[I am most appreciative for the chance to post the following interview/essay with Gerald. It is adapted from an audio interview that can be found here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/gapsjourney/2011/05/28/gerald--healing-dige... . --Sarabeth]
I’ve suffered from dysbiosis of my intestinal flora, and carbohydrate maldigestion and malnutrition, from a very early age - definitely by age four. There's a toddler photo of me eating Oreo cookies. I was raised on the low end of the Standard American Diet (SAD), just one level above convenience store cuisine, on a straight-up processed-foods diet by parents who didn’t like to cook.
I was malnourished, and couldn't gain weight. I was 49 pounds at age 10, 65 pounds at age 12, and still well under 120 by age 18 at 5'10". I could put my fingers around my upper arm. I always had a so-called "high metabolism": always hungry, always eating, never gaining a pound, and when I was hungry I'd lose my mind, become angry, become depressed, feel like I was going to pass out. It was terrible, especially in my early thirties. I would often wake up in the middle of the night in order to eat, in order to get back to sleep! I was too hungry to sleep. I’ve eaten enough “calories” in my life to make two people fat. Yes, being super skinny is just the flip side of obesity - both are signs of malnutrition.
(I now believe there's no such thing as "high metabolism." Doctors can't logically explain it because it doesn't exist. That so-called "high metabolism" disappeared once I stopped eating SAD. Still to this day I am amazed that I do not get hungry between meals and that I can postpone or even skip meals without losing my mind.)
I was always constipated, had strained BMs that were painful with occasional blood, always with mucous. I was often gassy, often suffered from so-called "gas pains" (which are _not_ gas, but are actually the gut screaming in pain because the gut wall has been damaged), and had undigested food in my stool.
By the time I was 10 years old, I was also suffering from serious depression. Actually, I was depressed from my earliest childhood memories: feelings of loneliness, meaninglessness, anxiety, fear, dread, hopelessness; I was low on energy and definitely lacked enthusiasm about life. Everything was just hard. I lost out on some of the best parts of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.
I was alcoholic by age 14, and suicidal and a drug user by age 18. It's amazing that I made it to age 20, and got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous. Depression lingered in the background for all the years I was sober in AA (till March 2009, when I began the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)).
My mom passed away from celiac disease in 2006 at age 55. She had been diagnosed with in 1992, but still died after 14 years on the gluten-free (GF) diet. I was diagnosed celiac in 2008. I was very lucky with my GI doctor here in town: he told me that he doesn't believe that the GF diet is the cure for celiac. (He also told me he couldn't believe I was still functioning (job, family, etc.) in my condition, and that he was surprised to see so much gut damage in someone my age (35 at the time).) He told me that any other GI doc would probably tell me to follow the GF diet, but in his experience, GF celiacs all came back to his office a few years later suffering from the same symptoms that were killing them previously, before they went GF. I'm very lucky. My GI doc didn't know about the SCD or GAPS, but he had the courage to disagree with the medical establishment, and he had the humility to state that he actually wasn't sure what the cure for celiac is. He suggested a hypo-allergenic rotation diet because food allergies are his focus and specialty. That was his best _guess_ for potential treatment.
I did try the GF diet, because I was feeling like I was going to die on the job. I thought to myself, “Well, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, and the doctors don’t know. I can’t afford to stop working because I’ll lose our family health insurance and our only source of income, but I _can_ afford to die because we have a life insurance policy that would pay the mortgage and provide for health insurance, etc.. I guess maybe I'll have a heart attack right here at work, and that'll be it.”
Going GF helped a little. I stopped feeling like I was going to drop dead any day, and it also resolved some vision and hearing sensory issues. (Vision: I was easily overwhelmed by flashing lights, and I had to be careful not to pay attention to patterns like brickwork, chain link fencing, or, especially when I was driving, the thin tar strips of road repair work on the interstate. Hearing: for years I wouldn’t leave home without ear plugs in my pocket, and I used them every day just to take the edge off.)
After GF, I tried seven months of the Hypo-Allergenic Rotation Diet (HART), which did only one thing for me. Reflecting on my daily food journal, I realized that I did not do well with grains in general. I was just about to try Paleo, when a friend introduced me to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.
