The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet can transform one’s health and life. There is a connection between diet and brain/body functions.
Silence. That is the reaction we get during conversations about our child’s nutrition when we say that we feed him bone broth. Eyes shift downward, awkward silence ensues, and the subject quickly changes. The funny thing to me – apparently having six more heads than I remember – is that giving him sweet tea would have been less reactionary.
For our family, the journey to return to whole, slow-cooked foods like those our grandparents “slaved over the oven” to prepare started when my husband and I were dating. I had never heard of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) before meeting him. GERD is a condition in which the stomach acid travels back into the esophagus causing severe irritation and heartburn. The normal pH levels of stomach acidity are between 1 and 10, and my husband’s levels were in the 80s – apparently the average age of severe GERD sufferers at his appointments. Constant heartburn was as normal to him as was correcting receptionists who assumed he was at the gastroenterologist to pick up his grandfather.
When my husband was a baby, he often vomited and had trouble sleeping on a flat surface without severe stomach pain. These symptoms continued until his senior year in high school when his esophagus actually sealed shut due to many layers of scar tissue. Thus began his tango with medical interventions.
Doctors monitored him throughout the years with endoscopies, acidity tests and heartburn medications. Nothing seemed to help the rising pH levels and the constant discomfort. After accompanying him to several gastroenterologists from Georgetown to John’s Hopkins, we were given the diagnosis that his only solution was surgery. This was a bleak prognosis for a young man and only offered a possible 50% chance of reducing symptoms.
It was at that time my resistant husband decided to heed my advice and finally look into seeking the help of a nutritionist and explore alternative medicine. Unfortunately, the allergy testing he underwent did not have the desired revelation we were hoping for, but led us to the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet, which transformed his health and our lives.
The research behind the GAPS diet finds a connection between diet and brain/body function. Each of us has gut flora or essential and beneficial bacteria lining our digestive tract that protect us from pathogens by producing antibiotic, anti-fungal, and anti-viral substances as well as reducing the pH near the wall of the gut. These gut flora make up the walls of our intestinal city and if depleted, our immune system is left open to attack. Antibiotics, steroids, contraceptive pills, prescription medications, and starchy, sugary, processed foods add to the damage.
People such as my husband who have an unhealthy balance of good and bad bacteria in their digestive system crave the protein gluten that is found in grains as well as the protein casein found in milk products. Unfortunately for them, the more they feed these cravings, the more they feed the bad bacteria in the gut. These bad bacteria become dominant, overtaking the good bacteria and, in turn, weaken the immune system, causing toxicity. A term known as “leaky gut” is commonly used to describe the condition in which the weakened wall of the gut allows toxins to pass into the blood stream causing health and behavioral effects.
This information led us to recognize many similarities in the conditions described, and we eliminated all grains, starch, sugar, processed food and dairy from his diet. As we worked to heal my husband’s gut flora, he started eating mostly bone broth soups cooked over the stove for hours. Slow cooking the bone marrow allows for the natural probiotics in the animal bones to absorb into the broth, which is why chicken soup is viewed as having medicinal qualities in healing the stomach. He took a strong dose of probiotics daily and we tried to incorporate as many fermented foods into our diet as possible.
After only two weeks, my husband noticed a significant difference in the way he felt, his reflux, IBS, and energy level. He began to incorporate nuts, berries, vegetables, beans, and easy-to-digest proteins such as eggs, meats and fish. We eliminated all low-fat or nonfat products from our cabinets and began to make or buy whole foods such as pure butter, yogurt and kefir, raw cheese, sea salt, natural coconut, and olive oil. The idea is that if your grandparents could not find it on a shelf when they were growing up, it may not be natural (high fructose corn syrup was introduced in U.S. food products between 1975 and 1985).
My husband was able to completely discontinue all of his medications in the first year of following the GAPS diet and is currently in the best health of his life. He very seldom experiences reflux. At his most recent physical, his doctor was stunned at his impeccable health despite past levels and poor family history. He added to the doctor’s shock wh
en he told him he had reduced his cholesterol by eating more eggs and fats, and decreased his blood pressure by eating more sea salt!
It is hard to go rogue in an age of convenience, especially when feeding little ones. The benefits we have experienced, however, made choosing this path quite simple. Our son began bone broth as a supplement to breast milk at four months. His diet then increased to fresh-pressed vegetable juices, homemade whey and yogurt, vegetable purees, boiled meats, avocados, and good fats. He has remained in the 90th percentile for height and weight, is a great sleeper, eater, and one very happy boy. He has never needed antibiotics and has always taken probiotics. We hope to give our son the best start so that his gut flora and immune system will begin their long journey strengthened in order to protect his body in the same way that we as parents hope to protect him from everything else that might hurt him.
A baby’s sterile immature immune system has about 20 days to establish a balanced gut flora before becoming compromised. Breastfeeding is essential in establishing a healthy gut as the newborn gets his gut flora from his mother (bottle-fed babies develop different gut flora, predisposing them to a whole host of future health problems). My husband was not breast-fed and was constantly fighting ear infections and other illnesses as a child. A healthy diet starts at day one and can affect the rest of one’s life.
Published in Posh Seven Magazine