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A Natural Approach To Wellness – Healthy Gut Flora

From a conversation recorded in Jan 2016 by Hilda Labrada Gore, for the Wise Traditions Podcast. Dr. Natasha Campbell McBride talks about a natural approach to wellness which is inextricably linked to the health of our gut. Natasha holds two postgraduate degrees in urology and nutrition. She has helped thousands through her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, which has sold over 500,000 copies.

I grew up in a traditional culture where food is medicine. Food is the most powerful influence on health of the body and that detoxification is very important on a regular basis. But I was a mainstream doctor working with the mainstream tools. I was a neurologist and a neurosurgeon and I remember that I had noticed that a vast majority of my neurological system patients had digestive symptoms. Of course, as neurologists, we don’t examine the digestive system, we just call the gastroenterologist for a consultation and ask them to deal with that, but I remember I questioned, “Has it got anything to do with the neurological picture that we see in the patients?”

When I got married and had my first child, at the age of three, he was diagnosed as severely autistic and that threw me into a very steep learning curve. Very quickly, I discovered that my own profession had absolutely nothing to offer my beloved child and I wasn’t prepared to accept that. The results of that search and the results of that learning curve was that my son has recovered fully. He is now a young man at university leading a normal, healthy life and enjoying himself and I realized that it is a perfectly curable condition despite the fact that the whole world believes it to be incurable. That’s how my clinic began. I started working with autistic children in my clinic and that’s how the whole thing snowballed.

I don’t believe there are incurable conditions and I don’t believe there are hopeless situations. There are incurable conditions, of course. In any situation there is hope and if your mainstream doctor has nothing to offer you, that doesn’t mean that the answer doesn’t exist elsewhere. Don’t close that chapter; go on searching. Say thank you to your doctor database, leave the office, but go on searching because we live in a wonderful world of easily available information. You can always find information on any kind of question today. This is much easier than what I had when my child was born. There was no Internet when that happened and we had no emails, so the only thing we could do is go to the local library and start searching literature and look for books to read. Today, this is much easier for people to find the answers. So keep searching for answers because they are out there.

I have written this book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Depression, and Schizophrenia. Yes, there’s only a natural way of healing these conditions; there is no other way because it is our own human bodies that heal us. Not the doctor, not the pill, not the diet, not anything else that we might throw at ourselves; it’s your own body that’s doing the healing. All we have to do is provide the body with natural means to heal itself and that’s the only way you can heal any kind of chronic condition.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, all those thousands of years ago has made a statement that all this diseases begin in the gut. The more we study chronic illness with our modern scientific tools, the more we realize just how correct he was. What happens, the gut holds the roots of our human health because recent research has demonstrated the fact that the microbes that live inside the digestive system, called gut flora or microbiome, that’s the new scientific word for it, is about 90% of us. About 90% of all cells and all genetic material in your body is your gut flora, so your body is just 10%; just a shell, a habitat for this mass of microbes that live inside you and we ignore them at our peril.

The more we research them, the more we realized that they’re actually the rulers of our metabolism, they are the rulers of our nervous system, our immune system, and pretty much every organ, no matter how far from the digestive system that organ might be. What happens in children and adults with Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Gut and Physiology Syndrome as well, both, thankfully, abbreviate the same, GAPS, in the English language, GAPS in psychology and GAPS in physiology. What happens in these people, their gut flora is damaged. It becomes abnormal, it develops unbalanced, abnormal mixture of microbes in there, where pathogenic, disease-causing microbes predominate. What they do, they digest the food in their own way, converting it into a whole river of toxicity, toxic substances, and depriving the body of nutrition so the person develops multiple nutritional deficiencies because their food is not digesting properly. At the same time, there’s a river of toxicity flowing from the gut into the bloodstream, getting distributed around the body and wherever these toxins get to, they cause disease.

