I first became aware of the “GAPS” book and protocol five or six years ago when my oldest son sent me an article from The Huffington Post about the doctor who wrote the book and the success she was having treating autistic children. I would occasionally stumble across blog posts, newspaper articles etc.. about GAPS (affiliate link) but didn’t read the book myself until a year and a half ago. GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I read it because I am having grandchildren at a pretty quick pace and with autism rates being what they are I wanted to find out if the information in this book had any merit, thinking it may come in handy in the future. Little did I know it would help an immediate family member right now.
This is my daughter Lindsay. She’s the one on the left. Besides having excellent oral hygiene and a pretty cool dog she has also had issues with her health that have plagued her since she was a baby.
Infancy: The Symptoms Begin
Twenty-six years ago Lindsay was born a beautiful, fat baby girl. Perfect in every way. But when she was 2 months old red inflamed patches of skin began appearing on her little body. I took her to the pediatrician. She was diagnosed with eczema and I was handed a prescription for a hydrocortisone cream and sent on my way. When I picked up the cream there was a warning label on the tube that said “Warning: Prolonged use may cause cancer”. Obviously I found this very worrisome.
Being a strong believer in prevention I went back to the doctor and asked about allergies and things that could be causing the problem and he said it would be next to impossible to figure out if it was something environmental or something I was eating while breastfeeding and I should just use the cream. “It will probably go away” he said. But, it didn’t.
Early Childhood: More Symptoms
For the next several years we did a little dance between using the ‘cancer cream’ and letting Lindsay’s eczema come back and itch until she scratched herself raw and bloody. When Lindsay (or I) could no longer stand it I would apply the cream, the eczema would disappear, we would stop the cream, the eczema would reappear and the cycle would begin all over. I remember watching her play with friends, they would play, she would play and scratch, play and scratch, play and scratch…so sad.
At about age 6 Lindsay became very tired and dark circles had formed under her eyes. The pediatrician sent her to an allergist. She was diagnosed with allergies and began a regimen of twice weekly allergy shots that would help her immune system develop a tolerance to the triggers causing her symptoms. The allergist pointed out the ‘telltale’ line across Lindsay’s nose (caused from constantly pushing her nose up with her palm) and said that Lindsay’s ears were so full of fluid he didn’t know how she was hearing and said she must have been feeling miserable. When I asked if the allergies and eczema were related he said no. I still suspected they were. (Remember this was before the days of Google. A quick Google search today and a person could learn all this in an hour!) Thankfully the allergy shots did help.
The Teen Years: Fasten Your Seat Belts It’s Going To Be a Bumpy Ride
Lindsay became more and more tired as she entered her teens. The doctor laughed when I brought her in and told him she was always tired and slept a lot. “A teenager that’s tired and sleeps a lot? What a surprise” But what he forgot was Lindsay is number 4 out of 6 children. I had teens before her and after her and while they all slept a little more than usual, they didn’t sleep like this. Ten hours at night and 3-4 hours during the day, and yet she remained tired. Her school work suffered (to say the least) and she had no energy or motivation to start (much less finish) anything. We fought about school, we fought about the ‘laziness’…we fought a lot.
At fifteen Lindsay had her first anxiety attack. She called me from school crying and saying she was having a heart attack. She said she was dying. I told her to go to the nurse. It passed after a few minutes, but when it happened several more times I took her to the doctor. He diagnosed her with anxiety. We were shocked to say the least. We were so skeptical we came right home to google (google was a common thing by then) and sure enough after a little reading we had to agree. We took her to a psychologist who luckily was very nice and open to the idea of not using medication. She gave Lindsay some mental tools to deal with an attack when one arose and that worked well for several years. Again I suspected that all her problems were related but I had no idea how or why or what to do.
Age 20-26 What I call “The Autoimmune Years”
Lindsay’s early 20’s began with a whole new set of symptoms. Flare ups in her joints that made her ache, bright reddish purple patches on her eyelids, psoriasis on her elbows (diagnosed) that went away, and these strange bouts of abdominal pain after eating. Doctors first suspected gallbladder issues but after ultrasounds and examinations they were left mystified and Lindsay was left with a prescription for indigestion, which she threw away because she didn’t have indigestion. She had more attacks but never went back, she didn’t think the doctors were very interested in finding the actual problem. One morning Lindsay woke up with a red lump on her breast and one on her eye. Again after seeing doctors for two weeks of tests, ultrasounds and examinations the lumps disappeared and the doctors had no idea what they were or why they went away. Her eczema and anxiety continued, and again I suspected it was all related but the doctors didn’t agree. I worried that one of these days we were going to get some really bad news regarding Lindsay’s health.
Luckily This Is When I Read ‘GAPS’
I finally got around to reading GAPS: Gut and Psychology Syndrome and it was like reading a record of my daughters symptoms. The eczema, the tummy trouble, the anxiety…I realized that all her symptoms were indeed related and could be fixed! Hallelujah!
