Introducing...A Dedicated GAPS Mama

Cara Faus knew that something was wrong by the time her daughter was only four months old. Her baby wasn't making eye contact with anyone, ever, and still wasn't rolling over. Cara and her husband kept checking for baby developmental milestones in the coming months, and started to worry, but they also didn't want to be hasty: everyone knows that babies grow on their own timetables. They hoped that their daughter would soon begin developing more “typically,” or at least more happily, and acquire the skills that people take for granted in “normal” children, like playing.

And anyway, there was _some_ forward progress, and _some_ development. They don't call autism a “learning disability” and a “spectrum disorder” for nothing. Katie (not her real name) finally began crawling at 13 months, and still wasn't playing with talking sounds like other babies. But still, again, some kids talk later, and walk later... How can you possibly be objective about one unique child? Cara found that she finally had to look at the whole picture, in order to notice that it wasn't just a physical milestone which was missing or one issue with her daughter's speech that was concerning, but there was rather an entire developmental breakdown manifesting itself in her child's unique set of symptoms.

And that's the problem that Cara found, even when they eventually took Katie to be diagnosed at age two. Depending upon the “professional” performing the evaluation, and depending upon the day of the week, and depending upon a child's mood on a given day, mental illnesses will get entirely different labels. On the day they went to get Katie evaluated, Cara and her husband were told that Katie had a “developmental delay”--which autism is--but that they (these particular evaluators) generally don't give the autism label until quite a bit later. “The testing isn't very objective,” Cara notes, because it's hard to be objective, and many people don't know what to do with an autism diagnosis anyway. Some people like to give the diagnosis early, and start certain therapies early as well, but others disagree with that tactic, don't want to give the stigma, and want parents to Wait and See and hope that the symptoms magically disappear on their own. And no matter which psychiatric diagnosis a child receives these days, there are certain key factors that are often overlooked and never mentioned as important treatment factors. One of the biggest of these is to understand: what foods are going into the sick child's mouth?

“She started getting much worse when I started feeding her,” Cara explains, which was around twelve months of age--Katie just wouldn't eat prior to that. Later, Cara says, she learned that “many kids on the spectrum breastfeed exclusively for one or two years, and aren't interested in foods at all...and then become very picky, preferring sugary and starchy foods above all others.” When Katie was a year old, Cara's Naturopath recommended not giving the baby any grains at all till she was two, but said nothing about starch of other types, such as the hard-to-digest potato which was one of Katie's first foods.

Katie didn't really exhibit digestive problems, although she cried a lot and didn't seem to do well on milk. And even though other issues began to be more obvious, “I thought it was my fault,” Cara says, “because she was my first child, and people said that I was spoiling her by breastfeeding my baby on demand.” Katie wanted to nurse every hour or hour and a half for her first several years.... round the clock. She had to be held all the time, and screamed in the car, and didn't like going out of the house.

But once again, diagnosing anything as slippery as an entire compendium of All That Comprises Normal Development is tricky at best. Some babies don't sleep much, and then their systems begin to regulate and they don't show other signs of neurological impairment later. In a population of healthy babies, many will be physiologically ready to sleep through the night around four months old, for 6-8 hours. And yet, if you have a baby who doesn't sleep, it sometimes seems that the only two options you're given are 1. let them “cry it out,” or 2. suffer in silence, endure countless night wakings, and nurse constantly. Understanding the way that GAPS can impact infant behavior might take parents a long way toward understanding the “normal” possibilities for their unique child.

Because as Cara says, with “a GAPS baby, it's a lot more difficult than it should have been. I knew she was different, but I didn't really know how different until we started this intervention. Because you know, some kids are just a little behind...” And even many pediatricians will do this too, Cara says: they will overlook a potentially scary diagnosis like autism simply because (if someone doesn't know about protocols like GAPS) an autistic child's future, as predicted by the success of current psychiatric treatments, is a grim future indeed. Although autism spectrum disorder is affecting a skyrocketing number of children today, conventional wisdom says that it is largely Incurable.

