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GAPS diet by Dr Mercola

Article by Angela Haldane

The importance of your gut flora, and its influence on your health cannot be overstated. It's truly profound.

Your gut literally serves as your second brain, and even produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin—known to have a beneficial influence on your mood—than your brain does.

Your gut is also home to countless bacteria, both good and bad. These bacteria outnumber the cells in your body by at least 10 to one, and maintaining the ideal balance of good and bad bacteria forms the foundation for good health—physical, mental and emotional.

The challenge is to identify strategies to optimize that bacterial population, so that you can live in a beneficial, symbiotic relationship where they nourish you, help you fight disease, and optimize your health. This is where the GAPS Nutritional Program comes in.

Here, we begin by discussing the basic principles for how to implement the GAPS program. GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. It also stands for Gut and Physiology Syndrome.

"In terms of Gut and Psychology Syndrome, we are talking about the functioning of the brain of the person," Dr. McBride explains. "Any dysfunction of the brain is usually connected to what's going on in the digestive system. In Gut and Physiology Syndrome, we're talking about the functioning of the rest of the body. Hippocrates… made a statement that all diseases begin in the gut. The more we learn now with all our modern scientific tools, the more we realize just how correct he was."

In terms of Gut and Physiology Syndrome, we're talking about all forms of autoimmunity and inflammatory diseases and conditions, such as:

Multiple sclerosis Type 1 diabetes Rheumatoid arthritis Osteoarthritis
Lupus Crohn's disease Ulcerative colitis Chronic skin conditions
Kidney problems Urinary conditions Allergic and atopic conditions Degenerative conditions
Chronic fatigue syndrome Fibromyalgia Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) Inflammatory bowel diseases
If you're suffering from any of these conditions, or virtually any other health challenge, you'd be wise to implement the GAPS program. While Dr. McBride's book is called Gut and Psychology Syndrome, the nutritional protocol for addressing physiological and psychological conditions is identical. She is working on a second book, which will be called Gut and Physiology Syndrome, but in the meantime; please refer to her original book, as the practical dietary information will be the same.

"Once you heal and seal your gut lining, and once you make your digestive system healthy and working properly again, you'll be surprised how many various symptoms in your body originated from your digestive system. Most symptoms start disappearing, because the health and the disease are usually born inside your digestive system. That's where they originate from," she explains.

What is the GAPS Nutritional Protocol?

The GAPS protocol is designed to restore the integrity of your gut lining.

"Our digestive system is lined by very specialized cells, which are called enterocytes. These little cells only live for a few days," Dr. McBride explains. "They live for two or three days. Then… they die, get shed off, and get replaced by new, healthy enterocytes. The cell regeneration process in your gut lining is a very active process.

… We have a real chance to heal and seal our damaged gut lining thanks to this wonderful process of cell regeneration. But here's the catch: in order for your body to give birth to healthy functioning baby enterocytes, it needs two factors. It needs building blocks for them, because they're made out of certain nutrients (proteins, certain fats, vitamins, enzymes, and other active molecules)… Second, it needs the whole process to be orchestrated by the beneficial microbes in your digestive system; by the beneficial healthy gut flora."

People with GAPS have neither of those factors. They run out of building blocks due to improper nutrition, which prevents the proliferation of new, healthy enterocytes, and their gut lining is overpopulated with pathogenic bacteria, virus, fungi, worms, protozoa, and other pathogenic microbes. As a result, the beneficial microbes are virtually nonexistent, and the balance of good and bad bacteria is dramatically skewed.

"In animal experiments… when they sterilized the digestive tract of the animals, they found that the whole cell regeneration process in the gut lining goes completely wrong," she says. "The travel time of the baby enterocytes doubles… Enterocytes are born already mutated, and some of them turn cancerous. They are unable to fulfill their functions: breaking down the food and absorbing the food appropriately.

We have to provide those two factors for the gut lining to heal and seal. We need to drive out pathogens and replace them with beneficial flora. And we need to provide all the building blocks for the gut lining to give birth to baby enterocytes. That's what GAPS Nutritional Protocol does."

The Two GAPS Diets

The GAPS Nutritional Protocol contains three factors:

Dietary intervention, designed to feed the cell regeneration process and allow your gut to rebuild healthy enterocytes
Probiotic supplements, to reseed your gut with healthy bacteria
Here, we will focus on the dietary portion. The GAPS Diet is structured into three stages:

GAPS Introduction Diet
GAPS Full Diet
Weaning off the GAPS Diet
However, you don't have to follow that order. The GAPS Introduction Diet is structured in six stages, where foods are introduced gradually. It requires a lot of time, patience and perseverance. The Full GAPS Diet provides a much wider range of foods for you to choose from, and is therefore an easier place to start for many.

