Ever since I wrote a review of the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome and mentioned that we used it to help reverse our son’s dairy allergy and behavior issues, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what protocol we used and the specifics of how we did it.
Our son made drastic improvements through using a specialized diet called the GAPS protocol to help reverse leaky gut. After his initial intensive period on the GAPS diet, we have now moved to a more relaxed version of the GAPS diet that also uses parts of the SCD protocol.
When I found out that I had Hashimotos Thyroiditis, I went on an autoimmune protocol (my 30-Day Reset Protocol) that is a combination of GAPS, SCD and the Leaky Gut Diet. My symptoms improved dramatically and blood tests even showed that I was able to tolerate certain foods after taking time to intensively heal my gut.
Since our family has now had 3+ years experience with a leaky gut diet of some kind, I wanted to share our experience and what worked for us. I’m not a doctor and I definitely can’t give any specific advice for your individual situation, but my hope is that sharing our story will help you find answers on your own health journey.
What is Leaky Gut?
According to the practitioners at SCD Lifestyle:
The term Leaky Gut Syndrome is used to describe the condition of “Hyperpermeable Intestines,” a fancy medical term that means the intestinal lining has became more porous, with more holes developing that are larger in size and the screening out process is no longer functioning properly. The fallout results in larger, undigested food molecules and other “bad stuff” (yeast, toxins, and all other forms of waste) that your body normally doesn’t allow through, to flow freely into your bloodstream.
So now that we have the general essentially meaningless definition out of the way let’s find out what is really going on…
The intestinal lining is the first mechanism of defense for our immune system. The outer layers of intestinal cells (epithelial) are connected by structures called tight junctions. At the tips of these cells are the microvilli, which absorb properly digested nutrients and transport them through the epithelial cell and into the bloodstream. During the normal digestion process the tight junctions stay closed forcing all molecules to effectively be screened and only pass into the blood stream through the mucosa cells (think of them like bouncers at the front of a classy bar). For reasons we will discuss later, these tight junctions can become “open” or permeable allowing un-screened molecules to flow directly into the bloodstream (think of it like a fish net with very small holes).
I knew the research but I was absolutely amazed at the changes our whole family saw from supporting gut health and working to reduce inflammation and leaky gut.
It makes perfect sense that gut health would have such a dramatic impact on all aspects of health, since the body has more bacterial cells in the gut than it does human cells in the entire body. As Chris Kresser explains:
Our gut is home to approximately 100,000,000,000,000 (100 trillion) microorganisms. That’s such a big number our human brains can’t really comprehend it. One trillion dollar bills laid end-to-end would stretch from the earth to the sun – and back – with a lot of miles to spare. Do that 100 times and you start to get at least a vague idea of how much 100 trillion is.
The human gut contains 10 times more bacteria than all the human cells in the entire body, with over 400 known diverse bacterial species. In fact, you could say that we’re more bacterial than we are human. Think about that one for a minute.
We’ve only recently begun to understand the extent of the gut flora’s role in human health and disease. Among other things, the gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 75% of our immune system. Dysregulated gut flora has been linked to diseases ranging from autism and depression to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes.
This is the reason that you find so many stories of people who saw improvements in their children’s autism, their own anxiety or depression or their autoimmune symptoms from going on a specific leaky gut diet to support the gut.
It is also the reason that I felt better on our son’s GAPS diet (even though I didn’t know about my autoimmune condition at the time) and why consciously supporting my gut helps me mitigate the symptoms of my thyroid disease. Even though I’ve been focused on a high-quality diet for a long time, I still struggled with leaky gut and needed to address it directly. I found that I had created many of the risk factors for leaky gut at various times in my life before adjusting my diet, including:
- Overuse of antibiotics: I had taken countless rounds of antibiotics before I even entered kindergarten and eventually had my tonsils and adenoids removed. There is evidence that repeated antibiotic use can change gut bacteria and make leaky gut more likely.
- Chronic Stress (check)
- Chronic inflammation and illness (check- I was taking all the antibiotics to fight recurring cases of strep)
- Eating too many processed and refined foods, especially carbohydrates (check- school lunches)
- Consumption of gut irritating foods like grains and vegetable oils (check and check before I changed my diet)
How to Know if You Have Leaky Gut?
The symptoms of leaky gut can vary drastically from person to person and some people can have gut problems for a long time without symptoms. I found that this online quiz was really helpful in determining some of my personal risk factors.
