GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) is a diet strategy branded and popularized by a Natasha Campbell McBride, beginning in 2004 with the release of her first book. The strategy is what functional and integrative nutritionists, naturopaths, and MDs love: Repair the gut with real food. Skip grains and sugars. Eat beautiful fats from organic sources. Use potent probiotics especially from fermented foods. Simple, right?
It is simple, and I love how GAPS is aligned with most everything I do in my practice. But many families have trouble with GAPS, and tell me they just couldn’t keep up with the demands of this strategy. Their kids hate the food. Or it’s too hard to cook so much food from scratch. Or fermenting foods at home is too much trouble. Or it’s too much of a disappointment to have less than stellar results, after this diet purports to cure autism and other illnesses and so many rave about it.
Is there a happy medium? I think so. Here’s 7 Steps To GAPS Success.
1 – Don’t give up on gut health. GAPS didn’t put this idea on the map! It has been around for decades in many other circles, and there are other ways to get there. Gut health for brain health is part of what created the maelstrom of controversy around Andrew Wakefield back in 1998, the British gastroenterologist who wondered (in print) if autism could be linked to viral infection in the gut. It was then that he coined the phrase “gut-brain axis”. This questioning cost him his job and credentials. Now this phrase is a household word for integrative nutritionists like me. If GAPS failed your family, explore other angles for gut-brain health. It really is all about the gut, but GAPS may not be your path.
2 – Consider drugs. I know, I know – no one wants to use antibiotics. Or prescription antifungals. But I have encountered many infants and young children suffering needlessly with failure to thrive, dehydration, chronic malaise, muscle weakness, and seizures because of a refusal (either by parents or doctors) to allow a drug treatment for a found bowel infection. Yes, eventually, a good diet plus probiotics and enzymes in fermented foods may do the trick. But for infants and children, if underweight is a problem, it may take too long – and they may not have this time. If you are on your fourth visit to the ER with a distressed, failure-to-thrive infant or toddler, it’s time. When your four year old’s stool culture shows 4+ Candida parapsilosis, 4+ Staphylococcus aureus, and 3+ Klebsiella pneumoniae, they are refusing any food except fluid milk, and they are not growing or developing as expected… it’s time. Your child may experience immediate relief and improvement with a prescription drug strategy for quick destruction of these offenders. A child’s body can be too weak to fight these things on its own, especially when they are already underweight or at a body mass index below tenth percentile. Usually, drug treatment opens the floodgates for better appetite, better growth, better stools, and better gain and functioning. Your child just may start loving those luscious bone broths and fermented side dishes you toiled over, so you can begin immediately after a drug treatment to build that healthy gut terrain and flora.
3 – Consider strong antimicrobial herbs – for same reasons mentioned in (2) above. There is a cornucopia of beneficial herbal tools that have strong and broad antimicrobial activity. Most herbs also have some degree of immune modulating action too. This can be a double win – you can quickly eradicate a bug that is hanging around too long despite your best cooking efforts, and, you can directly reduce inflammatory immune components at the same time, depending on which herbs are used. You might even go this route before you go to a prescription medicine for bowel infections.
4 – Remember, a “leaky” gut wall often means a more leaky blood brain barrier as well. If your child is suffering from seizures or profound psychiatric symptoms (rage, anger, depression, OCD, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings), consider tools to directly support better functioning at those membranes. Restoring gut health will help the brain! Glutathione, glutamine, aloe juice, dglycerrhizinated licorice, ginger root, and turmeric root are excellent supplements for restoring these tissues and knocking down inflammation. Peel fresh raw turmeric or ginger root and put into a juicer with fresh cilantro, apples, celery, and half a whole lemon for a good soother. You can add a liquid liposomal glutathione (Like ReadiSorb) to this and enjoy.
5 – Review food reactions. Many foods included in GAPS are triggering for kids I meet, especially eggs, dairy, and nuts. I love those foods, but if your child’s body creates antibodies to them, then GAPS is going to be a fail for you. You will need other strategies to calm those reactions besides eating a lot of eggs and nuts! I love helping families sort this out so we can identify other strategies. Sometimes, organic and raw versions of these foods are less problematic.
6 – Slow down on fats. GAPS is big on lots of healthy animal fats, and usually, I am too. I rarely suggest cutting back, since kids need fats for health brains and many other tissues and functions too. And we have become a fat phobic culture to the point where many kids’ diets are low in beneficial fats and high in refined sugars. But if your child has any pancreatic dysfunction, this just may not work. We can find out by using a stool test that assesses fat digestion, something I do often in my practice.
7 – Don’t live GAPS forever. Once your child is doing well, ease up – not to go back onto lots of refined foods. But you may be able to let your child enjoy some wholesome home-made sweets (check NourishingMeals.com for recipes) and some grains (even without sprouting them first), potatoes, or a few other items that are generally verboten (forbidden) on GAPS. The idea is to feel well, grow well, and thrive. Don’t let the dogma become more than your child’s well being.
Still scratching your head? Especially if your child has autism and you have not made the progress you hoped for, some investigation may solve your child’s puzzle to how to use food and nutrition to its potential. Click here to buy my e book 5 Essential Lab Tests For Kids With Autism to learn what tests your doctor can do for you, to sort it out.