Compared to the HART, the SCD is _easy_. After 7 months on that ***horrible*** HART, I knew I could do _anything_ for 30 days. On HART, I ate the same four meals for 7 months. I can still taste some of them. (_And_ I can still hear my nutritionist saying, “Be sure and eat your grains to keep your strength and weight up!”) Plus, I was eating lots of sweets on HART. The HART was gluten-free, so initially my overall health did improve, but my gut health did not improve, and I remained on a plateau for 7 months.
The SCD challenged me: try it for 30 days. If I experienced no improvement in 30 days, then I would forget about it, but if I experienced some kind of improvement, then I would continue with it and give it some more time.
I had been researching Paleo eating, which made a lot of sense to me because it was based on the historical record, the archaeological record, and the evolutionary record. With the SCD, on the other hand, I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that carbohydrates were difficult to digest. After all, all our lives we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that red meat remains in our bowels undigested for years, etc., while whole grains help move everything through. And don’t we lose our natural ability to digest animal fat after a lifetime on the so-called heart-healthy, high-fiber, low-fat diet? Beside, table sugar dissolves readily in water – it was difficult for me to recognize that dissolving is unrelated to digestion.
And then: 36 hours after removing grains, beans, potatoes, and sugars (including milk sugar) from my diet, I experienced a dramatic improvement in my health, and I suddenly understood that a lifetime of mental, emotional, and physical health problems was directly attributable to my inability to properly digest carbohydrates. Starchy foods (and sugar!), it turns out, are _entirely inessential_ to human health. For most of human history, people _never_ ate these foods; these were the foods that were killing me, and which are SCD "illegal" foods.
Thirty-six hours after beginning the SCD, I was returned to myself. It felt like I was taken back to a fork in the road that I faced when I was just 4 years old and carbohydrate maldigestion took over my life. It was like having strong memories return as the result of some odor that you haven’t smelled in years.
The spectre of depression that had haunted me from my earliest childhood memories vanished without a trace, never to return, not even for one moment. It’s like I can’t be depressed even if I try! That was 28 months ago. I have experienced a profound personality change. I am no longer a depressive by nature!! I'm living in a new world.
The Committee of chattering voices in my head was silenced, and I have not heard one peep out of them since. These were the self-critical voices that were always putting me down. You know, the self-doubt, self-condemnation, the inner thoughts that say, “Why did you do it that way, Dummy? Oh you really messed _that_ up!”
I used to believe that the best a person could hope for in life was to center himself in the Eye of the Storm because Life would always be Life: people would get on our nerves, and things wouldn’t work out the way we wanted them to. But then the Storm simply disappeared, like the Committee.
Life seems so easy nowadays. It has been 28 months, and it’s still all new to me. I’ll get off work and be walking to the bus stop and I’ll be thinking, “That was easy!” And I’ll be looking at the sky and all the beauty around me and say, “Wow! Wow! Woooow!”
And you know what? At that moment, 36 hours after I had started the SCD (by removing all of the illegals from my diet), at that moment when I “returned to myself,” I stopped in my tracks and many thoughts and ideas came to me out of the blue. First was the realization that ***this*** is what ***the*** problem had been all my life. And just after that my thoughts turned to all of the alcoholics I’ve known over the years in AA, and the food addicts too; I now believe that all addicts have this gut dysbiosis to some degree or another, probably to a large degree for most of them. (Keep in mind it would be another 15 months till I was introduced to GAPS and read for myself that carbohydrate-maldigestion does indeed cause schizophrenia and autism and ADHD and auto-immune diseases. I didn’t need Dr. Natasha to tell me that gut dysbiosis causes alcoholism and substance abuse, but I was happy to see her say so.)
I stopped believing in so-called “calories” the day that the SCD started working for me, because I stopped being hungry all the time. I can even postpone a meal while performing heavy labor. Now I react like other people: I lose my appetite when it’s really hot outside and I’ve been working. I no longer get really hot after eating meals. Instead, I’m more likely to get a little chilly, which is another thing other people used to say about themselves that I just couldn’t relate to.
