Autism and Poor Mental Health– “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”


Gut and Psychology Syndrome:
Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., A.D.H.D., Dyslexia, Depression and Schizophrenia
By Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD, MMed(nuerology), MmedSci(nutrition)
(Published by Medinform, 2004)

Just as Dr. Weston A. Price was baffled by the amount of chronic illness in his patients and sought to identify the parameters that could foster such a trend, so too does Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride advance our understanding of the underlying factors present in a growing percentage of people who are suffering from brain disorders and mental illness. The latest estimates are that 1 in 150 children is diagnosed for autism alone and 1 in 94 boys is on the autistic spectrum. She states that although genetics is often given as an explanation for brain disorders such as autism and ADD/ADHD and psychiatric illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, genetics could never cause an exponential increase in health or developmental problems—because genetics work much more slowly. As a parent of a child diagnosed with learning disabilities, Dr. Campbell-McBride has boldly sought to identify elements common to people with brain disorders and mental illness and craft an effective approach to improving their condition. When genetics is no longer used as a “scapegoat” for health problems, then and only then will accurate knowledge and solutions be found.

Through studying the health of hundreds of patients with autism, learning disabilities, psychiatric illness and other problems, Dr. Campbell-McBride discovered that in all cases these children and adults had digestive problems, often of a severe nature. Through her research, she has determined that there is a distinct correlation between unhealthy intestinal flora, poor digestion and toxicity from chemicals created by undigested foods that can severely affect brain chemistry. She coins this as “Gut and Psychology Syndrome,” or GAPS.

But if a child develops problems such as autism or ADD/ADHD at an early age, how can that child have already developed poor digestion? This is where Dr. Campbell-McBride so brilliantly defines that the probable source is familial and generational, which moves past genetic theory. Just as Dr. Price ascertained that without adequate nutrition, each generation would produce less healthy children—so Dr. Campbell-McBride postulates that poor intestinal flora and digestion is being passed down from one generation to the next. When a child is born it acquires the flora of the mother during the passage through the birth canal. If the mother has a history of antibiotic or contraceptive use and poor digestive health, her flora will likely be far less than healthy. If she does not breast-feed her baby, the gut flora of the child will be further compromised. The infant will often develop digestive problems such as colic, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, feeding difficulties, intestinal damage and malnourishment very early in life and is typically afflicted by a host of allergies. The child usually has frequent ear infections that are treated with many rounds of antibiotics, which only make the situation worse.

Poor bacterial flora and digestion are at the heart of serious health problems. When children are born with intestinal bacterial imbalances or “gut dysbiosis” they tend to have a compromised immune system and are prone to illness. Dr. Campbell-McBride states that often the intestinal tract of children who have autism is caked with hard fecal material. This terrible condition of course would lead to enormous and serious health consequences. She brings to light the profound statements of Hippocrates (460-370 BC) that, ”All diseases begin in the gut,” and of the father of modern psychiatry, French psychiatrist Phillipe Pinel (1745-1828), that “The primary seat of insanity is the region of the stomach and intestines.”

But what exactly happens in the gut that can upset brain chemistry? Dr. Campbell-McBride provides us with a magnificent explanation of the cascade of events that can occur when digestion is not supported by a healthy gut flora. A child or adult who eats a diet that is high in difficult-to-digest carbohydrates such as grains and processed foods, will continue to encourage the underlying condition of gut dysbiosis. Dr. Campbell-McBride states that people with damaged flora will even crave the very foods that support the survival of the unhealthy bacteria often to the exclusion and refusal of others.

Where most research on poor digestion focuses on unhealthy intestinal flora, Dr. Campbell-McBride’s work uniquely points to many problems with gut flora actually beginning with an unnatural growth of the fungus, Candida Albicans, in the stomach when it is not producing enough acid. She discusses that this overgrowth interferes with the first step of digestion by causing the stomach to produce inadequate amounts of the hydrochloric acid necessary to break proteins into “peptides” before entering the small intestine. For instance, under normal circumstances, the gluteomorphine and casomorphine proteins in wheat and milk are broken down in the stomach in the presence of proper amounts of stomach acid. However, with less stomach acid, these foods in fact begin to ferment in the stomach and are not broken down into peptides before passing into the small intestine. Besides causing an inadequate digestion of foods, the pressure of the gas created from this fermentation can lead to acid reflux, esophageal problems and even hiatal hernias, which are some of the most common digestive problems that people experience.

When insufficiently digested food enters the small intestines without adequate stomach acid, the pancreas in turn does not get the signal to release adequate pancreatic juices. Because people with GAPS lack healthy bacterial flora, they also lack production of enzymes called “peptidases.” These enzymes normally are produced by the enterocytes on the microvilli of the small intestine and will further break down proteins and carbohydrates into usable nutrients. With poor flora, the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract also becomes damaged and “leaky gut syndrome” develops. Therefore, the undigested casomorphine and gluteomorphine proteins, which resemble the chemical structure of opiates like heroin and morphine, are absorbed into the bloodstream unchanged and can cause severe interference with brain and immune system function. Dr. Campbell-McBride states that “There has been a considerable amount of research in this area in patients with autism, schizophrenia, ADHD, psychosis, depression and autoimmunity, who show high levels of casomorphines and gluteomorphines in their bodies, which means that their gut wall is in no fit state to complete appropriate digestion of these substances.”

