Just as Dr. Weston Price sought to identify the parameters that fostered poor health in his patients, so too does Dr. Natasha Campbell-Mc- Bride advance our understanding of the underlying factors present in a growing percentage of people suffering from brain disorders and mental illness. The latest estimates, for example, show that for autism alone, one in 91 children is diagnosed with the condition. Although genetics is often provided as an explanation for brain disorders like autism and ADD/ADHD, as well as for psychiatric illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, genetics cannot explain the exponential increase in these health and developmental problems, says Dr. Campbell-McBride, because genetic changes work much more slowly.
Through studying the health of hundreds of patients with autism, learning disabilities, psychiatric illness and other problems, Campbell- McBride discovered that in virtually all cases these children and adults suffer from digestive problems, often of a severe nature. Through her research, she has determined a distinct correlation between unhealthy intestinal flora, poor digestion and toxicity from chemicals created by undigested foods, which can severely affect brain chemistry. She coins this relationship the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, or GAPS.
But if a child manifests problems such as autism or ADD/ADHD at an early age, how can that child have already developed poor digestion? The causes are familial and generational, explains Campbell-McBride. Just as Dr. Price ascertained that without adequate nutrition, each generation would produce less healthy children—so Campbell- McBride postulates that poor intestinal flora and digestion are passed down from one generation to the next.
When a baby is born, it acquires the flora of the mother during its passage through the birth canal. If the mother has a history of antibiotic or contraceptive use and poor digestive health, her flora will likely be unhealthy. If she does not breast-feed her baby, the gut flora of the child will be further compromised. The infant will often develop digestive problems such as colic, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, feeding difficulties, intestinal damage and malnourishment very early in life and is typically afflicted by a host of allergies. The child usually has frequent ear infections treated with many rounds of antibiotics, which only make the situation worse.
Poor bacterial flora and digestion are at the heart of serious health problems. When children are born with intestinal bacterial imbalances or gut dysbiosis, they tend to have a compromised immune system and are prone to illness. Campbell- McBride brings to light the profound statements of Hippocrates that “All diseases begin in the gut;” and of the father of modern psychiatry, French psychiatrist Phillipe Pinel, who stated, “The primary seat of insanity is the region of the stomach and intestines.”
A child or adult who eats a diet high in difficult-to-digest carbohydrates such as grains and processed foods will continue to encourage the underlying condition of gut dysbiosis. Dr. Campbell-McBride states that people with damaged flora will crave the very foods that support the survival of the unhealthy bacteria, often to the exclusion and refusal of others.
Campbell-McBride notes that many problems with gut flora begin with an unnatural growth of the fungus, Candida albicans. This often occurs when the body’s production of hydrochloric acid is inadequate to break proteins into peptides before entering the small intestine. When insufficiently digested food enters the small intestine, the pancreas in turn does not get the signal to release adequate pancreatic juices. Because people with GAPS lack healthy bacterial flora, they also lack production of enzymes called peptidases. These enzymes normally are produced by the enterocytes on the microvilli of the small intestine and will further break down proteins and carbohydrates into usable nutrients. With poor flora, the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract also becomes damaged and leaky gut syndrome develops.
But what exactly happens in the gut that can upset brain chemistry? Undigested carbohydrates, poor digestion and candida overgrowth result in the production of the chemicals ethanol and acetaldehyde, which can have profound consequences on brain chemistry and development. We all know that alcohol is extremely toxic, especially to a developing fetus or a child.
Besides reduced stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes, some of the effects of a prolonged presence of alcohol from an overgrowth of Candida in the body include damage to the gut lining and resulting malabsorption; nutrient deficiencies; stress to the immune system; liver damage; accumulation of toxins, old neurotransmitters and hormones that can cause abnormal behavior; and mental retardation, loss of memory and stupor.
Many other toxins and bacteria fostered by poor digestion are routinely found in stool samples of patients with GAPS, many of which produce neurotoxins that can result in autistic behavior.
Vaccinations in children with unhealthy gut flora and the concomitant digestive and immune system problems puts an enormous strain on the immune system. Campbell-McBride therefore suggests a very cautious use of single vaccinations for a limited number of diseases, given to the child only when digestive health is improved.
What, then, are the solutions to turn poor digestion into one that helps the patient thrive? Dr. Campbell-McBride outlines a nutrient-dense dietary plan that is totally void of grains and even dairy foods at first, and which provides high quality, organically grown meats, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs—especially raw egg yolks—cooked non-starchy vegetables, fresh fruit, bone-broth soups, traditionally fermented foods, and ample traditional fats. She suggests supplements of cod liver oil, fish oil, digestive enzymes, a stomach acid supplement and probiotics to rid the stomach of bacterial growth and help develop healthy intestinal flora.
Campbell-McBride focuses on removing foods that feed the Candida overgrowth, cause morphine-like peptides or an allergic response with a diet free of grains, sugar and conventional dairy foods. After the gut flora is improved, she recommends adding homemade yogurt gradually and eventually cheeses. Once the stomach acid is normalized, a healthy gut flora is developed, nutrient-rich foods take the place of depleted foods, the intestinal tract heals and digestion is repaired, then both mental and physical health improvements are sure to follow.
She advises that the earlier these dietary changes are made, the more likely is success. She realizes, however, the difficulties that parents have in making changes to the diet of a young child, and she thoughtfully provides a method of encouraging new foods with a reward structure in place. She does not cover the challenges of changing the diet of an adolescent or adult, but we feel her information can aid health practitioners, parents, friends and caregivers in understanding the necessity of helping their patients and loved ones incorporate as much of this nutritional plan as possible. However, it is obvious that the best time to implement Campbell-McBride’s recommendations is when the child is very young, thus minimizing the damage induced by dysbiotic flora as well as the psychosocial consequences of the abnormal behaviors that accompany the neurotoxic effects on the brain.
The gluten-free diet commonly prescribed for children with autism often does not lead to improvements, according to Campbell-McBride, because the gluten-free foods on the market are really just another form of nutrient-deficient junk food that fosters the growth of candida and contributes to poor digestion.
While Campbell-McBride suggests problems with milk, she does not discuss the differences between pasteurized milk and raw milk from grass-fed cows. Many parents have found that whole raw milk greatly improves the symptoms of autism in their children. Additionally, she recommends the replacement of flour with ground nuts but does not mention the soaking process that makes nuts more digestible.
The book contains a wonderful section of recipes followed by details on important supplements. At the end of the book, Dr. Campbell-McBride outlines a significant natural approach to treating ear infections and constipation.
Campbell-McBride’s principles provide alternative medical practitioners with a successful approach to treatment for patients plagued with allergies. Food allergies are a source of constant stress to a patient’s immune system. Not only do they manifest as dyspepsia, abdominal pain and altered bowel function, but they can also result in a variety of non-local symptoms such as headaches, joint pain and eczema.
Although Campbell-McBride’s pivotal work focuses on the correlation between digestive problems and brain disorders, learning disabilities and mental illness, we must not underestimate the possibility that these same digestive disorders are at the heart of the exponential increase in degenerative illness in the western world. We obviously need a paradigm shift when looking at the cause and treatment of what is ailing us. Dr. Campbell-McBride provides an excellent starting point.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation