Thursday, October 18, 2012

On GAPS and Safety

The Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet was created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride for her child who suffered from learning disabilities, and was based on Dr. Elaine Gottschall's Specific Carbohydrate Diet, a popular intervention in the "biomedical community" of parents treating their kids on the Autism Spectrum. Below is a letter I personally wrote to the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) in response to the growing popularity of the GAPS diet with WAPF members for treating all manner of health issues.

If you want to see the Weston A. Price Foundation's response, you will have to get your hands on Volume 13, Number 3 -- the Fall 2012 Issue of Wise Traditions.


I think the Foundation's endorsement of GAPS has pushed the Carb Wars further in the low carb direction. People appear to be making the illogical conclusion that because it is effective for some children with Autism, not only is it good for all kids with Autism, but it will cure everything. In 2006, I successfully treated my own son in the context of a well-rounded Weston A. Price Foundation recommended diet, which included fruit, maple syrup, honey, rapadura, raw milk and soaked grains, so I don't see the utility in GAPS for all Autism Spectrum Disorders. From my online forum experience and as a past Chapter Leader I have endless feedback that GAPS has become a panacea rather than a temporary therapeutic approach.

In 2009, I personally got swept away in the low-carb wave, and by Spring of 2010, was battling fatigue, depression, hair loss, dry skin and menstrual problems. My son's anxiety returned, and my kids have since not been as healthy as they were in 2007 and 2008, on a well-rounded Weston A. Price Foundation-inspired way of eating. All the broth and liver in the world did not make up for the effects of the lost glucose. We are still recovering from that experiment!

WAPF is itself is a non-profit organization. I believe its most important contributions are in the areas of connecting consumers with local, nourishing foods, underscoring the importance of animal foods and saturated fats in the diet, and highlighting the destructive effects of food additives. Those recommendations alone have the potential to make a great impact on the health of any individual. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the Chapter Leaders are in the health business and are thus biased, more apt to follow trends, or recommend things that worked for them personally, without understanding that there may be no universal solutions. Quite a few of them are demonizing carbohydrates. Many benefit from the client base attracted by the Weston A. Price Foundation. All of the "Real Food Bloggers" (like the ones who try a diet on the bestseller list because it mentions Green Pastures CLO) and tangentially-related health professionals (Chris Kresser, Paul Jaminet), even if they don't speak at the conference, definitely affect the direction the organization is trying to take. People turn to these sources to recreate the kind of support they get at local chapter meetings. Their well-marketed messages, in the interest of attracting hits, advertisers, and clients, are becoming louder than the organization's message.

While Price himself discovered that there were healthy individuals all over the world eating many different types of foods in different combinations, Chapter Leaders, bloggers and Paleo gurus are spreading the message that "carbohydrates feed yeast, fructose causes fatty liver disease, and glucose spikes insulin!" This type of fear, coupled with the rapid weight loss one experiences on a low-carb diet, is driving people to try extreme diets in the name of improving their health, rather than taking a balanced approach. GAPS, for a person who is still struggling on a well-rounded WAPF diet, looks like the perfect solution. The basic tenet that glucose fuels a healthy metabolism via mitochondria and thyroid is now overlooked. Somehow we've made this all about the intestine, and for folks who are unfamiliar with the context of a whole organism, these scientific arguments are difficult to sort out. I got sucked into it, too. Scientists are fallible. They make mistakes in their research and in their conclusions. The idea that there is a perfect solution at all is a logical fallacy in itself.

I am suspicious that these low-carb approaches do not support hormonal health in menstruating, pregnant, or nursing women. Furthermore, its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding has not been established. Pregnancy ketosis in animals is analogous to toxemia in pregnancy, and can be induced by simply reducing a pregnant animal's feed ration. This organization's mission, from what I could tell when I originally joined, was especially to prevent the malnourishment of mothers and children, and thus, I cannot understand why so many "volunteers" would advocate the use of a diet which promotes ketosis, specifically in this population. I think if the organization is going to support the use of the GAPS diet for "curing" all these health problems, at the very least, its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding needs to be investigated before harm befalls unborn children.

Amy Lewark, MS
Ohio University Neurobiology '99