But as Cara notes, the earlier you act, the less development you have to catch up on later. And a growing body of clinical evidence is showing extremely promising results using dietary treatment, which exactly opposes the assumption of incurability for cases of autism, ADD/ADHD, PDD-NOS, Bi-Polar, depression, schizophrenia, etc. As Cara says: the best time to start healing your child is right now.

At the point when Cara began seriously looking into dietary treatments for her daughter, Katie didn't play like other kids, and definitely not _with_ other kids--in fact, she didn't seem to notice other children at all. “Her world revolved about eighteen inches around herself,” Cara says, and it was “a very small world.” You may have a baby like Cara's, who (even with physical therapy, etc.) does not ever make eye contact with another person...until the age of two, during the first week of dietary intervention.

“To be honest,” Cara admits, “...I was adamantly avoiding GAPS for about 3-4 months after I learned that it could help my child. 'Too low-carb,' I thought. 'That's ridiculous! No grains? Who does that to a toddler?'” So first they tried the GFCF (gluten free and casein free) diet; Katie was already mostly dairy free because she got congested with milk (even raw milk). The idea behind the GFCF diet is to remove all sources of two problematic tiny proteins called gluten and casein, that can slip through the holes in an autistic child's leaky gut and subsequently act like neurotoxins.

“With GFCF we saw huge huge improvement within 48 hours,” Cara writes. It was, she says, like they had a normal little girl for about three days--a little girl who spontaneously began to learn. “My child suddenly made eye contact, was interacting socially, and was very much improved with her balance.” Previously, “her development was around the level of a one-year-old's. “Now, instead of screaming, and insisting on being carried, she'd take our hand and follow us into a store, like a 'normal' little girl! She gave us hugs for the first time ever. She started to sleep [for longer than two-hour segments]!”

“I could see,” Cara says, “that there was a 'typically developing child' in her. But after those miraculous three days,” Katie just as rapidly regressed nearly to where she was before. One of the problems with a GFCF diet is that casein and gluten are not the only proteins that can wreak havoc in the body after slipping through a leaky gut wall. This is why GAPS focuses on “healing and sealing” the intestinal permeability issue in the first place, rather than trying to identify specific proteins and painstakingly making the nearly futile effort to remove them entirely from a patient's diet. (Additionally, GAPS involves a slow introduction of fermented foods to repopulate it with friendly microorganisms.)

Katie continued to sleep better after her GFCF breakthrough, but in most other ways she regressed, and her tantrums continued. Still, Cara hadn't seen anything so encouraging with any other therapy they'd tried, and she decided that GAPS would have to be the next step.

Cara writes, “Once I decided to commit to doing GAPS for a month (seemed like a much less overwhelming trial than the 2 years suggested), I got busy deciding exactly what we would need to start. During this time of reading Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride’s Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and Breaking The Vicious Cycle and scoping out the GAPShelp Yahoo Group, I also worked on stopping using grains in our cooking.”

So then came...November 2009, and the beginning of a new protocol. Ever since, Cara says, Katie has been steadily improving. “Our pediatrician keeps being surprised, and say, 'You guys must be working hard!' But she doesn't believe us that it could be the diet.” Cara has other objective means to measure Katie's progress, however: the now-four-year-old is in conventional speech and physical therapies, “...and directly after I do a period of really healing foods [GAPS Intro], she'll make leaps in progress.”

The theory behind the Gut and Psychology Syndrome dietary protocol is that mental illness stems from neuro- and other toxins and infections produced when intestinal flora is out of balance, and the gut is overgrown with pathogenic flora--which universally feed on sugars and starch, whether in grains, potatoes, sugar, maple syrup, parsnips, lactose, or other specific foods. This imbalance, in turn, fosters the development of a so-called “leaky gut,” literally holes in the intestinal lining that allow undigested proteins and literally countless other toxins to freely enter the bloodstream, rather than to get properly digested and absorbed or eliminated.

