The gut is one of the often overlooked parts of our bodies. But the gut is amazingly important! The gut is where our food is digested and if it is not working correctly, we are unable to pull the nutrients needed out of our food. So a diet can be full of good nutrients, essential vitamins and minerals, and healthy fats, and yet the body still isn’t able to use them properly so the person is actually deficient in these nutrients. Another important function of the gut is to get waste out of our body. This isn’t just unusuable food parts like fiber, but also the toxins that our body so wonderfully seperates out to be discarded so they don’t affect how our body works. But again, if the gut isn’t working properly, these toxins aren’t being expelled as effeciently as they could be, so an overload of toxins can occur.
I hadn’t looked into intestinal health until I was looking for help for my daughter with autism. I had heard of the GAPS diet, but thought it was too overwhelming to start (being honest here!). But once we saw amazing improvement on the gluten-free-casein-free diet (hear more about that on my podcast with Cheeseslave), only to have quick regression, I knew I needed to look more into the ways the gut and diet can affect brain function. My daughter has been on the GAPS/SCD diet for over a year now, and we continue because we see improvements.
Here’s an overview of what I’ve learned, primarily from the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and also from Breaking The Vicious Cycle. Both are available at the GAPS Online Store – discount code HHHBook10 gives you 10% off any book until 12/1/10. Honestly in this age of toxins and antibiotics, I strongly recommend anyone who cares about the health of themselves and their family to read those books.
The gut depends on good bacteria (flora) to plug holes, neutralize toxins and metabolize vitamins
The intestine is naturally porous, and we depend on a symbiotic relationship with friendly bacteria to ‘plug the holes’. This prevents large proteins (like gluten and casein) from going through the gut wall and into the bloodstream, and the bacteria also provide a barrier against toxins entering our bloodstream. As the gut flora neutralize, metabolize, and further break down our food they also are transporting vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients across the gut wall.
Bad bacteria in the gut can emit toxins, which affect brain function like a drug
In addition to not having enough good gut flora, the presence of bad ‘opportunistic’ flora creates problems by releasing toxins into the bloodstream, which affect the brain. We get bad flora in our system by wiping the entire system out with antibiotics, allowing the bad bacteria to establish colonies because there aren’t enough good bacteria already established to crowd them out. In the case of a baby, babies get their first dose of bacteria by coming through the birth canal, so if mom has a history of having antibiotics and has bad gut flora, the baby’s first ‘dose’ of bacteria are often bad ones.
On a personal note, I believe this to be the difference between my child with autism and my ‘typical’ child. With my autistic child I had eaten a pretty standard diet during and prior to the pregnancy, with the my childhood punctuated with antibiotics for sinus infections here, ear infections there.
With my son’s pregnancy (he’s my second child and is developing typically), I had found the traditional foods way of eating and ate lots of fermented foods and drank whole raw milk. The prenatal I took with him also had probiotics in it, so when he came down the birth canal he received an abundance of good bacteria. Of course this is all speculation, but this is supported by the Gut and Psychology Syndrome book. I didn’t read the GAPS book until after my second child was born, and it seemed to answer some of our questions about how why one of our children was affected and not the other.
The ‘Second Brain’ is in the Gut
There is neural tissue actually right in the gut. The gut can be damaged by toxins and other products of our modern lifestyle, but it can also be damaged by stress. Have you ever had digestive upset when stressed? Don’t feel like eating? That’s the neural tissue in your gut telling you that it’s not doing well. The ‘gut brain’ is primarily dealing with emotions. There is even evidence (and I’ve seen this personally) that when we are under extreme stress the gut becomes more damaged, increasing psychological symptoms and food allergies. For more information on this check out This episode of the Healthy Skeptic Podcast
The genetic component to autism? You do get gut flora from your parents
As I talked about up in the previous paragraph, the baby’s first interaction with bacteria is as they are born. So parents who have poor gut flora pass on the gut flora through the birth canal. For babies born via cesarean, they still get natural flora from mom’s skin as the baby nurses, and just in the environment around them. How does dad’s flora get into this picture? Assuming that mom and dad are having relations during the pregnancy, they are also sharing gut flora then, so the gut flora of both parents is present in the birth canal.
How vaccines and envirnomental toxins play a part in gut health
So, what is with the vaccination debate? Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride talks about this in her Gut and Psychology Syndrome book as well. She explains that a person without good gut flora will have an inferior detoxification system, and the toxins that are in vaccines along with the inactive viruses are just too much for the body to handle and the toxins end up affecting the brain. This is the most common sense approach to the vaccine/autism debate that I think I have ever heard!
In our case, neither of our children have ever received any vaccinations at all. I am adamant that they will not be vaccinated at all, because I do think that by bombarding their systems with toxins and viruses, active or not, it would be too much for their bodies to handle and we would be risking serious injury. You can read more about how I researched vaccines in the guest post I did on Kelly’s blog- I came to my vaccination decisions before autism even entered the picture.
ADD, Asperger Syndrome, ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, OCD, Bipolar Disorder, etc, are all related
ADD, ADHD, Depression, Autism, Anxiety, even Rheumatoid Arthritis and Celiac disease are all thought to be related in that they all originate in the the gut from poor gut flora. What an interesting concept! Reading the GAPS book was the first time that the connections had been made for me, but it makes perfect sense. All these conditions are on the rise, as we as a population are taking in more vaccines than ever, using more pharmaceutical drugs than ever, and administered more antibiotics than ever.
What Can Be Done?
After all this, if you’re in my generation you are most likely thinking that you or your children actually are affected by what Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride calls GAP Syndrome. You have signs of having poor gut flora. The good news is that there is a diet that can slowly starve out the bad bacteria in your gut and replace it with healthy flora. It’s the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and is what the Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet is based on. It is a grain free sugar free starch free diet that gives the gut a rest from the constant flow of complex carbohydrates that feed gut flora. I personally have seen great results in it, both in my daughter, and in myself- I followed it for just a couple months and was able to get rid of a dairy allergy. My daughter has also been healed of a dairy allergy, though she will be staying on the diet for at least a few more years to hopefully eventually heal her of autism.
So that’s my Gut/Brain connection overview, along with the ‘Cara Theory’ for how autism happens, or at least how I think it happened in our family. I’ve been wanting to write this all out for a while now, because if it can help even one family it is so worth it! I really have only touched the surface, the Gut and Psychology Syndrome and Breaking The Vicious Cycle books go into much more detail. Again, both books are available at the GAPS Diet Online Store on my Resource Page- discount code HHHBook10 gives you 10% off any book until 12/1/10.