What does GAPS stand for?
Through the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride (Dr. NCM), MD, MMedSci (neurology), MMedSci (human nutrition) worked with hundreds of children and adults with neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD), schizophrenia, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), bi-polar disorder and other neuro-psychological and psychiatric problems. During this time, Dr NCM began to observe that many of her patients where also struggling with a range of physical or physiological issues as well.
Dr Natasha Campbell McBride came up with the term GAPS to refer to two specific Syndromes that she had observed. Firstly she observed and then described Gut And Psychology Syndrome (so GAPS for short) which establishes a connection between the state of a patient’s gut and the functioning of their brain (psychology). She also observed and described Gut and Physiology Syndrome (where again the acronym GAPS equally applies), which establishes a connection between the state of a patient’s gut and a range of physical conditions (physiology).
These days the term GAPS is most often used more broadly, to refer to the nutritional protocol that is used to help bring healing to the gut and therefore healing to these syndromes. More information on the GAPS nutritional protocol is provided below.
Is this understanding about the connections between the gut and overall health new?
No, not at all! Interestingly, this connection was identified and has been discussed by medics for many hundreds of years. The father of modern psychiatry French psychiatrist Phillipe Pinel (1745–1828), after working patients with mental health issues for many years, concluded in 1807: “The primary seat of insanity generally is in the region of the stomach and intestines.” Long before him Hippocrates (460-370 BC), the father of modern medicine said: “All diseases begin in the gut!”
What types of issues are included in the Syndromes that Dr NCM refers to?
Gut And Psychology Syndrome or GAPS includes learning disabilities and mental disorders, such as autism, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, addictions, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, epilepsy, eating disorders and many other conditions, which affect the function of the brain. Many of these conditions have no established diagnostic labels and present themselves as a mixture of various so-called mental symptoms: mood alterations, memory and cognitive problems, behavioural and social problems, panic attacks, anxiety, involuntary movements, various tics and fits, sensory problems, etc.
Gut And Physiology Syndrome or GAPS includes various chronic physical conditions, which stem from the unhealthy gut, such as autoimmune conditions (celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes type one, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, osteoarthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autoimmune skin problems, etc.), atopic conditions (asthma, eczema, various allergies), food allergy/intolerance, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, ME, multiple chemical sensitivity, arthritis, PMS and other menstrual problems, many endocrine disorders (thyroid, adrenal and other) and all digestive disorders (such as irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis and various colitis). Many conditions do not fit into any diagnostic box and can present as a mixture of symptoms: digestive problems, fatigue, muscular weakness, cramps and abnormal muscle tone, pain and ache in joints and muscles, skin problems, hormonal abnormalities.
In almost all cases the symptoms from both GAP Syndromes overlap: people with mental health issues often also suffer physical symptoms (painful joints and muscles, fatigue, skin problems, asthma, hormonal problems, autoimmunity), while people with physical conditions often have mental health symptoms (such as depression, ‘brain fog’, inability to concentrate, mood swings, sleep abnormalities, memory problems, anxiety, tremors, tics, fits, etc.). When the digestive system becomes damaged and unbalanced, instead of being a source of nourishment, the gut becomes a major source of toxicity in the body, meaning that nothing in the body can really function well. Any organ, any system, any cell can show symptoms of distress – often many of them respond with some symptoms.
So how was the dietary protocol now known as GAPS developed?
The GAPS diet is based on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). The SCD was invented by a renowned American paediatrician Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas in the first half of the 20th century. Dr. Haas and his colleagues spent many years researching the effects of diet on celiac disease and other digestive disorders. The results of this research were published in a comprehensive medical textbook “The Management of Celiac Disease”, written by Dr. Sidney V. Haas and Merrill P. Haas in 1951. The diet, described in the book, was accepted by the medical community all over the world as a cure for celiac disease and Dr. Sidney V. Haas was honoured for his pioneer work in the field of paediatrics. Unfortunately, when celiac disease was defined as a gluten intolerance or gluten enteropathy, the SCD was forgotten as somehow tainted as outdated information. It was brought back to life by a mother by the name of Elaine Gottschall. Following the success of the SCD with her daughter, Elaine Gottschall over the years helped thousands of people, suffering from Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, diverticulitis and various types of chronic diarrhoea to also find healing. But the most dramatic and fast recoveries she reported were in young children, who apart from digestive problems had serious behavioural abnormalities, such as autism, hyperactivity and night terrors. She devoted years of research into biochemical and biological basis of the diet and published a book, called “Breaking the Vicious Cycle. Intestinal Health Trough Diet.”
Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride used the SCD in her clinic for many years. Once she had accumulated valuable clinical experience she made several adjustments to the diet so that it would be appropriate for her patients with neurological, psychiatric and a broad range of physiological conditions as well. Through the years Dr NCM’s patients named the dietary regime – the GAPS diet.
So what does the GAPS diet or protocol actually involve?
The GAPs diet is actually much more than a way of eating, it is a comprehensive protocol that involves 3 major components:
- A healing diet (nutrient dense healing foods that act as medicine for the body);
- Supplementation; and
- Lifestyle changes.
Overall GAPs is a wonderful cleansing and healing protocol that helps to restore a healthier balance of bacteria in the gut, heal and seal the lining of the gut, improve digestion and nutrient absorption, and open up detoxification pathways. This in turn, may lead to the resolution of many of the GAPS symptoms listed above.
There are two main phases to the diet, they are the Introduction Diet and Full GAPS.
The Introduction Phases of GAPS – colloquially known as ‘Intro’
DR NCM recommends that most people start with the Introduction phase of the Diet. The introduction diet has 6 stages. People can move through these stages relatively quickly or slowly depending on the severity of their symptoms.
Intro is usually where the most intensive healing takes place as it is designed to help re-seal the gut lining, re-balance the gut microbiota, improve digestion and nutrient absorption, and open up detoxification pathways.
More detailed information on the six stages of the Introduction part of the diet can be found in the GAPS Book and on Dr NCMs website www.gaps.me.
The Full GAPs Diet
On occasions, it is recommended that people start with the full GAPS diet only moving back into Intro as required. However, in most cases people arrive at The Full GAPS diet (‘Full GAPS’) once they have successfully moved through the Introduction Diet.
It is important to note that even once you have made it to the Full GAPS diet, there may, at times, be a need to go back to the Introduction Diet for short periods of time in order to deal with stubborn symptoms such as loose stools, bloating, abdominal pain, emotionally instability etc… Healing tends to go through ups and downs. On the ups you can be more liberal with food but on the downs it may be necessary to be more restricted again.
So I’ve heard about The GAPS Diet and I think it would be amazing for me, my partner or my children – where do I start?
1. The absolute first (and non-negotiable) place to start is to purchase and read the The Gut and Psychology Book by Dr Natasha Campbell–McBride.
2. Following that, it can be helpful to read through the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that are accessible on Dr NCMs website www.gaps.me. These are questions that Dr NCM has answered over the years and in most cases will help to answer the question you have. There is also a wealth of other information on her website that can help to broaden your understanding of the protocol or help with trouble-shooting along the way.
3. You may like to consider finding a GAPS practitioner to help guide you through your GAPS journey. You can find a list of practitioners on Dr NCMs website listed by Country http://www.gaps.me/find-a-gaps-practitioner.php A GAPS practitioner can be an invaluable investment along the way as they will give you guidance as you start, practical help and troubleshooting along the way, and often access to a GAPS support group (led and facilitated by the practitioner) where you can meet and gain support (emotional, technical, and practical) from others.
4. If you want to read other peoples testimonies of healing from a range of health issues using GAPS then it would also be worth getting your hands on GAPS Stories. This provided the extra bit of encouragement that I needed to take the plunge into GAPS for my family.
5. Connect with others on the GAPS journey. There are a number of online support groups that may be of help on your journey. These are places to ask questions, share your story, read of others successes and usually a safe place to hang out while you prepare and launch into GAPS. Feel free to message me and I can send you an up to date list.
How and when can I come off the GAPS Diet?
It is usually recommended that the GAPS diet be strictly adhered to for at least 1.5 – 2 years. However, this depends entirely on the severity of the condition being treated, with some people recovering much quicker than others. As a general rule of thumb it is best to have at least 6 months of normal digestion and a resolution of major symptoms before starting to introduce foods that are outside the Full GAPS diet. Specific instructions are given in the book for transitioning off GAPS.
Further Reading and Information
The Gut and Psychology Book by Dr Natascha Campbell–McBride provides you with more information about the diet as well as some recipes. Her website: www.gaps.me also provides a lot of useful information. There is a section on her website called Gaps FAQS – this is a brilliant resource and documents Dr Natasha’s official responses to many frequently asked questions. (http://www.gaps.me/faqs.php)