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Review of 'Gut and Psychology Syndrome'

Gut and Psychology Syndrome
by Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, MMedSci(neurology), MMedSci(nutrition).
Published by Medinform, United Kingdom.
266 pages, softcover, $29.95 , includes 40 pages of food information/recipes.
More information at

Reviewed by Beth Ingham

Once in awhile you come across a book that causes you to stop and pay attention. Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig was just such a book to me when I first encountered it twelve years ago, and I continue to hold it up as the gold standard for how healthy people should be eating. It is without a doubt the single most important book on diet and nutrition available.

Unfortunately, we are not a healthy people. We adults suffer numerous chronic maladies such as arthritis, GERD, heart disease, fibromyalgia, MS, hypothyroidism, cancer, diabetes and allergies in addition to a host of "psychological" conditions and our children are plagued with behavioral and learning disturbances such as ADD, ADHD, depression, dyslexia and autistic spectrum disorder in addition to health problems like asthma, diabetes, bed wetting, constipation, and "odd" eating habits that are compromising the quality of their young lives. Something is seriously wrong. Numerous therapies and diets have arisen over the past decade or two to address these issues but none seem to offer a "cure" or an explanation as to why this is happening in such epidemic proportions. Gut and Psychology Syndrome offers both and, in my humble opinion, is the gold standard guide for regaining health and wellbeing for everyone who suffers from any chronic condition -- no matter how it manifests.

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride and her husband, Peter, were told 13 or so years ago that their then 3 year old son fit into an autistic spectrum diagnosis. They became founding members of PEACH, Parents for the Early Intervention of Autism in Children and engaged in Intensive Behavioral Intervention Program, ABA to help their son. Although immensely helpful, Natasha realized that behavior modification was not enough so she returned to University pursuing a postgraduate degree in Human Nutrition. She studied and experimented with various diets and supplements, finally finding the ones that allowed her child to recover. He is now a healthy teenager enjoying his life.

With the understanding that an "autistic child needs very special nutritional management, a major part of it being reestablishment of the right gut flora", Natasha began treating patients in her clinic -- initially focusing on Autism. But soon it became clear to her that children with ADD/ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, various behavioral and learning problems, allergies, asthma, eczema all had conditions that overlapped. No child would present with just one problem but would have two or three or more of these issues.

She realized that the underlying problem that tied all these children together is the state of their digestive health. Evch child had an abnormal digestive system. She proposed that this condition be called Gut and Psychology Syndrome or GAP syndrome as these children in truth never fit one diagnosis and fall into the gap in our medical knowledge never receiving proper treatment. The underlying disorder of the disturbed gut manifests itself in the learning and behavioral problems epidemic in our children and adults. She includes the psychiatric conditions: schizophrenia, depression, bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders as well.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome does an amazing job of describing how the gut (large and small intestines) becomes disturbed. I'll briefly describe it to heighten interest in her book. When a child is born, their gut is sterile and the first exposure to the micro flora that will establish in their gut comes from the micro flora in the mother's vagina. The same population of micro organisms inhabit all the areas of the body, so if she has abnormal gut flora -- or in some cases if the father has abnormal gut flora -- it is passed on to the baby. Even nursing by a mother with abnormal gut flora will not lead to the establishment of a balanced flora because of the toxins in the breast milk. Formulas except those in Nourishing Traditions are not advised at all as they never establish a healthy gut.

The interior of the gut is the size of a tennis court and is covered with about 4 and ½ lbs of 500 species of bacteria, viruses and fungi/yeasts. Wonderful life-supporting "probiotic" strains of bacteria, beneficial viruses and yeasts coexist with some of the most virulent and pathogenic stains of each of these types of organisms and as long as the beneficial types are in abundance, the others do not cause harm.

Unfortunately, the beneficial strains are more susceptible to antibiotics, birth control pills, steroids, pharmaceuticals in general, vaccinations, environmental toxins, the Standard American Diet and stress. When they die off, the virulent strains of bacteria, viruses and yeasts take over -- causing the demise of the enterocytes, the cells that line the gut wall. This leads to leaky gut, the condition that allows for

  1. the development of food allergies as now partially digested foods can enter the blood stream becoming allergens, and
  2. an inability to digest carbohydrates which then become the food for the wrong micro organisms which produce a host of toxins that enter the body.

Natasha presents this information in a way that will appeal to both lay folks and health care practitioners. One of the reviews on the back states, "The book contains basic information for the beginner as well as in-depth information for those at an advanced level." She has simple diagrams to illustrate her discussion and thoughtfully divides the book into manageable chapters to give the reader a chance to digest a concept before introducing the next one.

