I Gotta Gut Feeling…

April 8, 2014

By Anna Varriano

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It All Started When…

Last fall, I applied and was accepted to receive training as a GAPS (Gut and Psychology/Physiology Syndrome) Certified Practitioner. Only 1 in 6 who applied from across Canada and the U.S. were accepted. The location of the training was in Long Island New York, so I decided to celebrate my acceptance by adding a few days on to the drive down to explore the North Eastern US coast-line, where I got a chance to meet this fellow. Yikes!

The training was done via a live stream from the UK, by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. Dr. Natasha is a Medical Doctor with two Post-Doctorate degrees: one in neurology, and one in human nutrition. In her clinic in Cambridge England, she specializes in nutrition for children and adults with behavioural, mood, and learning issues, as well as digestive and immune system disorders. As a parent of a child who fully recovered from a severe learning disability, she is acutely aware of the challenges of such situations and the critical role of nutrition in improving them. She firmly believes that the link between physical and mental health, the food and drink we consume, and the condition of our digestive system is absolute.

GAPS book cover compressedI had read her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome about a year before I applied for the GAPS certification training. The book provides an excellent explanation of the nutritional biochemical connections between gastrointestinal health and physical and mental health, and the importance of ‘healing and sealing’ the gut to optimize overall health. What I read in the book perfectly resonated with me, especially since it is very much in synch with so many of my existing health and nutritional views and practices. Within the first 5 minutes of Dr. Natasha’s training program, I had a gut feeling (no pun intended!) that what I was going to learn over the course of those next few days was going to be life-altering for myself and those who I would share it with.

 Our “Second Brain”

our second brainAn expression that I often came across when I first started researching and studying natural health and nutrition almost 20 years ago was “health begins in the gut”. It’s pretty obvious that a healthy gut is important for nutrient and water absorption, some vitamin production, and the elimination of toxins – but that’s only part of the story. Our gut has its own very complex nervous system known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). We’ve known for a long time that the ENS controls digestion, and now we’re discovering more and more about its important role in our overall physical and mental well-being. Isn’t it ironic that we have expressions such as ‘listen to your gut’ and ‘gut thinking’? Research has shown us that the ENS works both independently and in partnership with our brain. While we are not consciously aware of the ‘thinking’ and ‘communicating’ work of our ENS, a lot of the information that it sends to the brain (and a few other parts of the body) affects our actions and overall well-being. In fact, it’s often difficult for the brain in our head to function and think clearly when the brain in our gut is out of balance.

We’re Only Human…Or Are We?

gut floraMounting research from around the world suggests that gut health is critical to virtually every aspect of our overall physical and mental functioning and health. This isn’t surprising when you consider the complexity of the ENS. Add to that the fact that 90% of the trillions of cells in our body are not human, but rather microbes (e.g. bacteria), most of which reside in our gut. There are typically 2.5 to 3 kilograms of microbes in a healthy adult body!

The variety and health of these microbes dictates the health of our gut, and therefore, by association, our psychological and physical (physiological) health. Emerging research is making it quite evident that a faulty physiology and a faulty psychology often go hand-in-hand.

The initial major insult on the variety and health of our gut microbes started with the widespread use of antibiotics, most likely around the time of World War II. Antibiotics were used to kill ‘bad’ bacteria in the body; however, they also killed ‘good’ bacteria in the body – including the good ones in the gut. During the time that antibiotics are taken, the bad bacteria (who aren’t actually all bad when we have enough good bacteria present to keep them in check), proliferate out of control, damaging our digestive system, and producing more toxins than the body’s natural detoxification processes can handle. Under these conditions, it’s only a matter of time until the body’s detoxification processes collapse, and as Dr. Natasha puts it, this is the “exact moment of the first symptoms of chronic diseases”.

While antibiotics are still a primary cause of healthy gut microbe destruction, there are numerous other causes that have made their way into the mix including: birth control pills, steroids, hormonal drugs, chlorine and fluoride (think tap water), coffee, carbonated drinks, radiation, processed foods, pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer residues on food crops, an acidic pH (which can develop due to the foods we eat, especially sugar, grains, and feedlot animal products), and finally stress. I’m betting that most of you reading this may have exposure to some of these things in your day-to-day life.

Auto-Immune Disorders And Gut Disorders

gut xray compressedIt’s important to note that 85% to 90% of our immunity is in our gut, and that our gut microbes and our immune system are in constant communication. If we have abnormal gut flora, abnormal or ‘faulty’ information and instructions are communicated to the immune system, which means it will not be able to function properly and will also start making ‘mistakes’. From a GAPS perspective, this breakdown in communication is the start of auto-immune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus (SLE), Multiple Sclerosis, various thyroid issues including Graves’ Disease, and many more. Incredibly, there are over 200 identified auto-immune diseases. From this perspective, we can see why a gut disorder can lead to an auto-immune disorder.

Dr. Natasha has thousands of clinical experiences involving the improvement of psychological and physiological conditions among children and adults who are following the GAPS protocol, including: autism, learning/social/behavioural/mood issues, digestive disorders of all types including IBS, Crohns, and colitis, various types of arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, chronic headaches, and depression (did you know that the majority of serotonin, our ‘feel good’ hormone, is made in the gut?).

Filling in the GAPS – GAPS Support Groups

While I’m a long way from accumulating the amount of GAPS clinical experience that Dr. Natasha has under her belt, in the short time that I have been working with clients who have come to see me to get information, guidance, and support regarding GAPS, I have already heard some wonderful stories from them, including adults who have felt a shift in fatigue, depression, anxiety, or ‘brain fog’ that has been with them for most of their lives, and parents who are noticing improved behaviour, concentration, and focus among their children.

GAPS A logo compressedIn addition to the official training I received from Dr. Natasha, I am learning more about GAPS daily as my wonderful clients of all ages share stories about their challenges and successes with GAPS. Many have expressed an interest in some type of ‘support group’, so I am pleased to announce that I will be holding a GAPS support group on Thursday April 24th 2014, from 7:00 – 9:00 pm. I have two locations on hold, both in the west end (Carling/Maitland and Carling/Richmond area). Why two locations? Because everyone that I mentioned the support groups to have already expressed an interest in attending, and if any of you reading this would like to come, I want to make sure I have a space large enough to accommodate everyone. I will confirm the location several days ahead of time.

The format of this first two-hour meeting will be a structured 45 to 60 minute presentation related to the foundational philosophy of GAPS, followed by an hour or so of open group discussion to share and learn from each other, and evolve the structure of potential future support group meetings, which may include GAPS food prep demonstrations and recipe swapping, as well as guest speakers to address other issues related to GAPS.

My wish is to make these groups as affordable as possible, while still being able to secure a location with adequate space, providing handouts when appropriate, and covering the cost of supplies for possible food prep demos in future. This should be possible with a registration fee of $25.

To register for this inaugural GAPS support group, please click here. If you have any questions, or are unable to register for any reason, please send me an email at info@perfectresonance.com

Finally, in honour of April being Autism Awareness month, I will be donating 10% of the registration fee of this first GAPS support group meeting to the Ottawa-based non-profit organization, QuickStart. QuickStart’s mission is to see that all children on the autism spectrum have equal opportunity to develop to their full potential through early intervention. In addition, I will be making a $100 dollar personal donation to Quickstart. I encourage you to consider making a personal donation as well (any amount helps!), and to spread the word about this wonderful organization.

Yours in good (gut) health,

Anna

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