I was going to call this blog post “The Magic of the GAPS Protocol”. But I realised that, magical as it does seem, this would downplay the very real science behind the success of the GAPS Protocol for so many people. (1)
History of GAPS
The protocol was developed by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, Russian-born and educated neurologist and mother, who was reluctant to accept her son would have to live with autism for the rest of his life. To her, it just didn’t make sense. Determined to accept this fate for her son and her family only as a last resort, she delved into past medical research whilst simultaneously studying for a Masters in Nutrition Science. What she uncovered not only led to her son losing the autism diagnosis, it has changed the lives of so many people and their families around the world over the last 20 years.
Dr Campbell-McBride’s determination, knowledge and expertise is matched only by her humility. She insists she did not create this protocol from scratch but merely built on the foundation provided by paediatrician, Sidney Valentine Haas, and parent-campaigner, Elaine Gottschall. While acknowledging these path-breaking pioneers, Dr Campbell McBride has used her vast knowledge and clinical experience to further refine, develop and improve this deeply healing protocol.
How it works
I will outline the main reasons I believe the GAPS Protocol is so effective in ‘healing and sealing’ the gut and in addressing the many and various physiological and psychological health problems that can stem from gut dysbiosis and a leaky gut, including allergies, autoimmune disease, developmental delay, learning disabilities and much more.
1. The Protocol provides a high level of nourishment to the body by including only those foods which are easier to digest. This ensures the patient starts to recover from the malnourishment caused by poor digestion and/or a typical, modern, nutrient-deficient diet.
2. The Protocol removes food for microbes whose populations have grown out of proportion, thus allowing our the organisms in our gut microbiome to become more balanced – so they support our health, rather than cause problems.
3. The Protocol provides nourishment for the gut lining. This creates an environment for the vast surface area of the intestines to begin to heal from inflammation, and for the microscopic gaps in the gut wall to close, keeping undigested food particles and toxins out of the bloodstream where they can wreak havoc in the rest of the body.
4. The protocol is effectively an elimination diet. The food consumed is highly nourishing and digestible whilst problematic foods or foods requiring more digestive ‘effort’ are temporarily removed. New foods are introduced in a timely manner, in a logical sequence and tailored for the individual, preferably under the supervision of a GAPS Protocol expert. This way, the patient always has new foods to look forward to!
5. The Protocol is a detoxification protocol. Popular so-called detoxification protocols found on the Internet, like water or juice fasts, can be too extreme, do not promote healing and can even be harmful. On GAPS, the body’s own detoxification mechanisms are supported to gradually eliminate heavy metals and organic pollutants in a safe and gradual manner.
These are some of the improvements my patients have reported: more energy, better sleep, less brain fog, much lower anti-body counts, better digestion, less pain, and appropriate and desired weight loss.
I hope this summary gives the reader an overall appreciation of the main benefits of the GAPS Protocol. In my clinical experience I have found this protocol to be extremely beneficial for my patients with both neurological and physiological conditions. I’m always thrilled when a patient reports how glad they are that they did GAPS because it was instrumental in helping them get their health and their lives back.
Despite the book (2) being available for the lay person to follow, I strongly advise people to do the GAPS Protocol under professional supervision. The first month or two can be quite challenging and there is no substitute for the support of a caring practitioner with the knowledge and experience required to guide you. Some people don’t do the protocol correctly, or get ‘stuck’ on a stage. Remember, it’s supposed to be a healing protocol, not a permanent diet.
As a Herbalist I incorporate therapeutic herbs into the protocol once the patient is established on the Introduction Diet, in order to enhance and speed up the healing process.
Another important reason to work with a natural medicine practitioner is to rule the gut condition, SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), in or out. If you have SIBO, you may need to do a modified version of GAPS for a time.
For those determined to DIY, there are some common mistakes people make when attempting GAPS, neatly outlined in this blog post by the Healthy Home Economist. I would add a sixth mistake: that of consuming too much fruit in the early stages for some people.
(1) http://www.gaps.me/ NB the Protocol is now known as Gut and Psychology and Physiology Syndrome as the knowledge of the clinical application of the protocol expands.