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Gut Health 101: 6 Questions and Answers About A Strong Immune System and the GAPS Diet

August 7, 2009 · 31 comments

Gut & Psychology Syndrome

One of the topics I touch on here in the blog now and then is the issue of “gut health” and a strong immune system, but I don’t know if I’ve ever explained the very basics.  Keep in mind, though, that there’s just a lot that I simply don’t know, but in this post I hope to get the basics out there, and motivate you to then go and research more on your own.  So think of this post as a starting point.

Before we go further, were you just looking for some quick links? 

Gut Health 101:  6 Questions and Answers About A Strong Immune System and the GAPS Diet

1.  What is the “gut” anyway?

The gut is the intestinal tract.

2.  Why is gut health so important?

(Quotes below are from the Weston A. Price review of the book, GAPS/Gut and Psychology Syndrome)

Poor bacterial flora and digestion are at the heart of serious health problems. When children are born with intestinal bacterial imbalances or gut dysbiosis, they tend to have a compromised immune system and are prone to illness. Campbell- McBride brings to light the profound statements of Hippocrates that “All diseases begin in the gut.

“Although genetics is often provided as an explanation for brain disorders like autism and ADD/ADHD, as well as for psychiatric illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, genetics cannot explain the exponential increase in these health and developmental problems, says Dr. Campbell-McBride, because genetic changes work much more slowly.

Through studying the health of hundreds of patients with autism, learning disabilities, psychiatric illness and other problems, Campbell- McBride discovered that in virtually all cases these children and adults suffer from digestive problems, often of a severe nature. Through her research, she has determined a distinct correlation between unhealthy intestinal flora, poor digestion and toxicity from chemicals created by undigested foods, which can severely affect brain chemistry. She coins this relationship the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, or GAPS.”

3.  What wreaks havoc on gut health?

  • Sugar, grains – especially empty carbs (white grains/pasta/rice, sugar – even the more natural sugars)   “A child or adult who eats a diet high in difficult-to-digest carbohydrates such as grains and processed foods will continue to encourage the underlying condition of gut dysbiosis. Dr. Campbell-McBride states that people with damaged flora will crave the very foods that support the survival of the unhealthy bacteria, often to the exclusion and refusal of others.”  (Have you seen the post about the proper preparation of grains for optimal nutrition?)
  • Antibiotics: “anti” = against; “biotics” = bacteria – yes they clear out the bad bacteria causing an infection, which is sometimes needed, but they also take the good bacteria with it – only take if absolutely necessary.
  • A diet that is off balance between omega 6’s and omega 3’s. Most of us are too high in the omega 6’s, which are found in unhealthy vegetable oils and processed foods.  Some omega 6’s are needed, but they should be balanced with omega 3’s.  “Recent research has revealed that too much omega-6 in the diet creates an imbalance that can interfere with production of important prostaglandins.This disruption can result in increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.” From The Skinny on Fats.
  • Trans fats:  “Altered partially hydrogenated fats made from vegetable oils actually block utilization of essential fatty acids, causing many deleterious effects including sexual dysfunction, increased blood cholesterol and paralysis of the immune system.”  From The Skinny on Fats.
  • Stress. If you feel like you can’t eliminate it, then change how you react to it.
  • Toxins all around us, including those in our food, such as pesticides, preservatives, hormones, fake colorings, etc.  (Read your food labels!  Even better, eat food without labels!)
  • What else did I forget?

4.  What supports gut health?

5.  How does the GAPS diet come into this?

The above list only has bits and pieces and parts of the GAPS diet, and while they are all ways you can rebuild your immune system, the GAPS Diet book can explain more detailed information and give you the big picture.

