Tuesday, April 2, 2019

What is "Gut Health", The GAPS Diet, and What Does it Have to Do With Me?

We are an allergy family and I am the queen! But I don't intend for us to stay that way. You see, I have dealt with food allergies/eczema/staph infections/stomach problems most of my life and some of my children have inherited these things. While my catholic faith helps me to embrace the suffering sent to us in our life as a means to a greater good (I thank God for the teaching of redemptive suffering), there is nothing wrong with seeking healing along the way.

About 5 years ago I discovered the book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, and started reading it on a beach vacation we were on with family. Dr. Campbell McBride is not only a doctor with her own practice but also a mom whose child has recovered from a severe learning disability. As I read it, I felt like scales were being removed from my eyes, and I was being given a very clear picture of why I had dealt with these health issues for most of my life and why my children had. I have learned a lot from multiple doctors, homeopaths, health books, and bloggers about health, but this book was a game changer for me. You can google it and read other people's opinions and reviews, but I highly recommend you read it for yourself. This is by no means a "cliff notes" of the book. It is missing a lot of important details. If I included them, it would be the book itself. But it should give you a good summary of what it is about.

What's All This talk about "Gut Health"?

When someone uses the term "gut health" they are referring to the integrity of the intestinal lining we have in the small and large intestines. Why? These are some excerpts from the GAPS book that explain it very well:

"a human digestive tract is a long tube open to the outside world at it's start and at it's 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 on the surface of the gut epithelium, 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." (Gut and Psychology Syndrome, p. 16) 

"So 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..." (p. 17)

"If  the bacterial layer is damaged, or worse than that, abnormal, then the person's immune system is trying to function with its right hand tied behind its back." (p. 31)

Ok, so what can destroy this "gut health"?

According to GAPS, antibiotics, even anti-fungal antibiotics, drugs prescribed for long periods of time such as pain killers, steroid drugs, and contraceptives, poor diet with too much sugar and processed carbohydrates, a diet too high in fiber, bottle feeding, chronic disease, stress and many other factors. Unfortunately, the damage is passed on from generation to generation as a newborn baby gets its gut health from the mother. (taken from ch. 4 of Gut and Psychology Syndrome)

TAKE A DEEP BREATH. Because most of us have done some if not all of these for ourselves and/or our families. Sometimes you have to take an antibiotic. Sometimes you have to take prescription drugs. Sometimes you make unhealthy choices in your diet, we all do. Many moms have to bottle feed for multiple reasons. What I love is that, she offers a plan for healing. 

The Path to Healing

Please note*** This is only a summary of what she lays out as a comprehensive plan for healing the gut. You really do need the book to get the full picture. The important thing to realize is- this diet goes in stages. When you start to see some healing, and have followed through for her recommended amount of time, you move to the next stage.  

1. Diet! 
Avoid starches, grains, processed foods, and anything made from these sources. This includes starchy veggies and beans. Avoid Lactose and anything containing it. Avoid sugar and anything made with it. In the book she goes into great detail about the why's of all of this. 

2. Broth, Broth, and more Broth! 

"Meat, bone, and fish stock is a wonderful nutritional and digestive remedy. As you cook meats, bones and fish in water a lot of nutrients get extracted into the water...."(p. 132) "Meat and fish stocks provide building blocks for the rapidly growing cells of the gut lining and they have a soothing effect on any areas of inflammation in the gut. That is why they aid digestion and have been known for centuries as healing folk remedies for the digestive tract." (p. 145) 

She insists it is homemade and that you make certain you are using bones and joints, and that you do NOT use a microwave to reheat because it will destroy the nutritional benefits of it. 

3. Probiotic foods! 

This refers to naturally fermented foods, vegetable based or dairy based. Again, it is encouraged that these are homemade. Store bought yogurt is not an ideal source. Bubbies is one brand of store bought naturally fermented vegetables that is acceptable. We use this frequently.  

4. Supplements, Detoxification, Juicing, and Enemas!

 She includes in her regimen several supplements and daily doses including omega and cod liver oils, digestive enzymes, A and D, and her probiotic recommendations. She encourages fresh vegetable and fruit juicing as well as enemas done at home to help with the detoxing/cleansing process. Enemas are particularly important for constipation.  

The Stages

Dr. Campbell-McBride sets up a plan of phases/stages to use as a plan for healing on the GAPS diet. The first, the Introductory Diet includes 6 stages to progress through, gradually adding more and more to your diet, starting on mostly broth based soups. She suggests the introductory diet could last 2 weeks to a year depending on the severity of symptoms and the pace at which one heals. The second phase is the Full GAPS diet in which of course, you can eat more than the first phase. The last phase being- coming off the GAPS diet and reintroducing grains, starches etc. Everything is gradual and dependent on your own personal rate of healing.

What Health Conditions Does GAPS Propose to Improve?

Well considering this quote at the beginning of part 1 of the book:

"All Disease begins in the gut." -Hippocrates 460-370 B.C.

I would say every health problem would benefit from healing the gut but here is a list of several she mentions, some of which she devotes whole chapters to: 

Eating Disorders
Gastro-intestinal disorders
Auto-immune Disorders  

This is not even all listed. 

My personal experience with GAPS and what I do now...

I have 6 kids. I and most of them, needed the healing which this diet proposes to do. I, however, was not able to follow all of her recommendations, due to the size of my family and overall circumstances. There are some things I ignored, and there are some things I was just not capable of doing, like putting out gallons of homemade broth weekly for us 8 to drink daily (we did it several days a week), plus make everything from scratch, make fermented food and oh yea, manage the household. I didn't even really touch on the juicing or cleansing enemas. BUT. I did what I could. and still do. We did introductory diet for 2 weeks. It was really hard. Especially with young kids. But they did it. I managed to keep them on full GAPS for 2 years. It would have been better to do it longer, but my husband and I both had to give them an end in sight. I set out to tackle amongst all my kids and myself: multiple food allergies, eczema, ADD, SPD, bowel issues (gas and frequent stomach problems), and bed wetting. By participating in the plan she lays out at about 70%?, I have seen 1 child's eczema disappear, another greatly improved, gas problems improved greatly, one child's bed wetting improve (Dr. Campbell-McBride says this and some other issues could take several years to heal) and we have seen several specific food allergies disappear. We also saw a lot less illness overall while we were on GAPS. I think it is totally worth doing even if you can't fully do it. If you can, I would expect huge changes. Even since we are no longer on full GAPS, I continue to try to follow it as much as I can, and I still have my children eat fermented foods (Bubbies), drink bone broth, and take probiotic and oils, several times a week. 

Something that helped me a ton to go through GAPS were these 2 books: 

GAPS Guide, by Baden D. Lashkov. 
It is a step by step guide to following GAPS including recipes and what to expect, totally relatable written by a mom who has been through it.
This one was my favorite guide, because it was written by a mom of 5 kids, and she includes a lot of detail about how they did GAPS and how she made it work for their family. The Heal Your Gut Cookbook by Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett.

You can get both on Kindle.

I will continue to share my favorite recipes and ingredients of things I have used so, keep checking in.
Happy Gut Healing! :)

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