The GAPS Diet with Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride

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The GAPS Diet with Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride

Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) is a natural treatment approach to mood and behavioural disorders such as autism, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression and schizophrenia developed by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride.

Today Dr Campbell-McBride joins us to discuss her medical background as a neurologist and neurosurgeon and how her own son's autism diagnosis led her to immerse herself in further education in human nutrition. Dr Campbell-McBride's insights into patterns she was seeing between neurological and digestive disorders led to her writing her book "Gut and Psychology Syndrome" and she now spends her time educating other practitioners on the GAPS Nutritional Protocol allowing her to magnify its reach outside of her own clinical practice. 


Covered in this episode:

[01:10] Introducing Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride
[02:38] Dr Campbell-McBride shares her background
[03:38] Dr Campbell-McBride's son's autism diagnosis led to a new learning curve
[04:22] Working with whole families showed trends in health
[05:16] The gut flora is at the root of the issue
[07:03] The inherited microbiome
[09:43] How severe was Dr Campbell-McBride's son's autism?
[10:31] Take us through what the GAPs diet is?
[13:22] How does the GAPS diet differ from some of the other diets (eg. FODMAPs, Gluten Free, Paleo, Mediteranean etc)
[15:42] Microbial diversity: pathogenic vs. beneficial
[19:17] Using GAPS to help restore diversity
[20:11] International food quality: sourcing the best food
[24:50] How do you keep people on track with the GAPs diet approach?
[26:30] GAPS barriers to research
[27:13] GAPS practitioner training & further resources
[28:41] Thanking Natasha and wrap up

Andrew: This is FX Medicine and I'm Andrew Whitfield-Cook. Joining me on the line today all the way from the UK is Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride. She's a medical doctor with two postgraduate degrees, Master of Medical Sciences in Neurology and Master of Medical Sciences in Human Nutrition. 

Natasha graduated as a medical doctor in Russia. After practising for five years as a neurologist and three years as a neurosurgeon, she started a family and moved to the UK where she got her second postgraduate degree in Human Nutrition.

She's well-known for developing the concept of GAPS. That's the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, which she's described in her book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, A.D.H.D., Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression, and Schizophrenia now in its second edition. Thousands of people around the world follow the highly successful GAPS Nutritional Protocol to help themselves and their families. And you can learn more about GAPS on

Dr Campbell-McBride is a keynote speaker at many professional conferences and seminars around the world. She frequently gives talks to health practitioners, patient groups and associations. She's a member of the Society of Authors and a regular contributing health editor to a number of magazines and newsletters. 

And I'd like to welcome Natasha Campbell-McBride to FX Medicine. How are you, Natasha?

Natasha: Hello. I'm delighted to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Andrew: My pleasure. Natasha, I've got to say, you've got a very varied medical training. Can you take our listeners through your beginnings and what sparked your interest to look at nutrition?

Natasha: When I was a neurologist, a mainstream neurologist, I wondered why all of my patients, pretty much 100% of them have severe digestive problems. And, of course, our medicine is divided into specialisations. We have cardiologists, and neurologists, and psychiatrists, and traumatologists and a long list of professionals. 

And every professional focuses on his little part of the human body and doesn't look at the rest of it. And a human body is one entity. It works as one and it's every organ, every cell in the body communicates with each other, and works as a whole together. So we cannot really divide the human body. It doesn't work.

And the problem is, when I was still a mainstream neurologist, we didn't look at the digestive system. We invited a gastroenterologist, they would look at it and prescribe something, and we just followed their recommendations. 

But later on, when I had my first child, and my first child happens to be autistic, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3, that spurred a very intense learning curve for me. I went back to university. I learnt human nutrition. I've read thousands of books, probably. And the result of that was that my child recovered fully. He just graduated from university and looking for his first job.

So, I've discovered that autism is a curable disorder myself, and I started working with many, many other children with autism and A.D.H.D. and other learning disabilities and found that what I've done with my own child works on those children as well, helps them to recover as well.