One of the reasons why the GFCF diet is rarely effective at healing autism (rather than simply ameliorating some symptoms) is that it allows many foods that patients can't digest, most notably: double-chain polysaccharides, otherwise known as sugar and starch. And since the GFCF diet doesn't heal the gut, and since people who go off gluten will usually start eating lots of rice and lots of other grains, these complex carbs are still feeding the pathogenic microbes that are doing such damage to begin with. Cara theorizes that this is why, “On GFCF, we had to be absolutely stringent. Not a molecule of any gluten or casein could go into her mouth without a reaction.” The difference on GAPS, is that Katie's gut has started to heal, her intolerances are lessening, and her body is gradually becoming more resilient and able to digest many different foods.

Cara hadn't expected to notice any changes in herself when she went on GAPS to support Katie, but all of a sudden, symptoms that she didn't know she had simply went away. During the first thirty days of GAPS, Cara says, “Suddenly I felt like a kid again! No pain, no exhaustion...and then every time I would try an illegal food, my body would revolt. And I realized that I didn't want to eat these foods—before, I didn't realize that these foods were making me sick, since I also hadn't known it was possible to feel so much better!”

Skin problems are a sign that a body's detoxification systems aren't functioning properly, and that foods/nutrients aren't absorbing properly, either. A happy side effect of GAPS for Katie's neurotypical younger brother, was that after two months, his eczema completely went away.

Years ago, Cara says, “When I became a vegan briefly, I learned that my chronic sinus infections were related to dairy.” When she removed dairy from her diet way back then, her sinus pain vanished. “I was on antibiotics a lot when I was little,” Cara says, but nothing helped with the milk allergy, until GAPS. After two months, Cara discovered that she could eat milk products again, without experiencing the immediate and painful headaches and sinus problems that used to accompany any dairy she consumed.

The interesting thing about GAPS is that in general, people think that allergies are a life sentence. And in some cases, like with certain types of anaphylaxis, this may be true. But Natasha Campbell-McBride says that these types of allergies are pretty rare--and one of the things that makes Dr. Campbell-McBride's protocol so revolutionary is that patients with gluten or casein allergies can actually reverse them over time. “And to me,” Cara says, “this is amazing. I didn't think it would work! I did the diet with Katie, just to make sure it was okay for my daughter. But then I started feeling so good!” (This is a paper on food allergy written by Dr. Campbell-McBride: http://www.gaps.me/preview/?page_id=344 .)

GAPS, Cara has found, is “‘weight normalizing’ - i.e. my children gain steadily (as they should!) while I lost to a certain amount and then held there. For me that is about 135 pounds at 5’8”, which is a healthy weight for me. ...I have had issues with hypoglycemia my whole life, and that is never an issue on GAPS, even without limiting my GAPS legal carbs.”

Cara says it awes her, “that we can do something: feed some good foods to our kids and ourselves, and keep going.” It's so encouraging, she notes, that even kids who are not profoundly autistic, but who might just have minor “processing” or “developmental” delays, or food allergies, can also find healing. And the amazing part about this healing is that we're supporting the body in the work that it does, to help it clear away toxins and rebuild itself so that even the brain begins to function and develop typically again. And what about the comment that many people make, about how GAPS is such a limiting dietary protocol? “There are so many foods to eat,” Cara says, “that once you get used to not filling your plate with lots of grain, there's so much TO eat. And it's much less challenging than it seems.”

So how is Katie now, a year and a half after the Faus' family GAPS adventures began? Cara writes that recently, their family re-did the GAPS intro, which basically means eating super-easy-to-digest, and very-gut-healing and probiotic foods for a period of time, with a focus on soups and well-cooked veggies and meats with tons of fat. This latest round of Intro has provoked some big new changes, specifically involving Katie's interactions with others. Cara's partial list:

“She asked for something (a swing in the other therapy room) unprompted.

“In speech therapy for the first time ever, I got a great report on her speech (I hadn't told them we changed anything in her diet).