But I didn’t tell anybody this stuff for about a year and a half after starting the SCD. I didn’t even tell my wife or my good friends. I didn’t want to scare anybody, and I wanted to see if it was real. Plus, who would believe me if I said that all this happened within just one week of beginning a new diet???
I joined an SCD Yahoo group and wrote in about my experiences, but nobody wrote back, so I thought, Oh well, nobody can relate to this and they think I’m crazy.
But I heard angels singing just 36 hours after removing the grains, beans, potatoes, and sugars, including milk sugar, from my diet. I heard Pavarotti singing “Ave Maria” over and over and over again, and overnight I couldn’t tolerate popular music anymore and all I wanted to hear was Bach and maybe a little Mozart. At that moment, just 36 hours after removing the illegals from my diet, I knew that **this** was **the** problem.
In the first few weeks, I would come in and out of my new mental state on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day. It was like sobering up from a hallucinogenic drug. I wouldn’t realize it when I had left, but when I returned I would realize that I had been gone.
I learned about candida overgrowth on the SCD website, Pecanbread. I had so many Candida symptoms, a long list including both both physical and mental issues – the kind of list you give your doctor that makes him throw up his hands and say, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but I’ll order the _____ [celiac, thyroid, allergy, etc.] test for you because you think you have It and you have a family history of It…”
At that point I had been on the SCD for about 15 months, and I had also been on a plateau for many months. The SCD had done great things for me, but I knew I needed more healing and was stuck. I was looking for more answers. All this happened at about the same time: a professional hydrotherapist introduced me to the Gut and Psychology Syndrome protocol (GAPS), I learned about candida, and I had a feeling that I needed both GAPS and an anti-Candida diet.
At the very beginning, I had removed the SCD illegals from my diet easily, but when it came time to remove all the last sweets, fruits, and nuts:_that_ was hard. The first 5 days were kind of scary, but after a couple weeks it became a snap, and after a couple months, I was mostly repulsed by the sweets I used to eat. (At the beginning, on the SCD, I was eating 6 bananas a day, covered with honey. This was almost certainly holding me back and feeding the Candida.)
Sweets really were harder for me to give up than starch. Starchy foods like grains, beans, and potatoes, actually don't look like food to me anymore. They look like paste or glue. I couldn't have imagined how my palate was going to change back in March 2009, when I started off with the SCD, but this is how I feel now. I don't even want to eat these things - and you know, my wife is the best bread baker and pastry chef ever. She continues to make that stuff at home (and sell it), and I don't even care.
Wow. The anti-Candida diet had immediate effects: I had painful, voluminous diarrhea three times in three weeks, and I am the chronically constipated type. I never suffered from diarrhea. All I did was remove the sweets (all fruits, beets, honey, winter squash, and nuts. At that point I hadn’t yet discovered kefir and I hadn’t implemented any GAPS protocols.
The first round of diarrhea was the most painful. I was bent over on the floor pounding my fist on the tile floor. The pain was similar to all those stomach pains I had had all my life – but then stopped having on the SCD and have not had again since all that Candida die-off. And the feces itself was of a peculiar odor and consistency. (I’ve seen similar feces only one time since, which was when I started taking Betaine-HCl, but this most recent episode produced a very small quantity of feces and there was no pain associated with it. It makes me think the Betaine-HCl caused some die-off, perhaps in my stomach. Also, the Betaine-HCl sure does seem to elevate my mood, but perhaps that is simply because it is allowing me to derive more nutrition from my food??? I don’t know.)
After those three rounds of diarrhea, I started to notice some changes: my scalp peeled a few times. My hands stopped being sweaty. My body odor improved (I used to smell bad even to myself, and my scalp used to smell like beer). Now I’ll wear the same pair of pants 3 or 4 days in a row (!) and they don’t stink. I lost most of that nasty morning breath and that sticky feeling in the mouth. My teeth stopped feeling fuzzy. My skin stopped being so oily and dry. Not just my facial skin, but my whole body used to be kind of sticky and yucky by the end of the day.
