So, I decided to give more background to the GAPS diet. You can skip this post if nutrition and gang wars amidst bacteria are not your interests. The next post will introduce Becoming a Fair Lady in Word, I promise, but the last post kind of left me hanging. And I wrote it! Thus, this explanation of the diet - why it works and how it works and what it means for me and this blog.
Disclaimer: I do not pretend to be a doctor nor do I strive to council you in your medical and nutritional choices. If you implement anything I say and it backfires on you, too bad. Go sue someone else. Okay, so I should hunt for a better disclaimer. Bear with me.
What are Gut Flora?
I mentioned critters, remember? And those cute little enterocytes? Yeah, we get to hear more about them. First, I shall give our critters names and set the stage for the saga of the stomach (and intestines, and liver, and, well, you know).
Gut Flora, aka critters, live all over your body, not just your gut. They live in the eustachian tubes of your ears, the mouth, and basically any surface tissue. But they mainly live in the gut. Scientists have distinguished three categories of gut flora:
1) Indigenous - good guys your body uses
2) Opportunistic - bad guys which stick around but do not have a chance to grow due to good guys
3) Transitional - the guys you eat and inhale who pass through your body without bothering it
Indigenous flora are bacteria, fungi, and various others of that sort which live and lodge in our body. God designed this symbiotic relationship between human and...critter which keeps us healthy and useful. Humans like indigenous flora.
Opportunistic flora are those which dwell in our bodies, waiting for the opportunity to launch an attack on our little indigenous friends. They want to control the market, if you understand me. Humans dislike opportunistic flora - to a point. They do tend to balance the flora out, so we do not want to eradicate them, just not let them grow.
Transitional flora are things we may eat or breathe into our bodies. They do not live anywhere, really, but are poor wayfaring strangers which we eliminate as needed.
What Gut Flora Does:
But what are these microorganisms doing in our bodies in the first place? They are very busy, actually. I tried to put their functions in five groups.
First, indigenous gut flora protects our gut lining, and thus body, from opportunistic flora, entering viruses and bacteria, and toxins.
Second, they attack the opportunistic and transitional flora. Not only do they protect our body from these microorganisms' deleterious effects, but they actively oppose them from spreading. Nice.
Third, gut flora nourishes our body. It is the perfect example of symbiosis, we feed the flora and they feed us. You see, there are things we consume but cannot digest, like fibre. Fibre is important because it slows the flow of carbohydrates through our gut. But what happens to this fibre when we are done with it? We cannot use it in our structure nor metabolism. That is right, gut flora feed off fibre. Of course, we also eliminate it. This is just one illustration of the symbiosis, though. They absorb and digest certain sugars and proteins, too. That is why GAPS patients cannot handle these foods well; they lack the flora which absorbs and digests them! However, beneficial flora also make, or synthesize, vitamins we either cannot use from food or need during times we are not eating. The absorption of vitamins is a fast process. If we relied solely on our meals to provide these vitamins, there would be times during the day when areas of our body would be deficient. Gut flora, by offering a steady stream of select B vitamins and K vitamins, ensures our bodies always have what they need.
Fourth, indigenous gut flora do what I like to call nannying. I direct you to our buddies, the enterocytes. These cells are imperative for proper digestion and immunity. They live on the villi of our intestines and form its brush border, producing many enzymes necessary for digestion and absorption of food. Without them, we would not be able to use most of what we eat and starve, no matter what we shoved down our throats! Gut flora nanny these helping hands. They govern the enterocytes' mitosis (formation) and maturation, making sure they develop in to healthy, functioning units in the assembly line of our digestive system.
Fifth and last, gut flora detoxes our bodies. A host of unwanted substances enter our bodies through the food we eat and the air we breath. Beneficial flora are a first line of defense against those toxins by taking part in the production of lymphocytes and therefore immunoglobulins, like IgA. They also are somehow involved in processes of neutrophils and macrophages, which "eat" viruses and toxins to eliminate them. Plus, beneficial bacteria help produce regulators of immune response, without which our immune system would behave like a mob. All of these substances detox the body, and they would not exist without the help of gut flora.
What Happens during Gut Dysbiosis
As we have seen, gut flora plays a major role in our normalcy. They do a lot to keep us going as we do. So what happens when our gut flora does not do its job, when the three kinds of gut flora get out of balance? Basically, we can look at all their benefits and turn these gifts on their heads. Just a peek of this reverse will show you the havoc gut dysbiosis can wreak.
For one thing, your lining is no longer protected so it is attacked by viruses, toxins, and opportunists, some of which embed themselves in the gut wall, causing it to deteriorate and leak. This leads to a "Leaky Gut" where food passes into the bloodstream partially digested. Yikes! Your body does not recognize these macromolecules of food as at all good for the body, so it starts attacking them. This is a way allergies (really they are intolerances) develop.
