In the GAPS

As assorted posts have mentioned, two months ago I switched Martin’s diet to GAPS. “GAPS” stands for “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” and is the work of a British doctor and nutritionist, Natasha Campbell-McBride.

Dr. Campbell-McBride’s book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, sets forth how autism (along with dyspraxia, ADD, schizophrenia, and other apparent brain disorders) is symptomatic of a compromised immune system, linked with an imbalance in gut flora. The author suggests healing the gut with a diet comprising fresh foods prepared at home, without grains or sugars or other carbohydrates, and with plentiful meat and/or fish stock. (I’m simplifying.)

It’s been more than three years since we started eliminating foods from Martin’s diet. Since January 2011, Martin has not eaten gluten, casein, soy, corn, refined sugar, processed food, additives, or conventional/GMO food. We also introduced some foods that Martin, a vegan since birth, had never had before: eggs, ghee, honey, and fish oil. After some months we also added meat, which was especially challenging because I’m vegan and Adrian is pescetarian. Other variations along the way in Martin’s recovery diet have included restricting oxalates, temporarily avoiding foods to which Martin showed sensitivities, and trying to eliminate all sugars for one summer.

As of February 2014, Martin was eating meat, eggs, vegetables (including limited amounts of starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes), fermented vegetables, legumes, gluten-free grains like buckwheat and rice, and very little fruit. In puddings and baked goods he had complex sugars like raw honey or raw agave. With very few exceptions, like rice crackers, everything was organic and homemade.

Which is pretty good.

The thing is—Martin’s gut still didn’t seem to be healing. His bowel movements were light-colored and fluffy or flakey, instead of firm, and he had started complaining of stomach pain. Again. I thought we were done with stomach pain.

I decided to take the diet a step further. In the ASD recovery world, there are several diets that people adhere to. The formulations start with gluten-, casein-, and soy-free and branch out from there. Two of the most popular diets are the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, or SCD, and GAPS, which is an adapted variation of SCD. I didn’t have a scientific basis for choosing between GAPS and SCD. (Science doesn’t like me. Science doesn’t want me to understand it.) Some parents love SCD. Some swear by GAPS. Because I already owned Dr. Campbell-McBride’s book and was more familiar with GAPS, I decided to try that route and hope maybe Martin would clear some hurdles to gut health.

For extreme gut distress (ongoing diarrhea, for example), Dr. Campbell-McBride suggests various stages from an “introduction” (almost only bone broth) to “full GAPS” (all the GAPS-compliant foods, still incorporating ample bone broth). Martin was not experiencing extreme distress, just a lack of overall gut health. Therefore, I skipped the introduction stages and put him directly onto full GAPS.

Switching to GAPS meant three primary changes. First, Martin has to stop eating starchy vegetables, cocoa (temporarily), rice crackers and his few other grains, all sweeteners except raw honey, and some lesser-used foods like arrowroot, cannellini beans, and roasted nuts. (Raw nuts are acceptable.) Second, he gets to add a few more fruits, if yeast is under control. (Last month, after the nystatin debacle, Martin started taking Candex, which has been helping balance yeast without the side effects.) Third, he drinks meat stock with every meal. Most weekdays he takes only meat stock for breakfast. I make stock weekly, rotating among chicken, beef, lamb, and whatever other meat/bones I can get.

Which brings us to the million-dollar question: Is it working?

Two months is too little time to make a long-term prediction. (By way of digression, I’m not sure I’ve ever used “two,” “too,” and “to” in a single sentence before now.) Martin’s gut is improving; he’s stopped thrusting his fists into his abdomen and complaining of stomach pain, and his bowel movements have become firmer. On the other hand, I’m yet to see unusual progress in his behavior. He’s been up and down, the same jaggedly positive trend as ever in his recovery. I call it 100 steps forward, and 99 steps back. I remain hopeful, nonetheless, that sealing his gut will soon lead to more behavioral improvements, because he will be better able to absorb his nutrients, supplements, and so forth.

At this time, the two-month mark, I’m giving a tentative thumbs-up to GAPS.

Yes, this is the worst-quality photo ever. Sorry. It's Martin, taking his bone broth for breakfast, "assisted" by our cat George.

Yes, this is the worst-quality photo ever. Sorry. It’s Martin, taking his bone broth for breakfast, “assisted” by our cat George.

6 thoughts on “In the GAPS

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