“Another mom at therapy commented as we were waiting, how much HAPPIER she was (it's not uncommon for Katie to melt down over something every 5 minutes when we're in public... we don't go out much other than to therapies and the park) - again I didn't tell anyone we'd made any changes to her diet.

“She went in an elevator/to a friend's office/back down and into the car... again, no meltdowns.

“She's saying 'thank you' in context. :)

“She's doing 3-4 word combinations/sentences on purpose (before this round of intro it was only 2 word combos).

“She stopped climbing on me- this was an issue all.day.long. and now that she's too big for the Ergo it was really keeping me from being able to get anything done.  She can happily sit in the chair next to me, rather than on top of me. This is big for us. ;) 

“She stopped grabbing everything, and has some impulse control--again, this was an issue every day; I'd be trying to cut meat or fold laundry or whatever and she'd repeatedly reach and grab what I was doing and want to do it herself. Cute, but as soon as I switched to something else, she would also switch, which prevented me from getting anything done.

“She's never had the attention span to even watch 30 seconds of TV. She watched Baby Einstein for 20 minutes on Friday. I normally am not pro-TV, but with the level of care she takes, I will happily take 20 minutes a day. :)”

Overall, Cara says, the Big Picture is that her daughter is finally moving forward. “Before dietary intervention, my little one had no desire to interact or learn, but with GAPS she makes progress every day. She used to go to the park and not know what to do, just sit in the sand and stare awkwardly at the other kids playing. She didn't have the development to understand how the play equipment worked or be able to use it without falling.  She made no eye contact and I had to work super hard to get her to pay attention to anything I was doing.  It wasn't for lack of trying--we're an attachment parenting family and she had been in a sling since birth, talked to often, etc.  GAPS really brought her to a point where she *can* learn, and then recently doing the intro diet again helped her to not have to touch everything.  She has impulse control, and doesn't melt down every few minutes.  She sleeps most nights through the night.  She's still developmentally behind, but now she's *progressing* which to us is huge.”

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The preceding section consists of facts about Cara Faus' family and their healing journey. The following sections consist of lightly-edited quotes from several other articles written by this dedicated Mama. To put this profile together, Cara has generously allowed me to pull material from the following sources:

http://www.healthhomehappy.com/grain-free-2/gaps
http://www.healthhomehappy.com/2011/03/gaps-intro-for-gut-healing-and-se...
http://www.cheeseslave.com/2010/01/20/guest-post-how-the-gaps-diet-is-he... (“This was when I was still shy about talking about autism, so I talked about 'allergies' instead.”)
http://www.cheeseslave.com/2010/08/24/healing-autism-with-the-gaps-diet-...
http://www.healthhomehappy.com/2011/03/what-is-a-gaps-family.html
...and some posts on the GAPShelp yahoo group.

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Our family is a GAPS family
by Cara Faus

A GAPS family is defined by all the different ways poor gut health affects the physical and mental self. The poor inner ecology is what was ‘passed along,’ but the symptoms present as many different things, from allergies to eczema to autism.

Have you ever wondered why your family seems to have so many “issues” while others sail through life eating worse food and having much less healthy habits than you? Did you have a nagging suspicion that your family’s ‘quirks’, though seemingly unrelated, could actually be related?

….Doctors are puzzled by this, and tend to just claim ‘genetics’ if they don’t understand something. I’m sure some things are genetics, but I find it difficult to believe that the ‘autism’, ‘eczema’, ‘hyperactivity’, ‘allergy’, ‘food intolerance’, and ‘OCD’ genes would suddenly show up in this current generation after being missing from so many before. A family full of these things is a ‘GAPS family’.

In addition to the inner ecology influencing brain function, generational nutrition does at well.

A GAPS family likely was very healthy 100 years ago, living on whole foods with minimal toxins and drug exposure. Two or three generations ago they switched to eating more packaged foods and smoking cigarettes.

The next generation they may have quit smoking, but continued to eat even more food that came from factories, and started avoiding sun exposure (and with that avoiding fresh air), and fat.

Antibiotics, an amazing discovery that saves lives, unfortunately also are over prescribed without looking toward the long term consequences in the GI tract.

The following generation is where some big issues started popping up- Chronic fatigue, digestion problems, attention problems, autistic spectrum disorder, eczema, chronic unexplained pain, learning disabilities, depression, and possibly even obesity.

Our ‘progressiveness’ is hurting our families. Each generation has said, ‘Well, I was raised this way and I turned out fine… Grandma lived to be 80… It must be something else, my great grandparents not only ate like this, but they also smoked a pack a day!”

But over time, our bodies have become depleted. Moving away from whole foods, reducing fat, and the stress of environmental toxins has left us depleted of nutrients. When we get pregnant (if we are able), these deficiencies are passed on to our offspring, and the toxins may be partially passed on as well.

If a mother’s liver is overwhelmed with toxins, it may not adequately filter them out and away from her developing baby, and the baby is then born fighting an up hill battle. A mother deficient in vitamin B12 passes that deficiency onto her baby, who then has trouble growing, developing, and learning (source) and detoxifying. These aren’t the only problems- they are just what I could think of right now.

[Simply consuming] the correct nutrients isn’t enough. We need to be taking in nutrients that our body can actually use (i.e. from whole foods) and our body has to be functioning well enough that it can digest and utilize the nutrients how it should.

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 can get bad flora overgrowing in our system by wiping the entire population out with antibiotics, and allowing the bad bacteria to establish colonies because there aren’t enough good bacteria already established to crowd them out. 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 all of my childhood punctuated with rounds of 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 why one of our children was affected and not the other.

And...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 [elsewhere on Cara's blog]. I came to my vaccination decisions before autism even entered the picture.

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Cara's Partial List of Common GAPS Symptoms

Allergies
Eczema
ADD/ADHD
Anxiety
Depression
Bipolar Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Compulsive behaviors such as overeating, obsessive dieting, and excessive hand washing
Chronic unexplained fatigue
Digestive issues
Chronic unexplained pain
Fibromyalgia
Sensory integration disorder

What Can We Do?

By taking the nutrition and toxin aspect of our family’s health seriously, I believe that we can change our family tree. If you suspect your family is also a GAPS family, I would suggest starting by reading the Gut and Psychology Syndrome book, and then implementing the diet as described in the book.

“What if I don’t want it to go away?” Some people ask me that; their child has loveable quirks, and they don’t want to lose the intelligence, different way they view the world, or their personality. I don’t think modifying their diet does eliminate that sort of thing. I’m a bit obsessive (see my baby research for a taste of that), and on GAPS I stop washing my hands 97 times a day and don’t have to re-check that the stove is off a dozen times before leaving the house, and I don’t repeatedly put my truck in first gear while waiting for the light to turn green--but I continue being able to methodically evaluate things (such as supplements) and make reasoned decisions. In my experience, I haven’t noticed ‘losing’ any of my quirky traits that I find helpful in life, I only lose the ones I’m happy to not have.

I love that GAPS can work for a variety of ‘modern epidemics’ – Allergies, autism, autoimmune disorders, ADD, learning disabilities, gastrointestinal problems, yeast, and more.

I love that the whole family can be on the same (or similar, depending if you’re all advancing through the stages or not) diet, yet it works for a variety of problems.

I love that it supports gut health, which in turn supports the immune system, brain function, nutrient assimilation, and detoxification.

I love that GAPS challenged me to really look at all the possible sources of toxins in our home and to try new things in our diet.

I love that it truly gets to the root of the problem (poor absorption of nutrients in the gut).

I love that treatment can be done by normal people using real food and that we can get real results without relying on technology, a regimen of toxic ‘medicine’, or supplements that aren’t financially realistic for most families.

*Disclaimer: I’m just a mom trying to figure out what will help my family. I’m not a medical professional. I’m not judging you, diagnosing you, or claiming to have all or any answers. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned lately, if you have any questions please see a qualified healthcare professional.