Posted by: Chris Maloney | October 12, 2015

What Is the Evidence For the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet?

All of us can improve our diets. But when you create and name a syndrome yourself (and trademark and copyright it) then follow it up by prescribing a diet that you claim improves a wide range of brain illnesses, then you’d better have some evidence to back yourself up.

In looking at Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s website, I can’t help but like her. I also noticed that she doesn’t have any way for patients to schedule with her. According to some online posts about her, she has been touring the U.S. and elsewhere. It’s also mentioned that she has a child with developmental disabilities herself, giving her personal experience in the field.

I also like Dr. McBride’s focus on the gut bacteria and the microbiome. She’s well ahead of her time, and there’s a lot of emerging evidence out there. A recent study on irritable bowl syndrome came up with a lot of what she’s saying, but almost a decade later.

That said, her diet has been out for quite a while now, and autism is a very big research area. What are the results of doing her protocol? It’s hard, because her GAPS does not appear on medline anywhere. I guess when you name and trademark your own syndrome other researchers don’t use that terminology.

The studies on mice and the microbiome are stunning and indicate all sorts of dramatic changes in the brain as a result of changes in the microbiome. Gut transmitting fatty acids may be a causative factor for brain changes. But these are done on germ-free mice in a laboratory setting and may or may not bear a direct relationship to anything that happens to humans.

We do have some preliminary data on the connection between autism and the microbiome. Yes, there is an association, but it isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship. Comparing siblings with-and-without autism, many of each had gastrointestinal symptoms. The symptoms were more common in autistic children, and behavioral problems seemed worse in this group. Autistic children and siblings ate the same food, and “(t)here was no significant difference in ASD (autism spectrum disorder) severity scores between ASD children with and without FGID (functional gastrointestinal disorders). No significant difference in diversity or overall microbial composition was detected between ASD children with NT (neurotypical) siblings.” (study here) So, according to this study, autistic behavior is not determined by either what you eat or by what’s happening in your gut.

Dr. McBride’s initial assumption of an imbalance of bacteria at birth isn’t borne out in a cohort study comparing Caesarian vs. vaginal births. ” no association between planned CS and ASD or ADHD” (study here).

While autistic children have gut disorders at a higher rate than control children, there is little evidence that the gut disorder causes autism. It is more likely that it is a compounding issue for children with other issues. Whether it is more is still under investigation, and all caregivers are involved in creating research guidelines.


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