And because I was working with whole families, a mother and a father would come with their autistic child and quite often they will bring the siblings as well. And I've discovered that actually siblings are not very well either. 

They're usually fussy eaters. They often have digestive problems, allergies, asthma, eczema. Quite often clingy or some behavioural issues, but nothing as severe as their autistic sibling. So the parents' attention was mainly on the autistic child, not on the rest of the children. 

But it was clear to me that these children are also affected because they've got the same gut flora from the same parents, which was damaged, and that manifested itself in various different conditions. The parents themselves were also ill. Very many parents had neurological disorders, digestive problems, allergies, migraines, chronic cystitis, skin problems, and various other problems.

And what I've discovered here and what I could see that all of these disorders were stemming from the same root from one disorder, one root. And that root is in the digestive system, is within the gut flora of the person. 

Majority of people know that we have some bacteria in the digestive system. Well, recent research has discovered the fact that 90% of all cells in your body are in your gut flora, 90%. So your body is just a shell, a habitat, 10%. It's a shell or habitat for this mass of microbes inside us. 

And unfortunately, a growing proportion of the Western population of people have a very damaged gut flora because of regular consumption of antibiotics, processed foods, pesticides, other pharmaceutical medications, and various other environmental factors.

And when the gut flora is damaged, that means that the balance of microbes in there is upset, and the whole place is dominated by pathogenic microbes. And we have pathogenic bacteria there, and viruses, and fungi, and protozoa, and worms, and flukes, and all sorts of leeches of all sorts of sizes from very, very tiny, as a virus, to 2-metre long things in there.

And when a person has abnormal gut flora, gut flora damages the integrity of the gut wall making it porous and leaky. It consumes the food that comes along and converts it into cells and so very toxic, poisonous chemicals which are absorbed through the damaged gut lining, go to the bloodstream and get distributed around the body. 

Wherever in the body this toxic river, this toxic flow gets to, it would cause disease. It can be migraines. It can be allergies. It can be asthma. It can be nephritis. It can be cholecystitis, can be rheumatoid arthritis, can be multiple sclerosis.

But when this mixture of toxicity gets into the brain of a developing child, that development stops, normal development stops, and the child can develop a learning disability. Vast majority, almost 100% of autistic children in our modern world were born with perfectly normal brain. These were perfectly normal children. 

But at the moment of birth, their parents have passed to them their abnormal, damaged gut flora because that's where the gut flora in the baby comes from. It comes from the mother and the father. They pass their gut flora to the child. And as a result, the child develops abnormal gut flora. 

So the digestive system of the baby becomes a major source of toxicity in the body instead of being a source of nourishment for the child. When this toxicity gets into the brain, it clogs it. It clogs various centres, various areas of the brain.

How does the baby learn? If you observe babies, you can see that they listen to everything, they stare at everybody, they touch everything, they put everything in their mouth. What are they doing? They're using their sensory organs, their hearing, vision, tactile sensitivity, and their taste buds to collect information from the environment. 

And then that information is passed through the brain to be processed, and that's how the child learns. "This is a mommy and this is a daddy. I can trust them. This is a toy. I play with it like this. I don't throw it. I don't line it up with other toys. I don't destroy it. This is food. I eat it this way. These are the children. I copy them."

But if the child's brain is clogged with toxicity coming from the gut of the child, then all that sensory information coming into the brain cannot be processed properly. It turns into a mush, into a noise in the child's brain. And from that noise, the child cannot learn anything useful. 

Autistic children are known to pick up a hand of stranger in the street and walk away with mommy running behind them screaming his name because, "Mommy doesn't mean anything more than any other human being around." They don't know what to do with toys. They don't know what to do with food. They don't know what to do with other children around. They can't copy people. That's how the child becomes autistic.