The Theory Behind GAPS
GAPS is a book and an nutritional program written and designed by Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride, a neurologist and neurosurgeon. She believes that “leaky gut syndrome” is the cause of many physical and mental diseases. According to Dr. McBride many people (millions in fact) lack the good bacteria (healthy intestinal flora) that allow ‘the gut’ to function properly. When healthy bacteria isn’t present the intestines become inflamed and because of this chronic inflammation the intestines literally become ‘leaky’, leaking microscopic food particles into the blood stream. The immune system, sensing invaders, sends antibodies on a search and destroy mission. The problem being these aren’t bacteria that antibodies are programmed to find. When the immune system is on ‘high alert’ repeatedly but doesn’t know what to attack it will eventually attack the body resulting in an autoimmune disease. When the immune system attacks the joints we call it arthritis, when it attacks the soft tissues we call it lupus, when it attacks the skin we call is eczema or psoriasis. Because the gut and the brain are connected gut disorders can also cause mental and emotional disruptions (anxiety, depression and worse). If you would like to read how gut and brain health are connected read more here.
I spoke with my daughter about going on the GAPS diet to heal her gut. It is a rather strict yet temporary diet regimen but she was not too hip to the idea. I explained that if she followed this program her eczema, anxiety and autoimmune issues could disappear and once her gut was healed she could reintroduce the foods she needed to omit from her diet. I told her I was afraid if she continued on the path she was on these autoimmune responses she was having would someday ‘stick’ and her anxiety could progress to a point where she could no longer manage it without medication. She said “No thanks!” until a few months later when…
She Hit The Wall
In December 2013 my son got married. Lindsay was to sing at the wedding reception. She was covered head to toe in eczema and she was embarrassed to be up in front of a crowd. Here is a picture of her dancing at the wedding with my other daughter and grand daughter…notice her arm. Her entire body looked like this…
But the eczema was the least of her problems. A few weeks later she called me and said that her anxiety was so bad she hadn’t been able to leave her house for days and she was…wait for it…compulsively cleaning. This is a girl that never cleaned anything because she was always so tired and now she couldn’t stop. She realized her symptoms were progressing and it scared her. I told her the time had come to either try medication or give changing her diet a shot. She really didn’t want to take medication and figured she had nothing to lose so she agreed to change her diet.
Lindsay didn’t agree to do the full GAPS regimen BUT she did agree to do some of it. I would take what I could get! She wouldn’t cut out all sugar and grains as GAPS recommends but she did completely cut out gluten. She followed GAPS protocol and excluded all dairy except high quality cultured dairy loaded with gut healthy bacteria (probiotics). She agreed to drink bone broth (<—-recipe) and soups which contain belly healing gelatin and take probiotic supplements.
The Results Were Nothing Short of Miraculous
In the first three days Lindsay dropped 8 pounds. This was not 8 lbs of fat, it was 8 lbs of inflammation, mostly from her bloated belly. Her achey joints went away and a few days later her anxiety disappeared. She has not had an anxiety attack since she changed her diet six months ago! I started getting texts from her like this “I feel so good! I have energy for the first time in my life!” or “I don’t need to take a nap anymore” and my favorite “I feel like I have lived in a fog for 20 years and the fog has lifted!” She had energy and mental clarity for the first time in her life because her energy wasn’t being sapped by what was happening in her gut!
Then I got this text “I am going to run a half marathon”. Now I don’t mean to sound unsupportive but 26 years of experience had taught me this girl wouldn’t have the energy to follow through with a training regimen much less run over 13 miles at once, but she did! She trained everyday and last month she ran a half marathon in Santa Barbara. Here she is smiling at mile ten, her forehead crossing the finish line and she and her friends getting their medals. Nothing short of miraculous to me!
I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see my daughter happy, full of energy and free from anxiety! Honestly she is like a new person and so fun to be around now. Her spark is back and I am so grateful. I wish we knew 26 years ago what we know today. But at least we know it now. I honestly believe my daughter’s physical and mental health was on a downward spiral and she implemented changes just in the nick of time.
So, you may be wondering about that pesky eczema.
Well for the first time in 26 years Lindsay has beautiful soft skin without a trace of eczema…this is the same arm pictured above only a few months after implementing diet changes!
Follow Up ~ The Setback: Live and Learn
A month ago (June 2014) Lindsay wanted to eat some cheese and regular gluten filled bread. And she did. The next day she woke up thinking she had the flu. The achy joints were back, the brain fog was back…and yes, the eczema was back. She learned her lesson, got right back on her eating plan and thankfully is feeling great again. The important thing to remember here is that the food isn’t the problem, “leaky gut” is the problem! Once the gut is healed, foods can be reintroduced and if symptoms do not return then you know the gut is healed. Six months was way too soon for Lindsay to reintroduce the offending foods. She learned her lesson…I hope.
Resources and Recommended Reading: (Just click the links)
Whole 30 is an anti-inflammatory diet that can be very helpful and not quite as overwhelming to start as GAPS.
Mom’s Stuff Salve is great while you wait for healing!
Gut Feelings: The Future of Psychiatry May Be in Your Gut an intriguing article about how gut health and mental health are related
Divine Health from The Inside Out is a great website resource and guide for those needing support and guidance changing their diets.
Dr. Mercola on GAPS and Autism and article about and interview with Dr. McBride author of GAPS
MAY I PLEASE ASK A FAVOR?
We small bloggers need all the help we can get. Subscribing and sharing on social media is very appreciated!