Did you know that your body is like a mini planet?
The GAPS diet for dummies, part 2: our personal ecosystem
If you’re new to my blog, I recently began a new series called, “The GAPS Diet for Dummies.” In it, I’m going over the basic and essential information on the GAPS diet.
My goal with this series it to get you the information you need in a an easy to understand way. I want you to get able to start following GAPS, see results, and be able to live your life again.
See part 1 in this series here, where I explain Dr. Natasha’s take on what is going on in our bodies when we experience health issues.
If you’re completely new to the GAPS diet, check out this post for a quick but complete explanation of the GAPS diet in a nutshell.
It can be temping to want to dive right into the practical, hands on part of doing the GAPS diet. And we’ll get there very soon! But it’s super important to have a really good idea of what is going in our bodies and why.
We also need to know what exactly it is we’re rebuilding, and how. So stick with me for just a little more technical stuff, and after that we’ll dive into the recipes, and how to help kids to eat certain foods, and all that.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Get my full disclosure here.
In this blog post, and through the entire series, the information I’m sharing comes from Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride’s book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I highly recommend getting a copy of this book and reading it yourself. I’m also sharing my own tips and experience from when myself and several of my family members have gone through the GAPS diet.
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Your own ecosystem
Now let’s get back to the thing about us being like a planet. That’s right! Just like earth has an ecosystem, our bodies each have their own mini ecosystems.
What does that mean? It just means that we have many, many different kinds of microbes in our bodies in various places. The largest concentration of these microbes is in our digestive tract.
Why does this matter? Well, according to Dr. Natasha, the wellbeing of these microbes in our digestive tract and our entire body’s health is symbiotic. That means that if we didn’t have those microbes there, we wouldn’t be able to survive.
And, the wellbeing of those microbes corresponds directly with the wellbeing of our entire body. When these microbes are unhealthy or damaged, we experience different problems.
Read more about what gut dysbiosis is here.
Easy as one, two, three
The microbes or bacteria in our gut can be divided into three different types:
- Beneficial or friendly gut bacteria
- Opportunistic gut bacteria
- Transitional gut bacteria
The first group, the friendly bacteria, are what healthy people have the most of in their gut. These bacteria provide all sorts of different vital functions such as supporting our immune system, breaking down and digesting our food, and even making certain vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need.
The second group, the opportunistic gut bacteria, are something that we do need to have in our gut, but in a much smaller amount. These include different strains of yeasts, and help to digest certain foods.
If our beneficial bacteria become damaged or even wiped out, these opportunistic bacteria take over and grow into larger amounts. This results in various health problems, says Dr. Natasha.
Transitional gut flora make up the third group. These bacteria are all around us and are consumed by us on a regular basis.
If we don’t have a healthy balance of friendly gut bacteria, the transitional gut flora can cause illness. But in a healthy person, they pass right through and we don’t even notice.
Walls of a city
The entire length of our digestive tract is coated with a thick bacterial layer. This layer creates a barrier the protects against invaders, toxins, parasites, and even undigested food.
If this protective layer gets damaged, the walls of the city are not protected, as Dr. Natasha puts it in her book. That’s exactly what happens in a GAPS person’s gut.
The surface of our intestines, there is a structure of finger like protrusions called villi. Certain cells, called enterocytes, live on the villi.
These enterocytes have a lifecycle where they travel up the villi, and in doing so, complete the digestive process of our food. They also help our body be able to absorb the nutrients from our food.
Enterocytes are born down in between the villi, and throughout their life, they climb up the villi, getting older all the time. Once they reach the top of the villi, their work is complete, and they die.
There is constantly a growth of new enterocytes, ready to replace the old ones. In a healthy gut, the lifecycle of the enterocytes are perfectly timed, so that the digestive process happens correctly.
So who are the housekeepers? The friendly bacteria! Our beneficial gut flora actually take care of our enterocytes.
If the friendly bacteria are damaged or wiped out, the enterocytes are not properly cared for, and they can’t complete their work correctly. That means our food doesn’t get digested or broken down properly, and our bodies aren’t able to absorb the nutrients we need.
Lab animals with a sterilized gut are a perfect example of how things go awry. When no friendly bacteria are present, the enterocytes don’t have their housekeepers to keep them healthy and functioning properly.
Over time the villi actually degenerate. The animals with sterilized guts develop malabsorption, nutritional deficiencies, and food intolerances.
An inside look at wheat and dairy intolerances
Let’s look at a practical example of how the digestive system is supposed to work, and what sorts of problems come up when it gets damaged. Let’s use wheat or dairy intolerance as our illustration.
Almost everybody these days knows someone who can’t eat wheat or dairy without problems. Leave me a comment below if you know someone like this.
The digestive process of wheat and dairy proteins is designed to happen in two phases:
In the first stage, the stomach acids break down the proteins into peptides. Some of these peptides have morphine like structures. Morphine in milk and bread?
That’s right. It does sound a little scary.
In a normal, healthy digestive system, there is no issue, and we’ll see why in a second. But keep reading to find out what bad things can happen when the gut bacteria are out of balance, and the process isn’t working like it should.
In the second stage, these peptides enter the small intestine. They become mixed with juices from the pancreas.
Enzymes from our friends the enterocytes help to break down the peptides. Then, the body can use the nutrients from wheat and dairy properly, and the fact that the proteins once resembled morphine isn’t an issue at all.
Here’s what Dr. Natasha says happens in a GAPS person’s gut: Stage two is entirely missing.
The correct balance of bacteria isn’t there, so the enterocytes aren’t cared for and can’t do their job. The wheat and dairy proteins with morphine like structures are not properly broken down.
The damaged, leaky gut wall allows those proteins to enter the bloodstream, unchanged. That’s when they cause their problems. They wreak havoc with the brain and immune system function.
There have been a lot of studies done on this missing second stage of the digestive system, and the connection between undigested wheat and diary proteins with myriad of health issues.
Autism, ADHD, schizophrenia, depression, psychosis, and autoimmune disorders have all shown a strong connection to this second stage being missing from the digestion of wheat and dairy proteins. Pretty interesting!
I also think it is so exciting that Dr. Natasha says there is a way to help people with these mental and health issues. Once the beneficial bacteria is properly restored through a protocol like the GAPS diet, Dr. Natasha says that many people can go back to having properly prepared wheat and diary, without their symptoms returning.
Eat your food and use it, too
We’ve learned how the digestive system is supposed to work, and what happens when parts of the process are damaged or missing. A person could be eating the best, highest quality food, but if their digestive process isn’t working correctly, they can’t use it, says Dr. Natasha.
This is exactly what I was experiencing before I did the GAPS diet. I ate really good food, and a lot of it, but I was so underweight. And I suffered from various health issues. But they were all resolved once I did the GAPS diet.
Our gut really holds the basis for our wellbeing. Hopefully you found this inspiring, encouraging, and helpful!
Watch for the next part in this series, where we’ll go over how the gut bacteria gets damaged, so that we can prevent any more damage from happening. After that we’ll dive into practical, hands on recipes and tips.
The GAPS diet for dummies, part 2 video
More GAPS diet resources
The GAPS Diet for Dummies, Part 1: What is Happening?
The GAPS Diet Explained in a Nutshell
Getting Started with the GAPS Diet: What You Need to Know Before You Begin
Do you know anyone with food intolerances?
What about depression, autism, ADHD, or autoimmune disorders? Let me know in the comments! Isn’t is exciting that something can be done to heal these issues?
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The GAPS Diet Book: Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride
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GAPS to Go is a 30 day meal plan for the GAPS introduction diet that tells you what to eat each day, with complete cooking instructions, and guidance on when to move to each intro diet stage. Check out GAPS to Go here.
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GAPS™ and Gut and Psychology Syndrome™ are the trademark and copyright of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride.
The information in this blog post is my personal experience and opinion. It is for general information purposes only, that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for your own physician’s medical care or advice. Always seek advice from your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding nutrition, medical conditions, and advice. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read on this blog.