No matter how high a quality food you might be eating, you might be eating the best food in the world, but if your digestive system cannot digest it properly, that food will do you no good and our gut flora is a major player in the digestive process. In a healthy person, the gut flora is dominated by certain species of microbes and we have beneficial bacteria and beneficial fungi and beneficial viruses and beneficial protozoa and even beneficial worms. It is a highly, highly complex world inside there. It is no less complex and amazing than the life on our planet earth.

In a normal person, a healthy person with a healthy gut flora, the food arrives there, the gut flora works on it, it gets digested properly. The gut flora, at the same time, looks after the integrity of gut wall, making sure that your digestive system is in a good shape to digest food and absorb food appropriately, then the food is nourishing you. But if your gut flora is damaged, which means you’ve take too many antibiotics or perhaps you’ve got amalgam fillings in your teeth or you’re drinking toxic water or you’re taking something else toxic with food and drink, your gut flora gets damaged, beneficial species of microbes get grossly diminished or disappear altogether, and they get replaced by pathogenic species of microbes so your gut flora is dominated by disease causing bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, worms, etc. They digest food in their own way, not the way it’s supposed to be digested, and they damage the integrity of the gut wall, making it porous and leaky. All of these toxins, then, that are generated in your digestive system get through the gut wall into your bloodstream and get distributed around the body and, wherever they get to, they cause disease. When they get into the brain, they cause Gut and Psychology Syndrome. If they get into any other organ in the body, they would cause Gut and Physiology Syndrome.

Our science has discovered the best part of 200 different autoimmune conditions where your own immune system is attacking your body, attacking your own organs and causing illness in you. All autoimmune disease is born in the gut – fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, ME, and various neuropathies, and various allergies – asthma, eczema – nephropathy, chronic cystitis, psoriasis, you name it. Pretty much any degenerative, long-term chronic disorder usually stems from the state of the digestive system in the person because about 85% of our immune system is located in the gut wall. Your digestive system is the biggest and the most important immune organ in your body, so whenever the gut flora is abnormal, the immune system becomes abnormal too. It becomes unhealthy, it becomes unbalanced, and it reacts; it responds to the state of the gut flora, it responds to that river of toxins flowing right through your gut wall, right past all this immune system sitting there in the gut wall, and of course it will respond. First it will launch inflammation, which is a nonspecific, immediate response, and then, if it’s got some time to study particular undigested particles of food that are coming in through the leaky gut, it will start developing antibodies against those particles. It will then find a similar looking protein in your own body, in your organs, and attack them as well. That’s how we develop autoimmune disease – rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, and multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and psoriasis, and various forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis, and thyroid problems, and pancreatitis, and all sorts of chronic conditions.

In order to start treating any chronic degenerative condition, whether it belongs into the group of physical symptoms, physical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia or any of those other conditions I have listed, or whether they are a mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorder, addictions, addictive behaviors, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, oppositional defiant disorder, epilepsy, any of those conditions. No matter how far away from the digestive system they present themselves, the treatment has to begin from the gut. We have to change the gut flora, we have to normalize it, which means we have to drive out pathogens and replace them with beneficial microbes, and we have to heal and seal the gut wall in the person.

That is what GAPS Nutritional Protocol is designed to do. It will heal and seal the gut wall, stop that leakiness, stop that river of toxicity flowing from the gut into the bloodstream and getting distributed around the body, and it will change the gut flora, it will normalize your gut flora. As a result, your gut will become a major source of nourishment. It will start nourishing you instead of poisoning you. And the poisoning, that’s what happens in all the GAPS people around the world.

Our environment, the environment that we human beings have created is what’s causing this. At the forefront of all degenerative illnesses are the developed countries, first world, particularly English-speaking countries. English-speaking countries are absolute leaders in every degenerative disease that there is on the planet. The more developed, the more industrialized they become, the sicker our population becomes. We are exposed, in our daily lives, to about some 80,000 chemicals which do not exist in nature which we human beings have invented. They are in our personal care products, they’re in our homes, in our offices, in the air we breathe, in the food we eat, in the drinks we drink, in everything. These things simply accumulate in the body, but when they end up in the digestive system, they poison our gut flora and they alter the very delicate balance between different microbes in the gut.

Antibiotics have to be singled out as a particularly damaging element of our modern lifestyles. We are all exposed to antibiotics from a very young age because they are prescribed for every cough and sneeze. On top of that, we take a lot of antibiotics with our food and drink because antibiotics are routinely given in our industrial agriculture to animals, to birds, and many pesticides and fungicides and other chemicals that our crops are sprayed that are antibiotic in their nature. We are consuming antibiotics all the time, pretty much. On top of that, we take prescription medications and broad-spectrum antibiotics, they kill our beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.

This beneficial bacteria are very vulnerable to that group of drugs. They do recover, but it takes between two weeks to two months to recover and that is a window of opportunity for pathogenic and opportunistic microbes, which those good bacteria were controlling, to get out of control. They’ve got two months to have a party, to grow large colonies, to spread to occupy new niches in your digestive system, so the recovering beneficial flora has a fight on its hands. From a course of antibiotics to the next course of antibiotic to the next course of antibiotic, you have less and less of good left in your gut flora and more and more pathogenic, bad, disease causing until a certain threshold is reached when the pathogens become dominant, when they predominate. That’s when you start developing symptoms.

In some people, the digestive system has a good capacity to compensate. So you may have quite an abnormal gut flora, but you have no digestive symptoms – no diarrhea, no pain, no constipation, no gas. But in the majority of people, the first thing that happens, they develop digestive symptoms -indigestion, or reflux, or diarrhea, or constipation, or bloating, or pain. Irritable bowel syndrome should be renamed as abnormal gut flora; that is one of the most common conditions. A large proportion of patients that doctors see on a daily basis are people with irritable bowel syndrome.

In order to heal the person, we have to focus on what we eat. Because your digestive system is a long tube, what you fill that tube with has a direct effect on its well-being, so diet is the most important treatment. We have to change what we eat, how we cook our food, in order not to challenge already damaged digestive system, already struggling digestive system, but to nourish it, to support it, and to protect it.

Antibiotics are life-saving medication, there’s no doubt about it, and there are many situations when they’re absolutely necessary, when you do have to take them. Unfortunately, the majority of prescriptions are not in that category. They are prescribed for every cough and sneeze and have been since the 60s, since they became widely available, unfortunately. We have generations of people who have damaged gut flora due to over prescription of antibiotics and, as I say, we are taking antibiotics in food and drink as well.

We don’t even realize it. We’re just eating a chicken sandwich and actually ingesting whatever the chicken has ingested and if the farmer has given it antibiotics to prevent its sickness, that’s getting into our system as well. And the same happens with all our plants that we eat, with our grains, and beans, and vegetables, and fruit. Commercially produced plants are sprayed with chemicals which are, in their nature, antibiotics. They damage your gut flora, they alter the composition of your gut flora and we have been the subject to this influence since the Second World War, when the antibiotics were first discovered, at an increasing rate.

Based on that, I see generations of people developing abnormal gut flora because what we now know, that the baby, while it is spending nine months inside the mother’s womb, has no gut flora; the gut is sterile. When does the baby acquire the gut flora? At the moment of birth as the baby goes through the birth canal. The baby swallows first mouthfuls of microbes in the birth canal, so whatever lives in the mother’s vagina becomes the baby’s gut flora. And where does the vaginal flora come from? It comes from the bowel of the woman and it comes from the father as well, from his bowel because his bowel populates his growing organs and he shares that with the mother on a regular basis.

So 100% of mothers of autistic children that I have seen in my clinic, and I have seen thousands, had abnormal gut flora themselves and that’s what they have passed to their children at the moment of birth. Children who were born through C-section acquire their gut flora more opportunistically from the hands of people who look after them, from the nipples of the mother if the child is breast-fed, from the bottle, from various other things, but usually the gut flora spreads all over our hands, all over our skin, and it does get passed to the children as well. So we have generations of people who have abnormal gut flora and as the mother passes it to the baby, with every generation the abnormalities in the gut flora in the Western population is getting deeper and deeper.