You know what else? I no longer needed to use skin moisturizers on my hands or on my body. This past winter was the first winter in my life that I did not need to put on moisturizing lotion. Usually my skin would feel extra dry in the winter, and I would be using lotion on my body, hands, and face all year round anyway. I stopped needing moisturizer even after shaving my face! Yes, my skin really improved on the anti-Candida diet.
Also – exposure to the sun stopped making me ill. All my life, a sun burn or even just short exposure to the sun would make me feel nauseous, irritable, confused, and fatigued. But I got some sun last fall by accident and didn’t get sick. So I intentionally gave myself a burn a few days later and I still didn’t get sick. I now believe what they say, that the sun interacts with toxins in our skin in some way, and it doesn't seem to happen to me anymore.
I have also had much less post-nasal drip since starting the anti-Candida diet, but it was hard to tell during this last cold and flu, and spring allergy seasons. Both were hard for me. Losing this post-nasal drip entirely is something I believe will happen as my gut continues to heal.
Just after beginning the anti-candida dietary changes, in July 2010, I was introduced to GAPS. I wouldn’t have spent the money on the GAPS book, except that I saw the cover: P for psychology, and one of the road signs read “depression.” Yes! That’s my experience! Someone else out there knows, too!
You’ll have to keep in mind that at that point I had been on the SCD for 15 months and had kept my secret to myself. My wife saw the changes in me, but I would eventually make even greater gains in my health on GAPS. (As I learned on GAPS, I really need a _large_ amount of animal fat in order to feel physically well and mentally whole. Avocados and olive oil don’t seem to do anything for me. They are tasty, yet rather light fare as far as I am concerned. I eat thick pieces of animal fat and sometimes our bone broth is so fatty I joke you could place a candle wick in it and make a lamp!)
When I joined the GAPShelp forum, I wrote in about my experience. To my relief several people wrote back and said they could relate. That was very important to me. I can’t imagine I would have remained a forum member if nobody had responded.
GAPS has been a big improvement over SCD, thanks to the inclusion of:
--Large quantities of animal fat (I no longer eat vegetable oils except for the occasional olive oil, not heated)
--Probiotics & ferments
These three things caused immediate, positive change. There are some other GAPS things I do that have not caused noticeable change, but which I do anyway because they seem like a good idea:
--Organ meats (liver, kidney)
The GAPS advice for constipated people was also much better for me than the SCD advice. Constipation was my other big problem besides depression, and the SCD seemed to focus on people with diarrhea.
On SAD, my bloated intestines had me out to a 35” waist, and I shrank down to 31” in just a few weeks after starting the SCD. I had to buy all new pants. Then, on an anti-Candida GAPS diet, my waist shrank to 29”, and I had to buy pants again. That was certainly more gut inflammation than “puffiness.” (My real puffiness was around the face and torso and over the buttocks. I had a double chin! At 5’10,” 150 pounds before the SCD, I had a double chin. That’s nonsense! That’s not fat enough to have a double chin, yet I did. And that disappeared along with all the other puffiness, when I changed my diet.)
S. Boulardii from GI Prohealth gave me some die-off and some beneficial effects, but it was temporary, and the benefits wore off after I stopped taking the pills.
Then I tried milk kefir. WOW! Milk kefir continues to help a lot, and is probably also involved in keeping my candida so much more under control. And milk kefir has improved my mental state. In the beginning months, it was like a light switch, on and off. When I drank it, I could feel the brain fog clear. Nowadays, it’s not a dramatic difference between when I drink my kefir and when it has been a few hours or a day without it. Home colonics gave just as dramatic a change in the beginning months using them: as soon as my colon started to fill up with 2 or 2.5 liters of water, I could feel the fog clear from my mind, and when the feces was expelled, my mind was ten times clearer. And I’m not talking just about confused thinking like trouble remembering things or difficulty multiplying two-digit numbers in your head. I’m also talking about ***anger***, ***anxiety***, ***fear***, ***aggression***. These kinds of negative emotions would be washed away by a couple cups of milk kefir or by a couple liters of home colonics. Again, like with the kefir, the effect of the colonics is not as dramatic nowadays as it was in the beginning, but I won’t let a day go by without one [until recently – see post-script].
Let me make it very clear: I do not and never have derived any emotional pleasure from eating food, and am not in any way a food addict or food abuser. Food just doesn't act like a drug in that way for me, but I’m certain that starch and sugar do act like mood altering substances for that class of person that is a food addict or food abuser. In my case, though, my body was addicted to carbs all the same.
And coffee. During the last 7 months on the SCD, I had quit drinking it, but it was a daily struggle to resist the temptation. Yet I did resist it, and that tells me that on the SCD I achieved considerable healing. But after starting GAPS and the anti-candida diet in July 2010, within a few weeks it was no longer a struggle to resist coffee or caffeine. I relapsed once in mid-August, when my second son was born and I was so tired that I hit the curb with our car on one of my trips to the hospital. I drank some coffee because my sleepiness made me too dangerous to drive - but let me tell you, I did not enjoy it.
Now I consider myself truly free of coffee and caffeine, and I thought that would never happen in my life. I had tried to quit so many, many times in the previous 15 years or so. Compared to coffee, quitting alcohol and drugs in 1993 was relatively easy. In 1994, I gave up cigarettes, and that was difficult. It took 7 years for me to stop wanting to smoke cigarettes, and I would smoke one here and there during that time. But coffee, no way. It seemed impossible. And now I am free of it.
I certainly can’t explain why starchy and sugary foods make some people fat and other people skinny, but look at the mental side: it’s very clear that only some people have the predisposition to become autistic, while others are made schizophrenic or depressed or ADHD or alcoholic. For whatever reasons, malnutrition can look different in different people, and each person has different predispositions. But we have a common solution.
You know what, I think this “food,” this starch and sugar, is making a lot of people something ***other*** than what Mother Nature intended them to be. I don’t think it’s just us patients with obvious gut disease and mental problems. I think all humans will eventually pay a price for living off of starch and sugar, because it was not Mother Nature’s intention for us to be eating it, just like it is unnatural for us to be feeding grains to our factory farm cows when they should be eating grass, or feeding grains to our house pets when they should be eating raw meat. The Paleo Diet proponents argue that each individual will eventually succumb to a degenerative disease as a result of eating starch and sugar. Of course there is the rare individual who lives to 100 without much degeneration, but they are very rare indeed.
Another one of those intuitive thoughts that came to me out of the blue at that moment 36 hours after removing the SCD illegals from my diet was this: “Who’s in charge here, anyways??? Me? or the intestinal flora?”
I don’t believe anymore in such a thing as an “addictive” personality. Instead, my experience tells me that messed-up guts make messed-up minds.
This really has re-formed my opinion on what “Free Will” is. Up until 2009, I had the belief that happiness in this world is really a product of Right Living, and that if I did the Right Things for the Right Reasons, then I would feel happy - not necessarily that I would always have enough money or that the world would behave as it should, but that I would be happy and at peace if I lived correctly. The corollary to that thinking is, of course, that by choosing to do the Wrong Thing from short-sighted selfishness, for example, then I would be made unhappy.
But my recent experience with diet has showed me that the food I was eating was determining the course of my life. Mother Nature did not intend for humans to eat this starchy and sugary stuff. For tens of thousands of years, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years, depending on who you read, anatomically modern human beings were walking this planet and eating from the GAPS Legal foods list, except not the ferments. That’s the premise of the Paleo diet. And then some things happened about 10,000 years ago in the Mid-East, and a little after that in East Asia and South Asia and West Sub-Saharan Afric and even in Meso-America: people started farming. People started eating starch: grains, beans, and potatoes. People started milking goats and cows.
And maybe those early farmers were really doing OK after all. Maybe, as some hypothesize, they kept their guts healthy by eating fermented foods – each agricultural society has developed its own. The Japanese have nattou, the Koreans have kimchee, Europeans have sauerkraut, the South Asians have yogurt, etc..
But as I learned from the SCD and GAPS, many things have gone wrong in just the past few generations: white flour & white rice, antibiotics, processed sugar, birth control pills, prepared processed foods, factory farmed animals – and now you have us GAPS patients. We’ve crossed a line and Mother Nature is letting us know that.
I look around and it looks like Invasion of the Body Snatchers out there. It’s like people are not who they are supposed to be. They are not all they could be. We’re weighed down by this. The signs of malnutrition and dysbiosis are evident in people’s skin and in their facial bones and teeth. (Have you read Weston Price’s “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”? My skull and facial bones display all the signs of childhood malnutrition.)
And I don’t know about self-control. When a person has arrived to the point of self-destructive drinking, drugging, eating, or whatever, it’s no longer about self-control. In AA, they say only an “act of God” is going keep an alcoholic sober, and so the 12 steps are designed to lead a person to experience this “act of God” and achieve a profound personality change. But you know, most people who attend their first AA meeting don’t make it 10, 20, 30 years sober. Most of them kill themselves first, either by slowly drinking themselves to death, or by blowing their brains out like I almost did because the pain of existence is unbearable.
And now, I understand this in the context of malnutrition and gut dysbiosis. To hear stories like I have recently, about how carbs can ferment in people’s guts and produce alcohol as a waste product of that fermentation process – can you see how the odds against achieving sobriety might be miniscule for some alcoholics?
And I have learned about “brain fog,” which was also my experience as a result of consuming starch and sugar and suffering from gut dysbiosis. And I have felt the ways my emotions are controlled by the microorganisms in my intestines. What chance does a person stand against all this?
Actually, most alcoholics are married and have two cars in the garage. They never get sober because they never have to. They hang in there in the work place. They will probably die 10 or 20 years before their time, but they’ll still make it to retirement and see their grandchildren born. Indeed, they’re certain to make their children neurotic because, by definition, alcoholism in the family environment is child abuse.
But this disease just keeps on passing down through the generations because it doesn’t kill you quick. It’s chronic, not acute like some flu bug that kills you in a couple days. No, this gut dysbiosis, this inability to properly digest carbohydrates, it kills you _slow_, usually _after_ you’ve reproduced. Apparently, it sometimes does kill children and infants, but usually a sufferer is able to pass on his genes and his abnormal gut flora to the next generation. So it never leaves our “gene” pool, or at least it didn’t leave our gene pool much over the past few thousand years.
Like the Paleo Diet people say: 10,000 years of farming (or many, many, many fewer years if you come from the part of the world where my ancestors lived), is not enough time for the human genome to adapt to this new food source of starch and sugar.
Or like Dr. Natasha says: these chronic diseases of civilization are not due to bad genes in our families. Present day humans have good genes – otherwise we never would have survived the Stone Age when we had to compete with wild animals and against the elements for our survival. Instead, it’s the food and the pharmaceuticals that are making us sick.
So I don’t know about “Free Will”. I think sick people are going to act sick, and healthy people are going to act healthy: “Healthy Body, Healthy Mind.” I just don’t know what choice people really have when they are under the influence of a high-starch, high-sugar diet.
Post Script (June 2011):
I drank coffee for years and years in order to have that morning bowel movement. When the coffee stopped working, I knew I was in big trouble. That was seven years before I found GAPS and home colonics, and let me tell you: it was a rough seven years!
And now...I am having spontaneous bowel movements! For the first time in my life I am approaching regularity!
It's thanks to supplementing with HCl and Ox Bile. Especially the ox bile. At one time I was taking 1200 mg of HCl with pepsin and 2000 mg of ox bile, but I'm all the way down to 325 mg of HCl with pepsin and 750 mg of ox bile. My home colonics kit is gathering dust! Enemas haven't been necessary for the past couple weeks. I've only needed a couple in the past 4 - 6 weeks or so. This is a slow recovery, but it is happening, in fits and starts. My stomach is re-learning how to produce stomach
acid and my gall bladder (liver?) is re-learning how to produce bile.
I will continue to follow Dr. Nataha's advice and perform coffee enemas when I can to stimulate bile production and help clear out those clogged bile ducts...