The GAPS Protocol: A Look at Digestive Health

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome & Ayurveda

In Ayurveda we pay a lot of attention to our body’s ability to announce to us what it needs. Ayurvedic practitioners know that certain negative manifestations such as depression, acne, skin rashes, and food allergies are actually symptoms pointing to a larger issue. Agni is the Sanskrit word for our digestive fire. When agni is strong, our bodies efficiently break down and utilize the foods we eat. This efficiency allows us to properly extract energy from our foods, and to build healthy cells which could become muscle, tissue, or bone cells. Strong agni generally means strong body.

When agni is weakened, (which can happen for a number reasons) we have lost our ability to efficiently assimilate nutrients from our foods, and we begin to see these negative manifestations. Ancient Indian culture has deeply understood the close connection between digestive health and over all health for thousands of years. Within the last 100 years or so, western scientists are catching on, and are corroborating this knowledge with scientific evidence. The GAPS protocol is one such study.

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAP) Nutritional Program was developed by Russia-trained neurologist Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. This nutritional program is designed to restore the integrity of your gut lining by balancing the proper ratio of good and bad bacteria in the system.

Your gut is the frontline of the immune system, home to countless bacteria, both good and bad. These bacteria outnumber the cells in your body by at least 10 to one! Maintaining the ideal balance of good and bad bacteria forms the foundation for good physical, mental and emotional health.

Nearly every disease originates in your digestive system. This includes both physical and mental disease.

The GAPS protocol is designed to mitigate and even heal disease by restoring the integrity of your gut lining. Restoration happens by providing your body with the necessary building blocks needed for healthy enterocyte reproduction, and restoring balance to your gut flora. Enterocytes are specialized cells lining our digestive track, which help breakdown sugars and proteins, and absorb water and nutrients from our digestive track. These cells live and function within our gut lining for 2-3 days before shedding off, exiting our bodies, and being replaced by brand new enterocytes. In order for new enterocytes to grow and function they need two things: One thing they need in order to grow is the appropriate building blocks, which are derived from our nutrition (various proteins, enzymes, certain fats, vitamins etc.) The second thing they need in order to grow is a hospitable living environment. They need the beneficial microbes in our gut to facilitate their growth. When enterocytes do not have these two factors (due to poor nutrition, disease, antibiotics, long term prescription medications) they will not form properly so the digestive track becomes overrun with pathogenic (capable of causing disease) bacteria and microbes.

Dr. McBride will state that one of the first steps in healing our bodies from various ailments including but not limited to:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • MS
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Kidney problems
  • Chronic skin conditions
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Depression
  • ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)

…is to “heal and seal” our gut lining. Once you heal and seal your gut lining, and make your digestive system work properly again, disease symptoms will typically resolve.

The imbalance of beneficial microbes and an overabundance of pathogens in the system disrupt the regeneration of enterocytes. When enterocytes cannot regenerate properly they cannot efficiently absorb nutrients or water from our food, or supply energy to the rest of our bodies. These imbalances manifest as all kinds of ailments and diseases. The digestive track must be cleansed of these pathogens and replaced with beneficial flora. Which is precisely what the GAPS protocol is designed to do.

In summary, the protocol consists of three elements:

    • Diet — the GAPS diet consists of easily digestible foods that are dense in nutrition, including fermented foods. According to Dr. Campbell: “On average, people adhere to the diet a couple of years. It takes two years to drive out the pathogenic flora, to reestablish normal flora in the gut, to heal and seal the damaged gut lining in these people and turn the gut back to being a major source of nourishment for the person instead of being a source of toxicity.”
    • Food supplements – including probiotics and vitamins D and A in the form of cod liver oil, although sun exposure is also an important part for GAPS patients, for proper vitamin D production.
    • Detoxification — The GAPS nutritional protocol will naturally clear out most toxins. Dr. Campbell does not use any kind of drugs or chemicals to remove toxins as it can be too drastic for some, and can produce damaging side effects. Instead she recommends juicing as a gentle but effective way of removing toxic build-up, as well as baths with Epsom salt, sea salt, seaweed powder, apple cider vinegar, and baking soda.

Studying the GAPS protocol is one way to learn more about getting your digestive health back on track. The more you pay attention to your food and how your body feels after you eat it, the closer you will become to developing a relationship with your body. The relationship with your body grows out of awareness and attention. Just like any other relationship in your life, it must be nurtured and tended to.

I am hoping your curiosity and interest will be peaked enough to research deeper into the fascinating chemistry and physiology of digestive health.

Stay tuned for more articles on the food and body relationship!