Diet and Health: The Fundamentals of the GAPS Diet

The gut-brain relationship is a hot topic among academics who focus on diet and health. It's not surprising, then, that there are several eating plans that are designed around it. One such diet is the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet — formulated by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who has a degree in medicine, neurology and human nutrition.

It's commonly understood that the food you eat shapes your gut health, which in turn is closely linked to your brain's health. The GAPS diet focuses on the detoxification and cleansing of your digestive system by avoiding foods that are difficult to digest and increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods to enhance your brain function.

Can this diet improve your body and mind? Let's break it down.

Filling In the GAPS

The GAPS diet has three stages:

  1. Introduction diet and full diet. This stage heals and seals your gut's lining. The introduction diet involves six steps; the first is the most restrictive, and more foods are added back in the mix in the subsequent steps. Foods are reintroduced slowly in small amounts, and you move to the next stage when you're tolerating foods in the present stage. The full GAPS diet starts only after completing the introduction diet, which generally takes three to six weeks. The full diet relies heavily on consuming bone broth, fresh meats, animal fats, farm-fresh eggs, shellfish, fermented foods and vegetables.
  1. Supplementation. This step aims to restore your immune system's balance by adding probiotics, vitamin A, digestive enzymes, essential fatty acids, vitamin and mineral supplements to your diet. These can detoxify your body and strengthen digestive function. This stage of the diet lasts one-and-a-half to two years.
  1. Detoxification. This final step restores your intestinal bacteria by supporting the natural cleansing process to repair damaged tissues. Consuming freshly pressed organic juices, fruits, vegetables and herbs is recommended during this stage. Coffee enemas are also an effective means for detoxification in adults. Other natural detox agents include probiotics, seaweed and spirulina. It's best to limit exposure to man-made chemicals and heavy metals during this stage to ensure the best results.

What Does Science Say?

Restricting gluten and the inclusion of probiotics has been known to reduce the symptoms of depression and inflammation and improve digestion. The GAPS diet considers that science and runs with it, offering a comprehensive plan that promotes gut health, improves digestion, balances your gut's microbiota and improves mental health.

However, the highly restrictive nature of the diet poses a risk of malnutrition, and digesting too much bone broth can be toxic. Because this diet also eliminates grains, you'll need to watch your micronutrient levels — especially if you have diabetes — and consult your doctor if you notice symptoms of weakness.

GAPS and Health Issues

A leaky gut, usually caused by dysbiosis, is associated with an increased risk of lifestyle diseases. Poor gut microbiota is believed to trigger Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disease also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis. Diabetes and cardiovascular issues are also mediated by the composition and metabolic potential of the gut microbiota. Maintaining gut health is expected to help you gain better control over thyroid imbalance, sugar irregularities and heart trouble. The GAPS diet is one way to achieve that balance. With its sensible restriction of refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats and processed foods, this diet can be beneficial for people with lifestyle disorders.

GAPS is ideal for people who wish to improve digestion, detoxify their bodies and alleviate mental health symptoms. However, a vegetarian or vegan may find it tough to meet all of the diet's nutrition requirements because of its heavy incorporation of animal products. Some dieters have reported that their symptoms get worse, and there are currently no specific scientific studies that support its benefits, which have mostly come from anecdotes.

If you have a diagnosed medical condition such as depression or a digestive disorder, this diet is intended as an add-on to enhance your treatment. It is not a replacement.

As with any new regimen, give your body time to adjust to the diet and keep monitoring your vitals — blood lipids, blood pressure and hormone levels — while you're on it. If you have diabetes and are trying this diet, remember to carefully monitor your blood sugar levels and ease into the eating plan to avoid a sudden drop/spike in your blood sugar.

This publication/article/editorial is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any products. Please consult your doctor/healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.