GAPS vs SCD vs Leaky Gut Diet:
I’ve mentioned multiple diets that we used (we now use a hybrid of all of them) but I think it is important to understand the individual protocols and what they are used for:
- The Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet (or GAPS diet) is really a three part program that includes diet, detoxification and supplements and which has several stages (including a very intense intro stage. It is often done for 1-2 years and can significantly help allergies and mental conditions in some people. It is based on some of the same principles as the SCD diet but really emphasizes specific nourishing foods like bone broth and homemade fermented vegetables. The GAPS diet is a 6-part intensive protocol and it is a lot of work, but in our experience, the results are well worth it. The book Gut and Psychology Syndrome is a great primer for starting with the GAPS diet.
- The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD program) is specifically geared toward gut health and has been used to help people mitigate the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis and other digestive problems. This is the best resource I’ve found on SCD and gut health.
- Leaky Gut Diet is a term often used for either of these healing protocols or for an autoimmune protocol such as my:
- 30-Day Reset Autoimmune Program – A combination of principles from GAPS and SCD that focuses on reducing inflammation and reversing leaky gut. It has been the most effective thing I’ve tried personally and it helps address the various problems I was having and greatly helped with the symptoms of autoimmune disease. For gut/brain problems or really severe cases, the GAPS intro diet can be helpful as well. Here is a recipe list with modifications for the autoimmune reset.
Our Leaky Gut Diet Protocol
We started initially with the GAPS intro diet, which is a highly restrictive program designed for intensive healing. It is outlined it detail here.
We then transitioned into Full GAPS which is less restrictive and which helps transition back to a wider variety of foods. It is outlined in detail here along with a food list.
We are now following our own leaky gut diet protocol of the 30-Day Reset Diet Autoimmune Protocol which focuses on the following foods:
- Nourishing broths
- Fermented vegetables
- Healthy fats
- quality sources of protein
- large amounts of vegetables
Foods to Avoid:
I also take specific supplements to help support the gut, and working with a qualified functional medicine practitioner is a great way to help find what supplements are helpful for a specific case.
The Bottom Line:
Gut health intricately affects so many aspects of the body. I think that we will see a rise in research on leaky gut and gut problems in the next few years, but in the meantime, I’ve found that a specialized diet (like GAPS, SCD, Leaky Gut Diet or Autoimmune) can help individuals determine their own reactive foods and nourish their bodies more effectively. Learn more about How to Know When a Diet Is No Longer Right for You: Understanding Intuitive Eating & Your Body’s Needs.
Have you ever struggled with leaky gut? Did dietary interventions work for you?
Discussion (63 Comments)
I think you should be careful with what you recommend, I’m on scd diet and I’ve been reading this guys of scd lifestyle and their diet is not the scd of elaine Gottschall
I’m AMAZED your child was able to get rid of his dairy allergy! My son is also allergic AND a type 1 diabetic. My husband has crhons, & I was recently dx with Hashi! Whew!
I’d love a suggestion as to which diet to start (particularly for me), but also my 4yr old son….oh how I’d love for him to be rid of this food allergy!!
Thanks so much!
Thanks for writing this article! We have been doing research on diets for my gut issues and we are thinking gaps is what we want to do. But we also came across the body ecology diet and just started reading that book. Do you have any views on that diet?
My son is now 4 yrs old. Unfortunately, before I knew what I know now, his first year of life he had many rounds of antibiotics. He was sick all of the time. It took me removing dairy from my diet to realize it was allergy making him sick.
Fast forward…. I make all food from scratch and try to adhere to nutrient dense foods. My son definitely has a leaky gut…. He is intolerant to a million things and has gluten, dairy, egg allergies. In addition, he has become a very picky eater due to texture issues. He will only eat crunchy. He will truly starve himself before eating something that he perceives as “squishy”.
Due to this, I have struggled trying the GAPS. Diet with him because he won’t even eat broth unless it is my homemade lentil soup… Which I know lentils are not great but we are limited on what he will eat so I soak and sprout the lentils….
My question is: do you have any suggestions on how to work the GAPS diet with a child who come tell avoids “cooked veggies”…. Anything “squishy”?
I realize you may not have any suggestions …. This is a tough question!