If the mixture of toxicity coming out of the gut is different and the level of it is different, the child may not become autistic but may become hyperactive or develop attention deficit disorder, or dyslexia, or dyspraxia, or ataxia, or any...there are dozens of diagnostic boxes now developed by psychiatry. 

All psychiatric disorders are GAPS conditions, in my opinion, all of them. Whether it's schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and so on.

Andrew: Can I ask? Is it like there's a... And forgive me for sort of harping on, or sort of honing in on your son, but was your son a high-functioning autistic boy or...? Like, you know, there can be quite severe levels of autism.

Natasha: He was very severe. He was very, very severe. He had no language. He had no comprehension of language. He didn't understand language. He was the child that would take a hand of a stranger in the street and walk away. He didn't know what to do with toys. He had terrible self-stimulations and tantrums and all sorts of things. So, he was a very severe case, and he recovered fully. I have known thousands of children around the world who have recovered.

Andrew: Fully?

Natasha: Yes.

Andrew: Wow. That's huge. So, I've got to say, I mean, this is really thought-provoking. Can you take our listeners through exactly what the GAPS diet is? And, like, you mentioned a few conditions there, psychiatric conditions mostly, but I gather that it's relevant for a lot more than that.

Natasha: GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and now it also stands for Gut and Physiology Syndrome. Both abbreviated the same, GAPS. 

Andrew: Right.

Natasha: And Gut and Psychology Syndrome includes all the mental problems, all the problems that the brain can produce, or the diseases of the brain. And Gut and Physiology Syndrome includes the rest of the body. I'm writing the second book now called Gut and Physiology Syndrome. So, all of these conditions are, in essence, digestive disorders. That's where they stem from. They stem from the abnormal gut flora and what's going on in the digestive system.

Hippocrates, all those thousands of years ago, made a statement that all disease begins in the gut. And he was absolutely correct. Indeed, every chronic disorder begins in the gut, whether that's where the roots of our health are and the roots of all the diseases are. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a gut disorder. Multiple sclerosis is a gut disorder. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, all neuropathies are a gut disorder despite the fact that people cannot make the connection. Even the mainstream medical doctors cannot make a connection.

So in order to help these people, in order to recover, it is the digestive system we need to heal and we need to focus on. We need to change the gut flora, normalise it, drive out pathogens, replace them with beneficial bacteria. We need to heal and seal the gut wall. We need to rebuild the layers of cells in the gut. We need to restore the whole digestive function.

And that's what GAPS Nutritional Protocol does. Because it is a digestive disorder, diet is the most important part of the protocol. The GAPS diet, we have to follow it very strictly, minimum for two years. Many people have to follow it for many years. And if it is a severe disorder such as schizophrenia for example, or another severe psychiatric disorder, or it is a multiple sclerosis, or it is rheumatoid arthritis, or it is chronic fatigue syndrome, or fibromyalgia, or ME or anything like that, any really serious debilitating chronic condition, the person has to stay on the diet for the rest of their life.

The diet is very dense in nutrition. It's very nutrient-dense, so you don't need any supplements to provide nutrition for you. You will get all your nutrients, vitamins, proteins, and so on from food, homemade, wholesome food. We use a few supplements only at the beginning of the programme to speed up the process, speed up the healing in the body. But for the rest of their life, people won't need any supplements, really. They just follow the diet.

Andrew: Right. How does the GAPS diet or concept, if you like, differ from other dietary concepts like gluten and wheat-free or casein-free, low-FODMAP diet, paleo diet, Mediterranean diet?

Natasha: Mm-hmm. Well, in the GAPS diet, we focus on healing and sealing the gut wall. We have a beautiful process in the human body called “cell regeneration.” All cells in the human body, in every organ, including your brain, die, live a short life, die, and get replaced by newly born cells. That's how human body rejuvenates itself, regenerates, heals after any damage, and just continues that way.