6.  How can I learn more?

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  • { 21 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Ashley August 7, 2009 at 2:17 am

    This diet worked so well for our child with Asperger’s. His sensory issues went away. He was way less emotional and his aggression was far less as well. He still was a little hyperactive, but we think that was b/c he still was full of mercury from the 3 rhogam shots I received while pregnant. We did this diet for 9 months. My husband then decided it was too difficult for our family b/c we were fixing to move. We quit and my son has regressed some. If I could go back to it I would…it just takes a total commitment, but the benefits you’ll see in your child are phenominal. I am so blessed to say that my child is now almost totally recovered from autism…Praise God!! I would love to go back to this diet some day soon b/c I do not want him to have to be on the gf/cf diet the rest of his life…I would love to have him totally healed!

    Reply

    2 KitchenKop August 7, 2009 at 2:20 am

    I love to hear amazing testimonials like yours, Ashley, thank you for sharing such a great story of healing! Hopefully once you get moved you can get back to the diet for a while. :)

    Kelly

    Reply

    3 Vin - NaturalBias August 7, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Great topic, Kelly! My personal opinion is that a healthy gut is the foundation of optimal health. Without good intestinal health, we lose a significant portion of our immunity, we have an increased susceptibility to autoimmune disease, an increased potential to become malnourished, and that’s just scratching the surface! This is one of the many reasons why it’s so important to follow a clean diet.

    Reply

    4 Pamela August 7, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Thank you Kelly for this good foundational posting.
    As we move more with Nourishing Traditions, organic gardening, making weekly kombucha, kefir I’ve been reading some about the Gaps diet and find it interesting and worthy of using. Just through what we’ve been implementing over the past year has helped my husband a lot, he has 5 different digestive related troubles – 3 which are labeled autoimmune. Kombucha has helped his digestion so much. Eating lots of fresh organic vegetables from our garden this summer has been a big help, also.I plan on studying the Gaps diet more and integrating it into what we already are doing along with a whole lot more of lactose fermentation. Through all this it is my hope and prayer that we can turn his digestion around completely – so far were on good track.

    Reply

    5 Daily Diner August 7, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Gut health is so underestimated. The other day I took my kids to the doctor for their physical as reqired by law here in California. The nurse said “wow you havent been here in a long time”. We have only been to the Pediatrician 3 times (both kids combined) for illness in the past 7 years. No doubt that it is because we take care of our gut and it takes care of us.

    Reply

    6 Amy August 7, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Please comment more on the connection between digestive health and various auto immune diseases. Can anyone recommend good reading in this specific area? Thanks.

    Reply

    7 Vin - NaturalBias August 7, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    Hi Amy,

    When intestinal health declines, proteins are more likely to be incompletely digested and attacked by the immune system. A common symptom of poor intestinal health is hyperpermeability of the intestinal wall which means that incompletely digested food particles can get into the blood stream and invoke further immune activity. In some cases, the resulting antibodies attack human tissue.

    Gluten is a common example. Because some of it’s peptides match those of human tissue, the resulting antibodies that are created in the scenario above attack the human tissue. An excellent book to read on this topic is Dangerous Grains.

    Reply

    8 Ashley August 8, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Kelly,
    Do you know anyone who has had a child with autism who was healed from this diet? I mean like they did the diet for 2 years and then after that they went to a totally normal diet again…as far as they could eat gluten and dairy?? Just curious.

    Reply

    9 CHEESESLAVE August 8, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Dr. Campbell McBride, who wrote the book, reversed her own son’s autism:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/3664908/Curing-her-son-of-Autism-Dr-Natasha-CampbellMcBride

    Reply

    10 KitchenKop August 8, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    Hi Ashley,

    I’m going to look in the GAPS yahoo group for a more detailed answer, but in the meantime, here’s an excerpt for you…

    This is what Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (author of the GAPS book) said about her son (in Ann Marie’s link above):

    “There are no traces of autism in him now and he is leading a normal life. He is doing well at school and started playing rugby on his school team. His digestive system works like a clock now, though we still adhere to the diet, which I have described in detail in my book. The good news is that my son can have anything now on an occasional basis without it causing problems. However, the whole family is on this diet as it is very healthy and can prevent many health problems (such as weight gain, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune problems, osteoporosis, and allergies) in all members of the family. When we go on holiday we eat what is available, but when we come back home we go back to our diet because it is good for us. Both our children have a considerable knowledge of nutrition now and we often hear them lecturing their friends on what is good for them to eat and what is not.”