For example, if a grandmother who was born sometime after the Second World War, she has acquired normal gut flora from her mother because her mother knew no antibiotics. Then she had a few courses of antibiotics prior to having her daughter, so her gut flora was slightly damaged. She passed her slightly damaged gut flora to her daughter at birth; her daughter was born, let’s say, in the 70s and 80s. Then the daughter grows up in the world where she’s exposed to many courses of antibiotics throughout her childhood due to various colds and coughs and sneezes and she’s exposed to junk food, which also came in at the same time, which, almost exclusively, feeds pathogenic microbes in the gut and doesn’t support a healthy gut flora, and she’s possibly not been breast-fed because that was the time when breast-feeding went out of fashion and all the baby formulas came to the market. Bottle-fed babies develop completely different gut flora from breast-fed babies. In order for us humans to develop normal gut flora, we have to be breast-fed. So a generation of those ladies haven’t been breast-fed, many of them. And then, at the age of 14 or 15, these young ladies are put on a contraceptive pill which they have to take for quite a few years before they’re ready to have their first child. Contraceptive pill has a devastating effect on the gut flora and on the immunity. So by the time this lady decides to have her first child, she has a very seriously abnormal gut flora, far more damaged than her mother had or her mother passed to her, and that’s the gut flora she’s passing to her baby so her baby starts its life with a very seriously damaged gut flora and that reflects in the eczema epidemic and a colic and all sorts of other illnesses which we haven’t seen before in such numbers ever in human history.

GAPS Nutritional Protocol has been developed over the last 20 years through trial and error. It is based on a diet called SCD, which has been developed in the 1930s, but a lot of changes had to be made in that particular approach so my patients have named it GAPS Nutritional Protocol. Food, what you eat on a daily basis, is the most important treatment for this group of patients so diet has to be changed. What we do in the GAPS diet, we remove all the foods that are difficult to digest which challenge your already damaged and struggling digestive system and which feed pathogenic microbes in the gut. They are removed for a long enough time, for a minimum two years usually in the majority of people, to restore the gut flora and to restore the integrity of the gut wall. We focus on the foods that actively nourish and heal and seal the gut wall, which are the healing foods for the digestive system mailing.

GAPS Nutritional Protocol, apart from the diet, has two more elements to it; one is nutritional supplements. We use an absolutely minimum of supplements because we use only supplements which are really food. We human beings have been designed to get our nutrition from food, not from pills, so only a few supported supplements we use. And the third part is changing your lifestyle – removing toxic exposures, sunbathing, and other parts of detoxification.

I have thousands of case studies. In fact, there is a book that came out a few years ago called GAPS Stories. I haven’t written the book; I have been receiving letters from all over the world from GAPS people who recovered. These letters were so moving, so profound; I felt that the whole world must read them. I contacted these people, got their permission, and published their letters as a book. There, you have a huge list of conditions cured because, when I work with children and, primarily, in my clinic I work with children, I started with autism and then ADHD was added and then children with other mental illnesses were added and every child like that has many physical issues, not just mental.

Because the child acquired the gut flora from the mother, I was interested in seeing what’s happening with the mother and her health and father and other siblings in the family, brothers and sisters of this autistic child, because they got the same gut flora from the same mother. But because it was a different pregnancy, different constitution of the child, these children may not be artistic but many of them have problems of their own which are much milder than the autistic’s so that parents consider them normal and don’t pay much attention to that. But these siblings of autistic children, usually have allergies, asthma, eczema, digestive issues, they are quite often clingy, quite often hyperactive, quite often emotionally unstable, which means they also have abnormal gut flora which is also generating a wave of toxicity in these children. But because the constitution of the child is stronger and the child is different altogether, they don’t manifest with a severe disorder, but they’ve got all these other symptoms pertaining to that.