"That's the diet that you reach and stay in for about a year, or sometimes longer, until all your digestive problems have gone and all the other problems in your body and brain have gone. When you have achieved full health, then you can move into the third stage of coming off the GAPS Diet, where you can gradually start introducing foods that are not allowed within the GAPS Nutritional Protocol.

Some people start from the GAPS Introduction Diet and follow through the stages, while others start from the GAPS Full Diet. Then they try the GAPS Introduction diet later, if they feel that there's more healing to achieve in their body and they're now organized to do that… So, it is up to you which diet you want to choose."

Which GAPS Diet is Right for You?

Here are some brief guidelines that might help you choose. The GAPS Introduction Diet is best if you are prone to:

Chronic diarrhea Leaky gut syndrome Depression Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Chronic digestive symptoms such as flatulence, pain, aching stomach, mixed stools, burping or reflux Severe food allergies and food intolerances Attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder Multiple sclerosis
The introduction diet can help clear those symptoms rather quickly. However, this diet is far more restrictive, and can be more difficult to follow than the Full GAPS Diet. You may do better with the Full GAPS Diet if you:

Are very busy and cannot put aside enough time for cooking and organizing your meals
Travel frequently
It's important to realize that even if you do not experience any specific digestive problems, you may still have abnormal gut flora. It is extremely common these days, unless you have a pristine diet, have not used antibiotics, and aren't taking birth control pills or other medications.

"It's just that their digestive system is compensating for it [the abnormal gut flora]," Dr. McBride explains. "The human body has an amazing ability to compensate for the problems. The body can work around the problem for a very long time before it starts giving you signals that something's wrong, and that's the problem. The signals are the symptoms! For example, you can have cancer in your body for 20 years and there are no symptoms. Until the first symptom appears, the body compensates. It works around it."

Basic Principles of the Introduction Diet

The Introduction Diet is divided into six stages. Below are the first three. According to Dr. McBride:

"These three factors ensure that the gut heals much quicker… That is why people who follow [the Introduction Diet] find that their food allergies disappear much quicker. We have many people who have healed themselves and have removed their food allergies and intolerances completely. Now they can eat foods which they could not even touch before. The same happens to people with inflammatory bowel conditions and other severe digestive disorders, and to any person who got serious digestive symptoms."

First, fiber is removed from the diet, because it feeds microbes. The human digestive system is not designed to break down fiber. Instead, it ends up undigested in your bowel, where the majority of your gut flora resides. If your gut flora is healthy, ie dominated by beneficial, probiotic species, then these microbes will feed on the fiber and proliferate.

This is slightly counterintuitive as people and health care professionals consider fiber universally beneficial. I was one of them and in medical school in the 70s was known as Dr. Fiber for my widespread promotion of fiber. However if your gut is filled with pathogenic bacteria and/or yeast and fungi, fiber will actually make your symptoms worse as it is a non-specific growth factor for intestinal bacteria, and does not discriminate between pathogenic and beneficial bacteria.

So, if your bowel is predominantly dominated by pathogenic microbes, pathogenic microbes will feed on fiber and proliferate, making whatever health problems you have worse. The digestive system of those with GAPS is predominantly populated by pathogens, which is why fiber must be carefully eliminated from the diet, for a period of time, to help starve out the pathogens.
Second, probiotics are incrementally added in, because without their presence, no healing can ever occur in your digestive tract. This is done in two ways: through probiotic and fermented foods, and therapeutic-strength probiotic supplements
The third factor: introducing the building blocks for your gut lining, which promotes healthy enterocyte reproduction to rebuild the integrity of your gut lining.
"You will find that in children with learning disabilities, in the first and second stage, the bedwetting usually stops; the eye contact starts coming back; the hyperactive behavior reduces automatically; the child becomes more "with" you; he becomes more alert," Dr. McBride says.

When you move on to the third or fourth stage (which includes more solid foods), some of the original symptoms may recur. If that happens, it means you (or your child) is not ready to move to the next stage yet. Just back-track to the previous stage, and stay there for another couple of weeks, until the symptoms recede. Then try moving into the next stage again. Remember, this is a natural healing process, which can take time.

"Adults usually take longer to heal than children. In children it can happen quite quickly, but it depends on the toxic load and various other factors.

Many people have to do this dance of step forward, step back, step forward, and step back for several months," Dr. McBride says. "Some people have to follow the introduction diet for up to 18 months… before moving into the Full GAPS Diet. This is usually the group of the most severe people such as those with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, ME, multiple sclerosis, and people with more severe degenerative conditions. In the majority of people, particularly the children, the introduction diet takes a couple of months maximum."

