are examined from all sorts of angles: genetics, childhood experiences and psychological influences. The last thing that would be considered is looking at the patient's digestive system. Modern psychiatry just does not do that. And yet medical history has plenty of examples, where sever psychiatric conditions were cured by simply "cleaning out" the patient's gut."
  •  The vast majority of psychiatric patients suffer from digestive problems
  • An unknown number of various neurotoxins are produced by abnormal flora, which are absorbed through the damaged gut wall into the blood and taken to the brain; the mixture of toxins is different for individuals, so the resulting symptoms are different
  • In people with a yeast overgrowth, Candida digests glucose unnaturally, in a process called alcoholic fermentation; in this process, yeasts convert glucose into alcohol (ethanol) and its by-product acetaldehyde
    • Some people with yeast overgrowth are permanently "drunk" without drinking alcohol
    • An overgrowth of yeast in a pregnant woman would produce alcohol and affect the child's development; the child continues to consume alcohol through breastmilk and be born with an overgrowth of yeast that will cause him/her to continue to produce alcohol on its own
    • Chronic presence of alcohol in the body can cause:
      • Reduced ability of the stomach wall to produce stomach acid
      • Pancreas degeneration with reduced ability to produce pancreatic enzymes, which impairs digestion
      • Damage to gut lining, causing malabsorption
      • Nutritional deficiencies, due to malabsorption
      • Damage to immune system
      • Liver damage, causing reduced ability to detoxify drugs, pollutants and toxins
      • Inability of the liver to dispose of old neurotransmitters, hormones, and other by-products which can cause behavioural abnormalities and other issues
      • Brain damage with lack of self-control, impaired co-ordination, impaired speech development, aggression, mental retardation and loss of memory
      • Peripheral nerve damage with altered senses and muscle weakness
      • Muscle tissue damage
      • Enhanced toxicity of drugs, pollutants, and other toxins
      • Alteration of metabolism of proteins, carbs and lipids
    • Acetaldehyde alters the structure of proteins which is thought to be responsible for autoimmune reactions
    • The thyroid gland may be producing plenty of hormones, but if the working sites are occupied by acetaldehyde and other toxins, thyroid dysfunction can occur, causing depression, lethargy, fatigue, weight gain, poor body temperature control and poor immunity
  • When gluten (from grains) and casein (from dairy) are not digested properly, they turn into substances similar to opiates, such as morphine and heroin; these opiates get into the bloodstream and travel to the brain where they block certain areas of the brain
    • These "gluteomorphins" and "casomorphins" have been detected in people with schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, post-partum psychosis, eplilepsy, Downs syndrome, depression, and some autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis
  • A number of other toxins have been found in GAPS patients
  • Regarding epilepsy: "A very small percentage of seizures is triggered by a physical focus in the brain, such as a tumour, a vascular malformation or a scar left after trauma, infection, or a stroke. But even in these cases, when the diet is changed to remove nutritional deficiencies and reduce the level of toxicity getting into the brain of the person, the seizures reduce in frequency or disappear altogether."

GAPS Families:

  • Damage to the digestive system gets passed from generation to generation as a newborn gets its gut flora from the mother; as the damage is passed through generations, it gets deeper
    • "For example, this is quite a common scenario... a grandmother has mild digestive problems as a result of low-key gut dysbiosis. She passes moderately abnormal gut flora to her daughter. On top of that she decides not to breastfeed, because it is not fashionable. As a result, her daughter suffers from allergies, migraines, PMS and digestive problems. Then she takes contraceptive pills from the age of 16, which deepens the damage to her gut flora, not the mention a few courses of antibiotics along the way for various infections and a diet of fast foods. After 10 years of being "on the pill" she has children, to whom she passes her seriously abnormal gut flora. Her children develop digestive and immune problems, which then lead to eczema, asthma, autism, and other learning problems."
  • The most common health problems that mothers of GAPS children suffer from are: digestive disorders, asthma, eczema, hay fever and other allergies, migraines, PMS, arthritis, skin problems, chronic cystitis and vaginal thrush.
  •  The most common health problems that fathers of GAPS children suffer from are: digestive problems, asthma, eczema, migraines and skin problems.
  • The father is a contributor to a mother's vaginal flora through sexual contact, which would be passed on to a newborn
  • Breastmilk, especially colostrum, is vital for population of healthy microbial flora; bottle-fed babies develop completely different gut flora which predisposes them to asthma, eczema and allergies, and other health problems.
  • A mother with abnormal gut flora will have toxic substances and maldigested food absorbed into her bloodstream, which then gets excreted into breast milk.
    • In severe cases, mothers of GAPS children could not breastfeed because their baby would refuse the breast or fall asleep after the first few mouthfuls of breast milk.
    • Some of the toxins produced by abnormal gut flora have the chemical structure of opiates, which can cause the baby to fall asleep
    • Partially digested proteins and antigens have also been detected in breast milk and can cause babies to have eczema
  • A mother will also develop antibodies to her pathogenic flora, which gets passed on to the baby through breast milk. If the baby inherited abnormal flora from the mother, then it would be controlled by the antibodies with the baby is breastfeeding; when the breastfeeding stops, the protections stops. This is when ear infections, digestive problems, eczema, etc. develop

So there you have it! More information than you thought was possible to know about how important a healthy digestive system is!