Beneficial bacteria no longer keep the opportunistic flora at bay, so they take their chance to raid the gut, releasing a slew of toxins and poisons and other not so pleasant things. On top of that, when E. coli or Candida albicans or Clostridium dificile, to name a few, grow in number they destroy the gut wall even more. It is not a pretty sight.
Then, because good bacteria are no longer producing vitamins you need nor aiding in the absorption of foods and care for enterocytes, you become malnourished no matter how much you eat. You no longer have the resources to fight assailing disease! Invaders are just a smidgen of the problem, though; the overgrowth of bad bacteria and fungi crave foods for themselves (like sugars) rather than what would restore gut balance. It becomes a vicious cycle of cravings and reactions followed by more cravings and more reactions.
Then our gut develops its own orphan community. As mentioned in passing, instead of happy homemaker bacteria nursing enterocytes, we have bad bacteria attacking these cells so vital for digestion and immunity.
The impaired immune system now stages a counterattack. We have two branches in our immune system, but, due to handicapped and dead gut flora not protecting us, they become unbalanced. Th1, the branch which is known as the first line of defense against invaders, gives way to Th2, the branch associated with allergic reactions, inflammation, and autoimmunity. Thus, this latter set of defense mechanisms becomes hyper-active, resulting in the myriad allergies, intolerances, and autoimmune diseases we have today.
In short, damaged gut flora leave your body open to invaders, malnourished so it cannot combat the invaders, and results in compromised immunity which tends to maniacally attack its own cells or otherwise normal substances. What is more, the gut is leaky, so toxins and partially digested food leak into the bloodstream, unleashing horrible reactions and toxicity. This results in many of the disorders and intolerances we see today, like autism, celiac, etc. Who knew it could all begin in the gut?
What Causes Gut Dysbiosis:
But how did it go wrong? What led my body to the dilapidated state in which it now is? There are a few factors leading to the demise of anyone's gut. Disease, antibiotics, toxic environments, and diet all play a contributing role to Gut Dysbiosis. Usually, the sorry state of things cannot be attributed to any one factor, but to a variety of each. Say you get really sick and weak, and you need to take antibiotics to strip away disease, all the while eating hospital haute cuisine of toast and jam and ten percent apple juice. This would leave you pretty much done in. Or perhaps you returned home from an exhausting day at the mall, full of its cleaners and perfumes and who knows what else, to pop inscrutable microwave dinners into your little microwave oven. And you have a cold. These situations put a lot of strain on your poor gut flora and enterocytes! If you make this a habit, they may well throw a fit and go sit in the naughty corner!
However, diet is on my mind. It is the hard-to-digest polysaccharides (or large, complicated sugar molecules), the processed foods replete with chemicals, and poor quality fibre that make your gut a play house for bad bacteria. As we saw, they feed off fermenting fibre, settle down in the glue-like abodes so happily produced by processed sugars, and relish a fine snack of polysaccharides which you are too compromised to use. But you do not help. You continue to eat foods your digestive system can no longer handle, and they leak through your gut, invoking all sorts of mayhem and withholding from your gut the chance to heal.
What Cures Gut Dysbiosis:
Well, no more! There are three components to restoring your gut flora and thereby curing Gut Dysbiosis. Imagine it as three legs to a stool: take out one and the whole piece crashes. First, there is a need to detox. You must rid yourself of all those poisonous substances accumulating in your body with every bite you eat (no matter how "healthy" that bite may be). But this must be accompanied by a drastic change in diet, one which starves the bad guys, feeds the good guys, and cleans up the crime scene. This diet is full of nourishing animal fats and cartilages, grass-fed or pastured meats, non-starchy vegetables, very ripe fruit, and lots and lots of soups. All starches and grains are eliminated to let the gut heal. The fats, cartilage, and broth restore the gut lining while the meats and vegetables provide much needed building-blocks and energy. To aid these two legs, we have a third: supplementation. This is not permanent. A healthy body should be able to live from food, not pills. However, so many of us have gone astray that we need a little help to get back on track. The main supplementation comes from probiotics. They are just good bacteria we put in our stomachs via fermented foods and encapsulated strains.
So, this is what I am doing, and it is fun! With steady perseverance, I hope to be healed soon. Upcoming posts will probably involve recipes and musings. Maybe a few "I can't do this anymore" posts, too. It is hard work. But, all in due time. Now you ought to give your eyes a break. They have been reading blogs much too long!
Here are some interesting writings on the whole gut flora idea: