It’s been well over a year since my wife, Nicole, started a low-carb version of the GAPS diet. We didn’t look at it as a “lifestyle change.” Lifestyle change sounds something short of religious conversion. Some people call themselves Gapsters. We do not. We are human beings who use most of the principles in the GAPS program. GAPS has been an experiment with the following three purposes:
1. To see if it would produce better blood sugar control. Nicole’s glucometer would often go as high as 30 mmol/L (540 mg/dL).
2. To see if it would cure type-1 diabetes. In other words, allow Nicole to live without jabbing herself with needles full of insulin.
To some our GAPS experiment may seem like a long shot. But it’s the best option we could find at the time. And doing something, I’ve found, is always better than doing nothing. After several miserable stays in the hospital, Nicole decided she rather die trying then surrender to a slow and painful death. At the very least, we figured we’d see an improvement in Nicole’s quality of life.
What is GAPS (For Those Who Don’t Know)?
For those who don’t know, I’ll give a very brief description of GAPS. To my understanding, GAPS is mainly a dietary program focused on healing the lining of the gut. The founder of the diet, Dr. Campbell-McBride, is a neurologist from Russia. At the Wise Traditions 2011, 12th Annual Conference she explained that she discovered that this healing of the gut lining allowed type-1 diabetic patients (in her clinic) to discontinue the use of insulin.
The diet focuses on eliminating complex carbohydrates (like potatoes, pasta and bread) and focuses on meat, vegetables and fats. The stricter version of the GAPS diet involves no fruit. This is what Nicole did. (Fruit made a mess of her blood sugar, anyways.) Since March of 2013 her menu has largely consisted of two meals a day of vegetables, chicken or beef, with clarified butter, sour cream and/or olive oil. She also would snack on macadamia nuts in bird-size servings. For desert she eats pickles and lemon-flavored fish oil. Strangely, we don’t get many guest for dinner these days.
Low-Carb GAPS For Diabetic Dialysis Patients
She also combined the GAPS diet with Dr. Bernstein’s diabetic diet (for the purpose of blood sugar control). This involved avoiding the higher-carb vegetables allowed on the GAPS diet. We also had to tailor the diet around dietary restrictions she must follow as a dialysis patient. In the end, she had to limit her low-carb vegetable choices to a few specific varieties – daikon, broccoli, cauliflower, watermelon radish and green beans being the staples. It makes grocery shopping simpler.
So what happened after a year of following this low-carb, dialysis-friendly, version of the GAPS diet?
Blood Sugar Control
Within 8 months of following low-carb GAPS Nicole’s glycated hemoglobin (HgbA1C) went from 7.0% to 4.5%. My on HgbA1C is 5.2% (to give you a non-diabetic frame of reference). We were very happy and surprised at the ease with which she lowered her A1C. It really makes you wonder how most endocrinologist stay in business.
Following such a low-carb diet, however, caused Nicole to experience chronic diarrhea. Once we added a little cooked carrots and onion to the diet, the diarrhea stopped. I wrote about this in The Dark Side Of A Very Low-Carb Type-1 Diabetic Diet. Since adding a cup of carrots and 1/2 cup of onions a day, her A1C climbed to 5.2%. It has remained at 5.2% for her last two quarterly blood tests.
Nicole still experiences blood sugar rises after meals that are quite high — 9 mmol/L (162 mg/dL). Why? She still suffers from delayed stomach emptying (gastroparesis) and is not able to take a full dose of regular insulin at meals. This problem has slowly been showing signs of correcting itself.
After more than a year on GAPS we have seen no sign whatsoever that Nicole’s pancreas has recovered its ability to produce insulin. Of course, we were not expecting results within a year’s time. Realistically, 3-5 years is a fair time frame for reversing such a deep rooted disease.
It would be difficult to sum up all the changes that have taken place since Nicole’s switched from a high-carb diet, containing wheat and grains, to following low-carb GAPS. Here’s a short list:
- Emotional health. The most notable change has been a very positive shift in Nicole’s mood. It is called the Gut and Psychology Syndrome diet, after all. Previously, Nicole would fall into pits of deep depression, involving suicidal inclinations and extreme anger. As her husband, I can bear witness that she has seen dramatic changes. While she still has her “down” moments, they last only minutes, not days, and are not nearly as deep (or dangerous).
- Brain health. Previous to starting low-carb GAPS Nicole was suffering from multiple brain seizures. The worst bout left her unable to speak for about 24 hours. These seizures were accompanied by migraines that required pain medication. Even on good days, she’d have trouble recalling common nouns and suffer regular headaches. Today she is still a little slow putting her words together, but they all come out. She does suffer mild headaches, but not as frequent or as intense as before.
- Gut health. Nicole used to regularly skip meals, feeling too disgusted with food to eat. While she is still only able to manage two solid meals a day, she doesn’t miss them anymore. Her gut, however, is still in bad shape. We’ve no doubt now she suffers from celiac disease. Until this is healed, it’s unlikely the diabetes will improve.
- Water retention. Switching to a lower-carb diet seemed to immediately help her water retention issues (which are caused by the kidney failure). She used to retain so much water she couldn’t sleep laying down at night. I’d often find her “sleeping” sitting up on the couch in the living room. That hasn’t happened for a long a time.
- Sleep. This certainly isn’t perfect yet, but it’s also a lot better. She tends to sleep well for the first half of the night. She does have the occasional night of very deep sleep. She still takes a whopping 9mg of melatonin each night.
- Kidney health. We haven’t seen any noticeable improvement in kidney health as of yet. Her blood tests, if anything, have shown a slight (and typical) worsening of kidney function.
- Energy. Honestly, I don’t think this has improved significantly. I also wouldn’t expect it, too. Nicole’s body is dealing with multiple health problems. Any improvement in one area, probably means the freed up energy gets redirected to the other six problems.
- Sugar and carb cravings. While not gone, these have certainly diminished dramatically. Nicole says she used to suffer from maddening cravings for bagels and sweets. At around six months into low-carb GAPS, those cravings started to dissolve. Taking the GAPS-recommended probiotic supplement, Bio-Kuit, helped a lot in this regard (available from Amazon.com, Amazon.ca and Amazon.co.uk). The only time she craves sugar now is if she’s over stressed trying to push her body to keep on going.
- Restless Legs: After about 8 months on GAPS Nicole developed restless leg syndrome. We don’t suspect that GAPS caused this condition; but it clearly didn’t prevent it either.
Since starting GAPS Nicole has all but entirely avoided any trips to the emergency room. We used to average one (or three) about every 12 months. She did have to go the ER once but it was for a reason almost to silly to acknowledge. She showed up with a low blood sugar at the dialysis clinic. They refused to treat her until an ER doc gave the okay. I guess the karma has to be burned somehow. Certainly better than spending 2 weeks in ICU.
Other Family Members on GAPS
Myself and our son Jonah have also been following a slightly higher-carb GAPS diet along with Nicole. I thought I’d quickly share our results:
I was very underweight before starting due to a lifetime of chronic inflammatory bowel disease. I began GAPS at 132 lbs. Went down to 128lbs. In 8 months on GAPS I went up 152lbs (I’m 5’7″). Over the winter I went down to 148lbs. I appear to have put on about 15 pounds of muscle and 5 pounds of fat. While not perfect, my digestion has never been better — very little gas, constipation or bloating. Energy levels are up. Hypoglycemia disappeared. Bladder problems vanished. Brain fog evaporated. Sadly, I still suffer from skin rashes – though they did improve.
Our son didn’t fair as well as me. He still suffers from a bloated belly and gas. However, he doesn’t pee the bed or wake up screaming in the middle of the night as often. On the whole, he does seem better. He has a strong build for a 7-year old, neither pudgy or skinny. We suspect he’s inherited a lot of ill health from Nicole and has a tougher road to climb than I. His mental health is slightly better. He’s very sharp, learns quickly, can read years above his age level. He’s very outgoing and easy to communicate with. But he suffers from lethargy, anxiety and emotional outbursts.
Conclusion and the Future
When we started low-carb GAPS in March of 2013, we said we’d follow it for a year and then re-evaluate whether to continue or not. We weren’t expecting it to cure Nicole of type-1 diabetes in such a short time. But we were hoping to see enough improvement in overall health to make it worth the culinary sacrifices.
Even if GAPS never heals Nicole’s pancreas, it does seem like all the benefits experienced make it worthwhile. Better blood sugars, better moods, better digestion, better sleep… Who would trade these in for a bagel and cheese sandwich?
Still, we’ve long had our doubts that GAPS would be enough to reverse the kidney failure and the diabetes. This spring we discovered Nutritional Balancing Science. The diet it recommends is very similar to GAPS. The program, however, includes more direct detoxification methods. It also includes a customized mineral supplementation plan. It goes far beyond repairing the gut lining. It focuses on removing toxic “brickwork” from the very cells of the body. It’s about rebuilding every organ.
One of my concerns with the GAPS approach has been that there may very well be multiple causes of type-1 diabetes. A leaky gut may be only a contributing factor in Nicole’s case. For a small child, possibly, the leaky gut and overgrowth of bad gut flora is where it starts. If you catch it early enough with GAPS you might be able to heal the pancreas before compound damage piles.
So we are not abandoning GAPS. We’re expanding beyond GAPS. Nicole’s continuing to follow the dietary guidelines that Dr. Campbell-McBride found worked for her type-1 diabetic patients. We’ve just added more “tools” to the program. We’re assuming the worst-case scenario and experimenting with every non-contradictory means at our disposal.
Nicole has had type-1 diabetes for 37 years. Her kidneys failed five years ago. We don’t have time to lose. Death has already been knocking at the door many a times. A more intense program, such as Nutritional Balancing, should only increase our chances of success.
Dr. Campbell-McBride admits that she has only seen success with children, not adults. Likewise, I’ve spoken with other adults who have been following GAPS for years (for non-diabetic reasons). While they are certainly happier and healthier on GAPS, they don’t feel they have been cured. They suspect it’s “GAPS for life” for them.
Which makes me wonder if leaky gut and gut pathogens are but a contributing symptom, not the cause. The problem may be rooted in toxicity and mineral deficiencies, for example, which caused the leaky gut. Regardless of where the problem started, simply fixing the gut may not be enough after 37-years with the disease. The entire body may need to be detoxified and repaired in order for any one organ to function correctly again.
GAPS for life would be fine, if it did produce a 100% cure. It’s even acceptable, for us, if it continues to work as well as it does. But the state of Nicole’s kidneys is basically a ticking time bomb. Most people don’t live for decades on dialysis. Nicole is only 47 with a 7 year-old son. We’d like her to see Jonah turn 47 himself (on her 87th birthday).
In future articles, I’ll describe in more detail exactly what we are doing with Nutritional Balancing. Be sure to subscribe if you’d like more details. For my previous articles on the GAPS diet check out: Russian Doctor Says All Her Type-1 Diabetic Patients “Recover Fully” and Our Low-Carb GAPS Experiment to Cure Type-1 Diabetes. And for more on Nutritional Balancing Science please click here.