Chapter 3 is titled, "Immune System" and discusses the major role the gut plays in keeping a person healthy and how GAP children and adults have a compromised immune system. If a balanced gut flora is not established in the first 20 days of life, a baby is left immune compromised. The health implications of that reality are far reaching.

Chapter 4, "What Can Damage Gut Flora?" follows with a detailed discussion of the various substances that wipe out the beneficial flora. When we understand how the drugs and foods that are presented as a way of life in this culture destroy the micro organisms within us that support our health and well being, we can understand why we have an epidemic of chronic diseases and behavioral problems. It is not genetic in the sense that it is in our genes but "genetic" in the sense that generations are passing on abnormal gut flora and habits of eating and health care that are perpetuating and magnifying the problem.

About a third of the way into the book, she introduces the foods that a person with what you will now call gut dysbiosis (abnormal gut flora), can eat. She simply lists, "Recommended Foods" followed by a list, "Foods to Avoid" and follows this with wonderful recipes and meal suggestions. She completely supports finding farms that raise vegetables and animals correctly and if possible buying your food directly from them and in the case of meats, buy in bulk and stocking your freezer.

"The Appropriate Diet for GAP Syndrome" describes how Natasha adapted the Specific Carbohydrate Diet or SCD designed by Dr. Sidney Haas for the treatment of digestive disorders. She gives the historical background of the origins of this dietary protocol. In 1951, Dr. Haas published a medical textbook called, The Management of Celiac Disease which was accepted by the medical community as a cure for celiac disease -- then defined as a carbohydrate intolerance. Dr. Haas had recognized that his patients could tolerate dietary proteins and fats but complex carbohydrates from grains and starches made their digestive problems worse. A couple of years after his book, a paper was published that changed the definition of celiac disease to the one accepted today, a gluten intolerance. Dr. Haas' work was almost forgotten until, in 1958, Elaine Gottschall sought his help in treatment of her young daughter's severe ulcerative colitis. Following the SCD, her daughter was cured and Elaine went on to write, Breaking the Vicious Cycle. Natasha honors both of these pioneers in this work.

Her brilliance is in how she takes the SCD to a new level by incorporating the use of probiotics. The SCD eliminates the food that feed the abnormal gut flora resulting in the toxins that harm the body. Taking what Natasha calls a therapeutic probiotic (she and her husband created and market a product called Bio-Kult) in increasing doses supports the reestablishment of the healthy flora. Cod liver oil for vitamin A and some other simple supplements can be included. Eventually, the gut wall is healed because the beneficial bacteria are now back in charge taking good care of the enterocytes. The body is no longer being filled up with toxins from the abnormal flora and can begin to detoxify. Leaky gut stops and, with it, food intolerances. Foods can once again be digested properly, absorbed and assimilated to nourish the body and mind. And the best chelator of heavy metals such as lead and mercury are the beneficial bacteria.

A recent article in the Boston Globe, Diary of a Celiac, describe one woman's diagnosis of Celiac Disease as it is defined today (not Dr. Haas' definition) and her struggle to find gluten free foods and the difficulties she faces either eating out or going to friends' homes. It is believed that one in 133 people have the "gene" and will develop the "autoimmune disorder". Food allergies/intolerances result because of the leaky gut caused by the toxins from the abnormal gut flora. No one is genetically predetermined to suffer them but we can and are being born in increasing numbers with the abnormal flora.

Natasha offers a way back to health unlike the gluten free/casein free diet promoted for celiac disease and autistic spectrum disorder which is a life sentence of "label reading" and fear of relapse. And, I might add, is a windfall for the food industry as they now have a whole new line of "gluten-free" carbohydrate products to market. This is simple: one needs a farm and/or a farmer, basic cooking skills as everything needs to be prepared from scratch, patience as it does take time to completely restore intestinal health, and a therapeutic probiotic.

Reclaiming our food from the food industry is part of the solution. The other part is relearning how the gut works and how to welcome back the beneficial bacteria, viruses and yeasts. With my soil, I have experienced how the addition of compost year after year reestablished the soil micro organisms. This is the same thing...the right bacteria, viruses and yeasts will keep in check the pathogenic strains. Balance will follow -- balance of body and mind.

Michael Pollan writes in his book, In Defense of Food,

"...wherever in the world people gave up their traditional way of eating and adopted the Western Diet, there soon followed a predictable series of Western diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. They called these the Western diseases and, though the precise causal mechanisms were (and remain) uncertain, these observers had little doubt these chronic diseases shared a common etiology: the Western diet."

I would expand Pollan's Western diet to the Western lifestyle which includes the overuse and abuse of pharmaceuticals, toxins and stress, and add that we DO, with the help of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, now understand how the diseases arise. As well as understanding the way out of "the vicious cycle". Thank you Natasha!

This article originally appeared in The Natural Farmer, the newspaper of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).