    Kelly

    Reply

    11 Baden August 9, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Dear Ashley,

    Elaine Gottschall was recently quoted regarding her daughter (who had not autism, but severe ulceritive colitis with terrible nightmares, etc). I believe her daughter was essentially fine after two years, but stayed on SCD perfectly for seven. She eventually reintroduced the occasional use of “normal” flour (for birthdays, etc) and potatoes, etc, but was still not able to eat rice without having bleeding.

    Several people on our GAPShelp list have also reported being able to move on to other foods: potatoes, stevia, cocoa, properly-prepared grains and pseudograins, fluid dairy, sea vegetables, etc.

    One fellow with Crohn’s did SCD, then surgery to resolve a physical issue, and then was able to eat absolutely anything. However, after some months he returned to SCD because, while his body was fine on conventional foods, his moods and thinking were much better if he stuck with SCD.

    The idea is that after the intensive healing period, we move on to a wider diet that is still truly healthy and nutrient-dense, and even include non-foods on occasion, but not to *regular* consumption of a conventional diet -as that’s what got us all here in the first place.

    For several success stories, including specifically around autism and similar issues, please see the opening and closing sections of the step-by-step guide to SCD/GAPS (www.gapsguide.com/book).

    Sincerely,
    Baden

    Reply

    12 KitchenKop August 9, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Wow, Baden, great info, thank you so much!

    Kelly

    Reply

    13 Catherine @ Healthy Fit Mom August 10, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Hi Kelly,
    I was only able to do the GAPS intro diet for three days. But those three days I had no candida symptoms at all. I thought that I had won this battle that I have fought for more than half my life.

    I went off of the diet but plan on going back on soon (going dairy free is so hard). It is healing and I plan to go back very soon. It is important to prepare.. without the preparation it is easy to fail.

    Reply

    14 Karen August 10, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Kelly – another super informative and helpful post. Through Dr. Thomas Cowan (co-wrote Fourfold Path to Healing with Sally Fallon,) I have been on the SCD for 5 months now for migraines and osteopenia…and it has helped immensely (that and reducing wine consumption.) No tests have ever shown any food allergies or sensitivities for me, but we know better when our bodies respond adversely. Fortunately I eat seasonal, whole foods which I have no doubt helps keep the rest of my system healthy when there is dysbiosis in the liver.

    Reply

    15 Yvonne February 27, 2010 at 9:58 am

    My friend’s daughter, 16, was diagnosed with severe ADHD two years ago. Now she is in the hospital for ulcerative colitis, though they are now suggesting it may be crohns disease. Of course the medical establishment has her on strong meds for her ADHD, and now are talking about a diet of white rice, white bread, vanilla pudding, etc. for the colitis, crohns – that is, after they stop the bleeding and pain with steroids and antibiotics! I’m almost positive there is a connection between the two disorders. Do you have any thoughts, or can you point me to someone who may be able to help?

    Reply

    16 KitchenKop February 27, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Yvonne, get your friend the GAPS book!!!!!
    Kelly

