The gut and psychology syndrome or GAPS diet was developed by Dr. Natasha Campbell. Proponents state it can treat a range of disorders from inflammatory bowel disease to autism. This diet is based on the specific carbohydrate diet developed in the 1920s to treat digestive disorders. At its core, GAPS is an elimination diet that requires cutting out refined carbs, grains, starchy vegetables, and pasteurized dairy. The diet is controversial in the medical community and has received a lot of criticism from nutritionists and doctors.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
The lining of the bowel is composed of a layer of cells called the mucosal barrier. Its purpose is to absorb nutrients while keeping germs and other potentially dangerous large molecules from passing through the gut and into the body. The leaky gut syndrome occurs when this barrier does not work properly. While some medical professionals do not feel this has a significant impact on health, others believe that a leaky gut can explain significant systemic problems.
The GAPS diet was developed to heal the gut and correct leaky gut syndrome. Dr. Campbell, who developed the diet, claims that it cured a child with autism and promotes it as a cure for multiple conditions including ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, OCD, bipolar disorder, and childhood bed wetting. The GAPS diet is often used as a supplementary treatment for children with poorly understood conditions like autism and food allergies.
The first phase of the GAPS diet is called the introduction phase and can last anywhere from a few weeks to a year. This is the gut-healing phase and involves eliminating most foods. There are six stages in this phase. In the first stage, the diet is limited to things like homemade bone broth and juices, tea with honey, and unpasteurized homemade yogurt. Stage two adds raw organic egg yolks and stews made with meat or fish and fresh vegetables. In stage three, avocado, fermented vegetables, and scrambled eggs are added. Stage five adds cooked apples, raw vegetables, and other fruits except for citrus, which is added in stage six. The recommendation is to move on to the next stage once the body shows it can tolerate all the foods in that stage.
Next is the maintenance phase or the full GAPS diet. In this phase, people are encouraged to eat specific foods, including hormone-free grass-fed meat, animal fats, fish, fermented and raw vegetables, and some nuts, and nut flours. There are other guidelines, too, including avoiding meat and fruit together, eating animal fats and bone broth at every meal, and consuming as much fermented food as you can tolerate. This phase can take as many as two years to complete.
The reintroduction phase is next. The GAPS diet guidelines suggest that reintroduction should begin after the person experiences normal bowel movements and digestion for a minimum of six months. Each food should be reintroduced one at a time, in small amounts, over a few days. Once the person is sure the new food is not causing any digestive issues, he or she can reintroduce another new item. People are still encouraged to avoid processed foods and refined sugars. Depending on how well the body tolerates each new food, this phase can take a long time.
Supplements are also a big part of the GAPS diet. Probiotics are recommended to maintain the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut. Daily fish oil and cod liver oil supplements are recommended as well as a nut or seed oil with a 2:1 ratio of omega-3s to 6s. Finally, supplemental digestive enzymes are also recommended as Dr. Campbell believes that people with conditions treated by the GAPS diet also do not have enough natural stomach acid.
A lot of food is off-limits on the GAPS diet, including starchy vegetables, grains, and refined carbs. Instead, people on the diet are encouraged to eat a variety of non-starchy vegetables, fish, meat, and heart-healthy fats. Some acceptable foods are bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, olives, mushrooms, sprouted almonds, pecans, soaked lima beans, ghee, sesame oil, and aged goat cheese, raw sheep or cows cheese, and wild-caught fish including cod, grouper, halibut, and tuna. All meat should be organic and grass-fed, and fruit should be eaten in moderation.
Who Is Natasha Campbell?
Dr. Natasha Campbell developed the GAPS diet. She obtained her doctorate in Russia and specialized in neurology and neurosurgery, then moved to the UK and obtained a degree in human nutrition. Campbell had a child that was diagnosed with autism and used her background to try to find a treatment that modern medicine did not offer. She developed the GAPS diet as a way to help her child. She claims her son completely recovered from autism after following the diet.
Criticisms of the GAPS Diet
A valid argument against the efficacy of the GAPS diet is that Dr. Campbell has a website where she sells a lot of products, including books, supplements, DVDs, oils, and other things aimed at people following the GAPS diet. She also offers a pricey training course to become a GAPS practitioner that includes a package to start your own business. Because there is a question as to whether or not she profits from this diet, Dr. Campbell has faced a lot of criticism from the medical community.
There is no medical evidence to back up any of the claims that the GAPS diet is effective at treating autism or any other disorders Dr. Campbell claims. There are no published studies about its efficacy, and Dr. Campbell herself has not published research in reputable medical journals. That said, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from people claiming the diet has worked for them. It is best to consult with a physician before making any significant changes to your diet.