As a result, I have to put the whole family on the GAPS Nutritional Protocol. That’s what has to be done because then the parents start recovering and have much more stamina and energy to be helping their children and other children start recovering in the family as well. The family heals itself as a whole, as one living organism that is interacting with each other. When I started getting stories from these families, we see that fibromyalgia goes away, chronic fatigue syndrome goes away, and ME, myalgic encephalomyelitis, and various neuropathies, and narcolepsy, and schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, and epilepsy, and asthma, and eczema, and hay fever, and chronic cystitis, and nephropathy, and migraines, and multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus; the mailing list is endless. I highly recommend you read this book because, if you have a condition that is not listed on the front of my book GAPS, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, it has only a handful of conditions listed at the front. Don’t think that this program is not for you. Read that book, GAPS Stories, and you will find a story there which pertains to your individual problem which will give you hope and will give you inspiration to heal yourself. Also, many of these wonderful people have provided their contact details. They’re happy to be contacted by people who are in the same boat, who are trying to heal, and they’re very happy to help you.

A larger and larger percentage of people know this. The best part of 500,000 of my books was sold, so somewhere out there there’s about 500,000 people who are reading it and who are following the protocol. It is becoming known, this program, but the mainstream and, of course, we are compared to the 7 billion people on this planet, we are just a drop in the ocean, without a doubt. But the mainstream has its own agenda; it has its own priorities.

For many people in this world, their health is not their priority. If you ask them, “Would you rather be healthy than ill?” Of course, they’ll tell you, “I’d rather be healthy.” But, “Are you prepared to do anything for that?” and the answer will be, “No.” For the majority of people, that’s no. People live with whatever symptoms they have, they have other priorities in their lives, and when they get ill they just go to the doctor list. They get a pill which will reduce the symptoms of the disorder, but the disorder will continue eroding their body silently. Because what are symptoms? What is pain? What is a headache? What is a temperature? That is the way your body communicates to you that, “You’re doing something wrong to me. You’re damaging me and I’m letting you know that I’m struggling,” but what people do, they take painkillers, they take anti-inflammatory drugs, they take other drugs which remove the symptoms. So basically what these drugs are telling the body is, “Stop calling for help. Suffer in silence.” So the disease will silently continue eroding your body until you cannot ignore it anymore.

When people come to that point when they cannot ignore it any longer, when their life becomes far too uncomfortable with all of these physical issues, that’s when they realize that the mainstream medical profession cannot help them and they have to look elsewhere.

That hasn’t happened yet; everybody improves. The GAPS diet simply cannot fail to work. It works. The thing in healing your body is like peeling an onion. Remember, it is your own body that heals you; not the pill, not the doctor, not the diet. Your body, when you start healing it, will decide what is the first priority to deal with. Maybe it’s your energy production or maybe it is your muscle tone or maybe it is your joints or maybe something else. Once it’s peeled that layer off, then you will have a period when you will feel better than before while the body is gathering resources. When it’s ready to attack the next layer of the disease, you will feel ill again. The body will launch inflammation, it will launch other immune responses to that next priority, and it will peel another layer of the onion. And then you will feel better again. You will have another respite period while the body is gathering resources and then the body will decide, “Now I am ready to attack this.”

For example, just recently I was talking to a lady who has been on the GAPS Nutritional Protocol for several years and she’s still not losing weight, she was overweight. But in that period of time, she has lost polycystic ovaries, chronic cystitis, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, depression, low thyroid function, all digestive symptoms are gone, everything is gone. So basically she has to wait a little bit longer. Her body decides that losing weight is not the first priority, that there are far more burning issues out there and the body peeled those layers of the onion first. So all she has to do is just give herself more time, work with her body, be patient.

If you go online, you will find hundreds of GAPS websites and discussion groups and Facebook groups and all sorts of groups. I have trained, to date, more than 1000 health practitioners in GAPS Nutritional Protocol, they’re called Certified GAPS Practitioners and they are all listed on my website, called gaps.me. They’re listed by country, by state, by region, by city, by town so you can always find support.

The book is a self-help book. It has all the information necessary to follow the program so people just got the book, followed the recommendations in the book, and got the results. For those more severe cases or people who want support or want some professional to guide them for the diet, please go on my website and find the practitioner and work with those practitioners.

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