He eats very well but it is just a limited diet and at times inflammatory. The good things is the foods he will eat are still nutritious…. Grass fed meats, raw veggies, seaweed, Avacado pudding….. Just can’t get the gentle cooked veggies and broth in him!:(
Katie - Wellness Mama
We’ve implemented a set of “food rules” that have helped quite a bit. I wrote about them here: https://wellnessmama.com/8024/food-rules/
for someone who occasionally has moderate eczema, after how many days of being on the 30 day plan would one notice a difference? grains are my weakness and i’ll sub for rice when possible or just avoid it all together but the eczema i get when i have a flare up, takes forever to go away. i also take womans raw code probiotic religiously. is there something you would rec for facial eczemato help heal??
Some one tied acv with this diet with supplements of vitamin d etc theor videa is on YouTube
I wish I can find the link to it for you buy need to rush off and eat something now
been studying too long online hee hee
hope it helps
Katie said herself she take avc on foods as a way of vinegar but you can take it on spoon
it’s good to try it anyway
and perhaps your sensitive to a specific foods
I can only give suggestions
I’m still learning myself
Check out Dr. Garrett Smith at Nutrition Detective, and Grant Genereux’s Blog. They both claim – and have substantial backing- that eczema, dermatitis, acne, and psoriasis etc. are caused from Toxic levels of Vitamin A, and the resultant liver cholestasis.
How long did you stay on the into diet as well as the full GAPS? I did some allergy testing with my Dr. recently and I found out I’m allergic to almonds, dairy, wheat, pineapple, and eggs. Obviously even if I did the into and full GAPS diet I would have to leave out the almonds, diary and eggs until I was healed, correct? I don’t eat wheat/grains so that’s not a problem.
Honestly it can differ for everyone. I hate to say this, but I’d get the book.
What are your thoughts on beginning the GAPS protocol while breastfeeding? My son is almost 18 months now and basically only nurses for comfort before naps, bedtime, etc. but I’m a bit concerned that toxins may be released into my milk. I know I need this desperately (many digestive issues) and preferably I want to complete this protocol before my next pregnancy. But I don’t want to wean my son unnecessarily if it can be avoided. Thank you in advance!
Katie - Wellness Mama
I’ve done GAPS while nursing and found that my baby did great with the nutrient rich diet, but I’d definitely watch your own diet and see how it works for you…
Did you do intro Gaps diet or Full gaps while nursing?
How bad was your son’s dairy allergy? My daughter has anaphylactic reactions to dairy. I’d do anything to “cure” it, but I’m not aware of anything that will help an allergy as severe as hers.
Katie - Wellness Mama
He was not anaphylactic, though they told us he might develop it. I would definitely be super careful with that severe of an allergy, but personally, I’d still do the diet to hopefully avoid future allergies that are more likely with that severe of an allergy.
We are on day seven of GAPS intro, basically stage one still, for my two year olds eczema and leaky gut. Hes eating great but his eczema is out of control worse. I know there are healing reactions which his red face, attitude and sleeplessness showed but for his eczema to get worse is really making me second guess my decision. Any thoughts from anyone? We’re going to give it a good 30 days but I was really hoping to see some improvements sooner than we are.
Poor darling! It certainly takes a while for the healing to really take hold, and you may experience some set backs at first.
Thanks everyone for the replies. For some reason I wasn’t notified of any so this is late in responding. We are now at thirty days and have not introduced any dairy, except for ghee, and no nuts so basically still at stage three. I did recently introduce some fruit. At day 20 he started getting red splotches on his legs and by night time he was covered head to toe in hives that lasted three days. His eczema looked good but im guessing it was because of the four doses of benadryl we gave him. A day later and his eczema was worse than ever and still is. Its spreading and really red and inflamed. Hes not getting any probiotics or ferments for fear of a histamine intolerance but I cannot figure out for the life of me why he is so much worse after this long on the diet? I’m not sure what to do now or who to talk to. I want to seek help from a doctor but I’m not sure what type. Im transitioning to the full diet now since I have to go back to work in three short weeks. If anyone has any input (especially Katie aka wellness mama!) I would more than appreciate it. Thank you!
Have you looked into the possibility of a salicylate intolerance. I only recently heard of this, and after some “googling” 🙂 am convinced this may be my problem. We had transitioned from a regular diet to a more whole foods approach, but my symptoms seemed to grow worse. I couldn’t find a link or pattern to pin down exactly what was causing the problem, but after learning of the RAPH elimination diet, there seems to be some sense to it all. Hope it helps! Blessings
This is what happened to me also while on SCD. Even though you haven’t started ferments or broth (which I hadn’t either) I think it could still be histamine as the GAPS diet is so heavy on meat. if your meat is aged (e.g. beef) or you are pre-cooking and leaving it in the fridge, the histamine levels could be increasing. I only figured out this week that the reason I failed so miserably on SCD was that I tried to do it while I was pescatarian. The large amounts of fish I was consuming sent my histamine levels through the roof.