In the gut wall, the gut wall is lined by very specialised cells which only live a few days. So that cell regeneration is very, very rapid and very active in the gut wall. To assist that process, all we have to do is provide the right building materials for the gut wall to give birth to those little baby cells, to replace the sick ones. You can't heal the sick cells. You have to shed them off, get rid of them, and replace them with newly born cells.

But if a person is eating an inappropriate diet, they do not provide enough building materials for the gut lining to produce healthy baby cells. The baby cells are born sick, dysfunctional. And as a result, that perpetuates the disorder in the gut wall. That perpetuates the Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome, or any other disorder the person has. GAPS diet will provide all the necessary building blocks, building materials to give birth to those tiny, little cells, healthy, vibrant, strong.

So, it takes a few months to rebuild the layers of the cells in the gut wall minimum. In some people, it takes longer, depending on what the gut flora is like. Because if it's pathogenic, it will keep damaging it. It will keep killing those little baby cells.

So, in the GAPS diet, we focus on what we're actually eating, not at what we're not eating, what we're excluding. We're focusing on what we're actually eating. Many diets are focusing on what we're excluding. Now, we're noticing gluten, we're noticing casein, we're noticing this, that, and the other. But there isn't much focus on what we're actually eating and the diet is deficient. People are not getting enough nutrition...

Andrew: Right.

Natasha: ...enough appropriate nutrients. GAPS diet focuses on what we're actually eating.

Andrew: How do you tease apart the concept of a pathogen from the concept of the hygiene hypothesis, or the "old friends" theory with regards to low levels of, particularly parasites, but also some helminths with dampening inflammatory-based type diseases?

Natasha: Absolutely. When we compare the gut flora of a Western person with gut flora of some traditional societies or so-called primitive groups, tribes in Africa or tribes somewhere in the Pacific Islands, we find that the gut flora in a Western person is much smaller, is a much lower amount of microbes in there, and the diversity is very low. There is no diversity.

If you look at any piece of natural nature, for example, if you dig a piece of organic soil, really natural, clean, not contaminated by chemicals soil, you will find that it is a community of microbes, of all kinds of microbes starting from the microscopic virus to worms and to rodents and to moulds. 

And all of those parts of the ecology are necessary. That's the diversity that has to be in a healthy soil. If we apply pesticide to that or something else, another chemical to that, we reduce the diversity. We kill off part of the microbial ecological niche, and we reduce the diversity.

And that's what the Western population has been doing for the last hundred years. But secretly after the World War II, when antibiotics came onto the market, we have reduced the diversity in our gut flora. We have killed off large parts of our microbial ecosystem in there. And the problem is that, when you reduce diversity, you introduce imbalance because, in a natural, healthy habitat is a healthy gut flora in a person who never had antibiotics.

Every microbe is necessary. Every little one is necessary in there, because they all plant each other, harvest each other, eat each other, control each other. They don't allow each other to outgrow, to stop dominating and to stop causing trouble. And every one of them contributes a certain function to the whole. 

But when we introduce antibiotics or anything else like that, we reduce diversity. Suddenly a group of microbes have disappeared from there. So the microbes that used to be controlled by those particular microbes that disappeared, they suddenly overgrow. They suddenly get out of control, and they start causing trouble. And that's where the beginning of all the chronic disorders is, in the gut flora.

So, when it comes to gut flora, the more the merrier. And indeed, when it comes to helminths, there is a group of research now which have been conducted with two varieties of worms—intestinal worms, parasites—which can help to reduce inflammation in the gut and even cure Crohn's disease in some people. 

So basically what these people do, they take a sachet full of eggs of that worm, open the sachet, pour that powder into a glass of water and drink it. They introduce the worm into their digestive system, and that can cure Crohn's disease in some cases, not in all people.

So, what that demonstrates to us, that every creature, no matter how disgusting it might seem to us, to human beings, every creature in the gut flora is essential, is important. Human beings are very good at killing things, you know? As soon as we find a microbe anywhere, we want to kill it. That's the way our society functions. That has to change, because everything in nature, everything in a balanced natural habitat is essential.

So, what we do in the GAPS, we introduce fermented foods into the diet. Fermented foods are a very important part of the diet. We ferment vegetables. We ferment milk. We can ferment other things. And those are an important part of the diet every day with every meal. Pretty much we eat fermented foods. 

So we're introducing other microbes into the gut. We're trying to increase diversity in the gut flora and to improve diversity. And that way, at the end of the day, it's nature that heals. Your own body heals yourself. Not the doctor. The doctor doesn't heal anyone. Nature heals you. Your own body heals itself. 

All we can do, if we are smart, is provide the building blocks, provide the resources for the body to heal itself rather than try to throw things at it and dictate to it and bash it on the head with various strong drugs. We have to just provide resources for the body and the body will then heal itself.

Andrew: You do a lot of international travelling. Do you find great disparities in the quality of food from one country to the other?

Natasha: Yes, yes, absolutely. The Western world has the worst food without a doubt. The majority of people, particularly English-speaking countries. There's even a joke going around the internet that heart disease and cancer and all the rest of the diseases are caused by the English language, because the statistics of those diseases are the highest in the English-speaking countries. The rest of the Western world follow with the statistics. 

But when you go to less developed countries, third-world countries and other countries where more traditional way of life is followed, you find healthier people, stronger people go together, and less disease you find and better quality foods.

The best quality food at the end of the day is the one that you've grown yourself. Many of my patients who have gone through the whole GAPS Nutritional Protocol who had to find good quality food, they had to source the farmers, organic farmers, biodynamic farmers, from proper mixed farms. So for years they've been buying eggs somewhere, and milk somewhere, and meat somewhere else, and had to travel long distances for that. 

Eventually, these people have a chance. They buy a farm. They buy a plot of land and they create a smallholding. And they create a diverse smallholding because that's very important. So they will have chickens, and geese, and ducks, and a couple of goats, and maybe even a cow, and a couple of pigs. And most of their food then comes from their own farm. And of course, they have an organic garden, these people, and an orchard they would plant. 

So that is the best food you can ever get is the one that you've grown and produced yourself. And, on any healthy plot of land, any healthy farm, you have to have animals as well as plants. You cannot specialise on a monoculture because the role of animals in nature is to restore fertility of soil. Without animals, you will not have fertile soil. You have to have animals and birds on your farm.

So, the second best is to find organic farmers in your area and buy good produce from these farmers. What many patients do, they create a rota. If, for example, you have to drive an hour or couple of hours to get your milk, your proper-quality raw milk from real cows, from Jersey cows, then they would make a rota. One week, one person drives and brings the milk for everybody for the whole group and people pick up their milk from the house of that person. Next week, somebody else drives and does that drive. The same with eggs. If they found a good farmer who produces real eggs, they will do the same. They will buy eggs for the week from that farmer.

When we buy meat, we buy a whole animal. We buy two lambs. The butcher will cut it and put it in bags. You put it in the freezer. All it takes is buying a second-hand freezer and you have your lamb for the rest of the year, your supply of lamb. So you don't go to the supermarket looking for a little piece of meat here and there. You go to your freezers every day and you get a piece of meat out of there. 

When we buy pig, we buy half a pig. When we buy beef, we buy a quarter of a cow. And that would last an average family for a year. The same with chickens. You buy 10 chickens. Because once you found a good animal, and you've spoken to the farmer, and you know how that animal has been raised, you know that the meat is clean, there are no chemicals in that meat, then you buy it in bulk and you have all the supply at home in your freezer. So that's what we do. That is the second best.

Buying food in the supermarket is a road to sickness. Supermarkets do not provide food that will make you healthy. That is commercial food that has been grown with one aim, one purpose only: profit. 

If you take two people and give them the same task, for example, of growing carrots, but you say one person should grow carrots for maximum profit, another person should grow carrots for maximum nutritional benefit. These two people will grow these carrots in very different ways. Just opposite ways. They will go about it completely differently. That's what's happening with our supermarkets. This is commercial produce. It has been grown with one aim: profit.