    Reply

    17 Stephanie March 26, 2011 at 12:03 am

    We did the GAPS diet for two years with my son who was diagnosed with Chronic Severe Ulcerative Colitis. He was very sick! As a family we decided to join him on the diet for 4 months (nearly 2 years ago now) and the results were unbelievable. I had 5 girls with varying degrees of eczema and 2 of them had it severe, waking in the night with the itching and pain. It was gone in 2 weeks on the diet. My receding gums were healing and pain-free by the end of 4 months. I lost weight and the children actually gained. My arthritis symptoms were gone. My son always saw improvement with flares when he was on the intro diet. It was the only way to stop the bleeding and diarrhea. The drugs helped very temorarily and brought down the extreme inflammation he had but it didn’t work very long. We all saw better health. We did go off the diet as a family partly because my son ended up in the hospital for a couple weeks and I wasn’t at home preparing everything and then it was hard to get back on it. Isaac stayed on it until last June. I heartily endorse the diet. The cost of it for all of us was also not doable anymore(there are 10 of us and we were/are in quite a lot of debt from our son’s illness, we always looked beyond the doctors for help and that isn’t covered by insurance) but we still eat the jello in the SCD diet, hm yogurt from the diet and we eat as organic and as whole food as we can. We eat as many GAPS diet meals a week as we can. I now make bone broth weekly, yogurt from our own goat milk (gotten just for our son), and lots of veggies. We avoid GMO foods and additives. I want to go back on it as a family to improve our health even more. It takes a lot of commitment and it goes against the way the whole world runs; fast food, church potlucks, camps, family gatherings, etc. Everything we do centers around eating and eating a lot and most of that includes breads and grains and sugar. I encourage anyone to give it a try. The intro diet will put anyone on the path to clearing up candida overgrowth and numerous other issues! God Bless! Sorry this was so long. This was/is my life. I’ve lived it a long time:)

    Reply

    18 laurie sifuentes June 12, 2011 at 9:28 am

    im having a real hard time understanding what to eat and what not to eat. i struggle with anxiety so i was hoping you could break it down with a list of do eats and don’t eats. please. please.

    Reply

    19 KitchenKop June 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm

    That is a lot to write out, but there are a ton of resources out now that could help you.

    –I’d suggest getting the GAPS Diet book (or renting at the library).
    –Cara has great meal plans for the intro part of GAPS and for the full GAPS diet: (see number 3 in this post) http://kellythekitchenkop.com/2011/03/three-new-real-food-resources.html
    –Also, you could try this class for more specific help (the class is called “Reversing Food Allergies”, but it’s a class about GAPS): http://kellythekitchenkop.com/2011/03/your-questions-answered-on-the-reversing-food-allergies-online-class.html

    Hope that helps!
    Kelly

    Reply

    20 Jeanne July 18, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Laurie, I could not have gotten started without the GAPS Guide Book. It starts with a preparation phase — without that, I wouldn’t be on GAPS. I took it step by step just as she outlined, buying necessary equipment and making my first beef broth while finishing eating the non-GAPS food in my fridge (and giving away the sugar and nasties).

    I took her advice to not look ahead to the next steps, because I knew I’d get overwhelmed. Once all the pieces were in place in my kitchen (and attitude), I did the 7-day Intro phase One that Baden also outlines. That ended Friday, and I flunked, because I gave in the cravings for my addictions. So, I’m starting the 7-day intro phase One again.

    I have very little idea what comes after Phase One. I’ll read about that when I put together a successful 7 days.

    I just read a fantastic blogger writing about her first two weeks on GAPS and I was flabbergasted at how far ahead she got in so little time, how many of the unusual dishes she cooked. I feel a little inferior in comparison. But hey, she’s young and fully of energy, and I’m old and tired and sick (and doing this alone). So all the power to her and everyone else who can move through the program quickly.

    I need simple, and slow. That’s what the GAPS Guide gives you. One step at a time. I do not own the Diet book yet, and I only started studying the main GAPS book after I started the Intro.

    Good luck!

    Reply

    21 Edie February 18, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    There are now Certified GAPS Practitioners through out the world, listed at http://www.gaps.me. Anyone who is feeling overwhelmed, has hit a road block on GAPS, or is not sure if GAPS is a good fit, can get support and a step by step, individualized plan to help you implement a healing protocol that is right for you and your family. Many of us do distance consults, as well.

    Reply

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