Is a No-Plant Diet Safe Long-Term?

As you can see, the Introduction Diet is devoid of most plant foods, unless well cooked and low in fiber. This may seem like a harmful way of eating, considering how vegetables are touted as the most important part of a healthy diet. But according to Dr. McBride, there's no cause for alarm.

"I have patients who have done best on a completely no-plant diet," she says. "I have people who have been on a no-plants diet at all; purely animal foods. They eat meat, fish, eggs, and yogurt. That's all. They don't eat anything else. They have no vegetables, fruits, grains, and nothing of plant origin at all for 18 months, two years, and two and a half years, and they do beautifully.

These are usually people with obsessive-compulsive disorders, bipolar disorders, schizophrenics, or people with other conditions.

Whenever they try a little bit of a vegetable, a little bit of plant matter, they get their manic symptoms back. They get their other psychiatric problems back… These people learn quite quickly. They listen to their body, and quite quickly they know what works for them or what doesn't. Everybody's different. It depends not only on your constitutional genetics, but it also depends on what kind of toxins you have stored in your body, where they're stored, and what methods your body is using to clear them out, and various other variables."

Primary Foods of the GAPS Introduction Diet

The following foods are the staples of the GAPS Introduction Diet:

Homemade meat stock
Homemade bone broth
Soups with well-cooked, deseeded and peeled vegetables, such as zucchinis and squash. If you're cooking broccoli or cauliflower, remove all the stalks and fibrous bits. Avoid using fibrous vegetables such as celery and those from the cabbage family
Homemade fermented yoghurt (using either raw, grass-fed milk, or store-bought organic, full fat milk if you cannot find raw milk) and whey
Fermented vegetables (in cases of severe digestive disorders, Dr. McBride recommends starting on the juice only, as the fiber of the vegetables may be too much to handle for a compromised digestive system. From there, slowly work your way up to consuming small amounts of vegetable, such as sauerkraut or cabbage)
Raw egg yolk from organically-raised, pastured hens
Dr. McBride discusses many more details of the GAPS diet in her interview, so for more in-depth information and instructions on how to prepare many of these foods at home, please listen to the interview or read through the transcript.

Rethinking the Raw Food / Vegan Diet Trend…

Dr. McBride introduces a concept that is contrary to what most health-minded people have learned, including myself. I've been a staunch advocate of consuming all foods in their raw state, or as near raw as possible, as much as possible. My general recommendation has been to consume about 80 percent of your food raw. Dr. McBride disagrees, explaining that all-raw is not necessarily ideal.

"Mother Nature provided us with two groups of natural foods. Obviously, we're not talking about processed foods here. Processed foods… do not serve the human body. These foods do not feed us. They do not cleanse us… They just pollute us, because they have been processed to increase their shelf life… Let's remove those foods out of the equation altogether. We're talking about natural foods… in the form that Mother Nature created them."

These two food groups are:

Plants (fruits, veggies, grains, beans, nuts and seeds)
Animal products (meat, fish, dairy products, eggs)
According to Dr. McBride, the plant foods are primarily cleansing foods that aid in elimination and detoxification, while the animal products are nourishing foods that feed your body and provide the building blocks for your bones, muscles, brain, immune system and other organs.

"When you cook vegetables, their cellular structure gets broken down, and they are much easier to digest," Dr. McBride explains. "They become more of a feeding and nourishing food rather than a cleansing food. Raw fruits and vegetables are indigestible for the human digestive system. They don't feed us; they cleanse us… But as we cook the vegetables, and as we ferment the vegetables, we break down their cellulose structure. They become less of a cleansing detoxifying food and more of a feeding and nourishing food."

"The natural cultures all over the world through the millennia have understood this," she says. "That is why they developed methods to make plant foods more of a "feeding/nourishing" food, and digestible for the human digestive system. The methods that they have developed to make plants more digestible are cooking and fermentation. That is why grains were always fermented or cooked. Fruits and vegetables were fermented and cooked.

When we ferment and cook plant foods, we break down their structure. They become less of a detoxifier… [and] move into the group of feeding/nourishing foods."

The Happy Marriage between Raw and Cooked or Fermented Foods

She goes on to discuss how herbivorous animals are designed to consume the energy of the sun in the form of plants. But in order for most herbivores, like cows, to digest plant foods, they're equipped with multiple stomachs, called rumen, which are filled with microbes. It's these microbes that digest the plant foods, transforming the carbohydrates in the plant matter into short-chain fatty acids.

Humans, however, do not have a rumen.

We only have one small stomach, and, if you're healthy, your stomach contains very minute amounts of bacteria. In fact, a healthy stomach is the least populated area of your digestive system. Instead of microbes, the human stomach produces acid and pepsin, which can effectively break down one group of foods, and that is animal-based foods.

"They're not fit to break down plants at all," Dr. McBride says. "Most plant foods, when we consume them in a raw state in particular, they go all through our digestive system, and they finish up practically undigested in the bowel where the bacteria – that's our equivalent of the rumen – partially break them down and convert them into short-chain fatty acids… and that's the boost to our human metabolism.

But if you try to live entirely on these plant foods, you will run into trouble, as vegans do… In order to feed yourself, you have to consume animal products… meat… animal fat… fish… eggs… good-quality dairy products…

Indeed, in order for us to produce sex hormones, we need cholesterol, because they're made from cholesterol. We require vitamin A and vitamin D. We require a lot of protein. In order to produce sex hormones, they have to eat meat, eggs, and animal fat. If you don't want to produce sex hormones; if you want to be infertile, and if you don't want to have any sexual desire, then the vegan diet is the right diet that you should follow."

This does not negate the need for raw food. We all need cleansing and detoxification. And if your toxic load is high, or if you're overweight, then a period of cleansing, using lots of raw vegan-type foods can be very beneficial.

"But then when the body finishes with that cleansing, it needs to be fed. Following a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet like that for a long period of time is unsustainable and should not be contemplated," Dr. McBride warns.

"It is very important for people to listen to their bodies and to talk to their bodies and figure out, "What do I need right now?" Do I need to cleanse right now, or do I need to feed myself right now? What state is my body in? Maybe I need a mixture, some sort of middle ground between the two, depending on what's happening in my body. "

The Phenomenal Health Benefits of Fermented Vegetables

As mentioned earlier, fermented vegetables are a mainstay of the GAPS diets. In the following video, Caroline Barringer discusses the process of fermenting your own vegetables in some detail, so for more information, please listen to that interview, or read through the transcript. You'll also find more resources at the end of this article.

Download Interview Transcript
One thing that many do not realize is that fermented foods are some of the best chelators available. The beneficial bacteria in these foods are very potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals. According to Dr. McBride, the GAPS Nutritional Protocol restores your own detoxification system in about 90 percent of people, and the fermented/cultured foods are instrumental in this self-healing process.

"The cell wall [of the bacteria] have chelators; molecules that grab hold of mercury, lead, aluminum, arsenate, and anything else toxic," Dr. McBride explains. "They hold them until they're removed through stool."

And you don't need to consume huge amounts either. Caroline recommends eating about a quarter to a half a cup of fermented vegetables, or cultured food such as raw yoghurt, per day. Kombucha, a fermented drink, is another great addition to your diet. The key is variety. The greater the variety of fermented and cultured foods you include in your diet, the better, as each food will inoculate your gut with a variety of different microorganisms.

Almost Everyone has Damaged Gut Flora these Days!

"The trouble is that in our modern society, we live in a world where a growing proportion of the population damaged gut flora, because they have been exposed to repeated courses of antibiotics; women are taking contraceptive pills, which damage the gut flora quite profoundly, or any other prescriptive long-term medication. People are taking in toxic substances through their food and drink, and other… environmental influences damage the composition of their gut flora.

As a result, when they are exposed to mercury, lead, other toxic metals, or other toxic substances in the environment, their gut flora is unable to chelate it, and cannot remove it.

It floods into their bloodstream, and settles in the body. Unfortunately, toxic metals have a particular affinity for fatty tissues in the body, so they get stored in the brain, spine, and in the rest of the nervous system. They also target your bone marrow and the rest of the high fat organs in the body… Of course, when they're stored in there, they would cause leukemia, lymphoma, other immune abnormalities, and other problems... "

Dr. McBride has made the important connection between damaged gut flora in women, and developmental problems in their children, especially autism. These GAPS children, who are born with damaged gut flora, are also far more prone to vaccine damage. I believe this may be a major driving force behind our skyrocketing autism rates.

Fortunately, there's a solution.

Restoring proper gut function to pregnant mothers and their babies is really one of the most profound interventions one could have for having a non-brain-damaged child.

"Mothers of my generation who have daughters who are growing up now—now is the time to assess your daughter," Dr. McBride says. "See what her gut flora is like. How is she doing before she's ready to conceive or have children? Prepare them for it to avoid the huge amount of grief in the family of having a grandchild with autism, hyperactivity, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or some other disorder. This is because the proportion of girls with damaged gut flora is growing in our modern world, and they are heading to having unhealthy children."

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Posted: Friday 28 May 2021

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