Fermented cod liver oil comes to mind as a supplement that might help. Also check any probiotics you’re giving him for hidden sources of dairy–and he likely needs to take some kind of probiotic–we like Klaire Labs Probiotics (though I don’t know what the stance is on that from the stage 1 intro of GAPS). Some kids are really sensitive to the things that the chickens/cows eat–so if a kid is very allergic to soy or corn and you’re making broth from chickens that ate corn/soy, it might provoke a reaction. I don’t know how likely that is, but I’ve read stories of families having to explore that path (and having luck). Good luck! He’ll get through it!
Above all, be patient! I approached the GAPS diet as a couple month commitment for my son’s leaky gut…we are at 15 months now! It is definitely worth it as we have seen almost complete recovery from outward symptoms now. But even after your son’s skin clears up, the gut will likely still need help to get back to optimal function. The diet works but is not an instant fix. Stick with it!
It could be the reaction to the body clearing out the bad bacteria n impurities
when you detox the body fir example you’ll also have periods where it gets worse before it gets better because the baddies in gut n body are being removed or it could b a food you have now added or upped in the diet that he is sensitive to.
I first heard of leaky gut when my Husband had a lot of medical issues causing him to lose drastic amounts of weight. After venturing down the roads of conventional medicine, EGDs, GI specialist, and many ER visits he started to go the more holistic route. Through the use of kinesiology we were able to pin point his “weak” areas and his bodies allergies. They then fixed the gut with a probiotic (again using muscle testing as not all probiotics provided the most beneficial help to each individual) and a supplement called permavite. We follow a strict organic diet and try to consume as many fermented foods as possible. However, we eat gluten and dairy and have had no issues. He gets regular check ups and is in perfect health. After I had our daughter she began having issues when we started solids. We then took her to the same Doctor thinking she too had a allergies however she was perfect, but I had never “fixed” my allergies and she was receiving to much histamine in my breast milk. I again healed my leaky gut (permavite) did the muscle testing (kinesiology) to find my allergies, was desensitized to the allergies, avoided it for a week, and now can consume them. Impressed you followed such a strict diet for 30 days, the week almost drove me insane!
Hi I’m curious to know what probiotics your husband took/takes. Thanks!
Thank you for your input Dani. Having taken my kids down the GAPS route quite strictly for over alomost 3 years to overcome allergies without much success I am looking into alternatives. Especially as dd2 (who was weaned on GAPS preemptively) seems to have developed histamine intolerance probably due to the high histamine GAPS diet she has been having (fermented food and bone broth). I have now started NMT Feinberg technique for dd1 which also uses muscle testing to help heal her allergies. In the last few days I decided to stop the fermented veg and broth with her too as I think it is making her queasy. Having stopped the broth I may give the Permavite a go. How long were you recommended to take it? How long was your whole treatment to get over your allergies? What is the name of your doctor? Thanks.
I have only recently started reading your blog and I really enjoy it. As a mom of two, I really admire the work you put in to your posts and well as your commitment to a healthy lifestyle – all with 5 kids! So I apologise if this is covered elsewhere in your site or comments as I know you’re busy…
I was wondering the benefits of this diet vs say, an alkaline diet. I found the consumption of meat for health benefits and the elimination of legumes in this diet, for example, surprising. I would be interested in understanding your view of an alkaline diet, which is also supposed to help inflammation.
I suffer from psoriasis and my toddler has eczema so I am always open to possible dietary solutions!
I am curious what led you to believe your daughter was getting too many histamines from your breast milk. Also did you yourself have any symptoms of allergies/a leaky gut?
My 8 month old was recently in the hospital with Transverse Myelitus (an autoimmune disease). I have multiple sclerosis, but other than eating a rigorous dairy free whole foods diet, I have not pursued any gut healing diet because I have never actually had any digestive distress. But now that my daughter has had this issue I have been wondering if somehow my autoimmune disease has influenced her. And since I keep hearing so much about gut health and autoimmunity I’m trying to figure out if her and/or I need a guy healing diet. But you actually did something totally different, huh?
Hi, Dani. Would you mind sharing the name of your doctor? I’m seeing an holistic chiropractor, but she’s convinced that I’ll never get over my allergies. Your doc’s way of thinking is much preferable.