So, corners have been cut, chemicals have been applied, the soils have been exhausted. So these carrots, this produce in the supermarket will not provide your body with any building materials of quality but they will provide you with a huge amount of pollution for your body to cope with. And that causes disease. 

So all this abundance of food in our Western world is an illusion. It is a beautiful, colourful illusion.

Andrew: Well, we've created it with our proliferation, with human proliferation. 

Can I ask what happens... I mean, you know, you're obviously going to have a varied sample size when you're looking at various different types of patients, various severities of condition, various knowledge of parents of diet and nutrition. So, how do you keep people on track with the GAPS diet?

Natasha: Well, that's the choice of the family. They have to choose this themselves. And I had families who came to me, had a consultation, and decided not to do it because the mother just thought it was too hard for her and they basically made a decision to just sacrifice their child for their own comfort. 

Andrew: Right.

Natasha: I had families like that, and of course I cannot dictate to people. That's their life choices, and people have to choose that. But majority of parents do follow the diet. And once they start getting benefits, results, when they see their child speaking their first words and starting to keep their eye contact with you and the intelligence starts coming in and the child becomes teachable, they can start teaching the child, as soon as they see those benefits and allergies disappear, and eczema disappears, and physical symptoms, people just stick to it. They stick to it, and they stay on it for many, many years.

I started my clinic in about 2000, 2001, and the majority of people who I started with, they're still with me. They would disappear for a few years because everything is fine. And if there's no news, it's good news for me. But then they will surface and they will say, "Well, I had a baby and I've got this little problem," or, "Something happened here. What do we do?" But these are now happy and healthy families.

Andrew: Yeah. I've got to say, the results that you're talking about are nothing short than astounding. Is there any goals to formalise the results of using the GAPS diet in research at all?

Natasha: Many people ask me, I have many scientists contacting me saying that, "I would love to research your protocol. Have you got any money?" which I haven't. Science is an expensive business. It all comes down to money. And trouble is the way that science is organised, majority of funding comes from commercial companies, and they would not fund a programme like this. Absolutely not. That's against what they're trying to achieve. So, we don't have any studies on GAPS published yet, I'm sorry to say. Hopefully, in the future, there will be.

Andrew: Yeah. I'm going to be interviewing somebody who learnt how to teach the GAPS, and that's Dr Laura Lum. I'm going to be interviewing her later on in the year, hopefully. 

So, I look forward to getting more and more information about the GAPS diet in the future certainly. Like, it's astounding. It's blown the lid off what we would except as normal results.

Natasha: Yes. In the last two years, I have been training health practitioners all over the world how to follow the GAPS Nutritional Protocol. So, now, we have more than a thousand of certified GAPS practitioners all over the world. They're listed on my website, and the button saying "Find A Practitioner" because quite a few years ago I've realised that I cannot help the whole world myself, because I was overwhelmed with requests for consultations. So I started training health practitioners. I'm doing more training this year.

Andrew: Whereabouts?

Natasha: I'm doing a training next weekend in the UK. That will be European training. And we have a course in America. We have a course in Australia coming up. That will be on GAPS Australia. There's a company called GAPS Australia, which we will find all the information.

Andrew: That's really good information for practitioners who are interested in discovering new ways of treating, as you say, not just psychology but physiology. Yeah, yeah. Quite amazing stuff. 

Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, thanks so much for joining us today on FX Medicine. I'm so sorry we've run out of time. And we've got a bit of a lag between the UK and Australia. I think it's the UK issue with Brexit.

Natasha: Okay, okay. Probably. I have voted to stay.

Andrew: But I thank you so much for joining us on FX Medicine today.

Natasha: That's a pleasure. Thank you.

Andrew: This is FX Medicine, and I'm Andrew Whitfield-Cook.


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