Undigested carbohydrates, poor digestion and candida overgrowth in turn result in the production of the chemicals ethanol and acetaldehyde, which have profound consequences on brain chemistry and development. With these chemicals, a person can technically be considered “drunk” after a meal of carbohydrates even though they consumed no alcohol. We all know that alcohol is extremely toxic, especially to a developing fetus or a child. Besides reduced stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes, the following are some of the effects of a prolonged presence of alcohol from an overgrowth of candida in the body: damage and inflammation to the gut lining and resulting malabsorption; nutrient deficiencies; stress to the immune system; liver damage; accumulation of toxins, old neurotransmitters and hormones that can cause abnormal behavior; brain damage that can lead to lack of self control, impaired coordination and speech development, aggression, mental retardation, loss of memory and stupor; peripheral nerve damage; muscle tissue damage and weakness; metabolic alteration of proteins, carbohydrates and lipids and pancreatic degeneration.

Dr. Campbell-McBride reveals that there are many other toxins and bacteria created by poor digestion that are routinely found in stool samples of patients with GAPS. Of particular importance are those of the Bacteriods and Clostridia Family. These bacterium are present in all of us but kept under control when a healthy bacterial flora is in place. The Bacteriods are almost always found in infected tissues of the digestive tract, mouth, and gums, lungs, urinary tact, blood, heart valves and in diseased teeth, etc. Members of the Clostridia Family are also usually present in the stools of people with schizophrenia, psychosis, severe depression and those with other muscle, neurological and psychiatric conditions. Although many Clostridium species are normally found in the healthy gut, when gut dysbiosis in present, these bacterium may cause problems. If, for instance, the bacterium that causes tetanus, Clostridium tetani, which generally lives in check in a healthy gut, begins to thrive with gut dysbiosis; the toxins from this bacterium can infiltrate the tissues of the body. Some of the symptoms of the presence of a low exposure to the tetanus infection are sensitivity to light and noises and abnormalities of muscle function, i.e. the extensor muscles and flexor muscles may not function properly. Thus, children and adults with autism may exhibit the behavior of walking on tiptoes and stretching their muscles unusually in self-stimulation.

She also discloses some of the troubles with many countries’ vaccination programs. Where vaccinations in the past may have protected our children from a host of serious diseases, today, a young child with unhealthy gut flora and resulting digestive and immune system problems, receiving vaccinations for multiple diseases such as the MMR and DPT vaccine, may not produce an expected reaction to the vaccine. The vaccinations tend to put an enormous strain on the immune system. She therefore suggests a very cautious use of single vaccinations for a limited number of diseases, given to the child only when their digestive health is improved.

What then are the solutions to helping turn poor digestion into that which can help a person thrive. Dr. Campbell-McBride outlines a nutrient-dense dietary plan that is totally void of grains and at first, dairy, and provides high quality, organically grown meats, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs—especially raw egg yolks, cooked, non-starchy vegetables and fresh fruit with bone-broth soups, traditionally fermented foods, and ample traditional fats. She suggests supplements of cod liver, fish oil, digestive enzymes, a stomach acid supplement called Betaine HCL with added Pepsin and a non-enteric coated probiotic (minimum of 8 billion cultures per gram) to rid the stomach of bacterial growth and help develop healthy intestinal flora. Through a grain, sugar and dairy-free diet, the focus will be on removing foods that either feed the candida overgrowth, cause morphine-like peptides or an allergic response. She advises replacing the grains that most children crave with breads and crackers made from nut flours. After the gut flora is improved, she recommends adding homemade yogurt gradually to the diet and eventually cheeses. Once the stomach acid is normalized, a healthy gut flora is developed, nutrient rich foods take the place of depleted foods, the intestinal tract heals and digestion is repaired, both mental and physical health improvements are sure to follow.

She advises that the earlier these dietary changes are made, the more likely the success. She realizes, however, the difficulties that parents have with making changes to the diet of a young child and thoughtfully provides a method of encouraging new foods with a reward structure in place. She does not cover the challenges of changing the diet of an adolescent or adult, but we feel her information can aid both health practitioners and parents, friends and caregivers in understanding the necessity of helping their patients and loved ones to incorporate as much of this nutritional plan as is possible—certainly, the effort is well-worthwhile. It would seem, however, that the best time to implement Dr. Campbell-McBride’s recommendations is when the child is very young. This would minimize the damage induced by the neurotoxins that are produced by the dysbiotic flora. This would also minimize the psychosocial consequences of the abnormal behavior that accompany the neurotoxic affects on the brain.

Dr. Campbell-McBride makes another important point about the modern, commonly held belief that a gluten-free, casein-free dietary approach will help people with autism. She has found that most people do not improve with this diet because the gluten-free foods on the market are really just another form of nutrient-deficient junk food that foster the growth of candida and contribute to poor digestion. She states that this is also often true for people with Celiac disease. She sites research that even attributes the development of Celiac disease not to genetics as much as to an overgrowth of Candida. In fact she discusses that the best treatment for Celiac, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis and other digestive disorders is a grain-free diet that was developed more than 60 years ago called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, by the renowned American pediatrician, Dr. Sidney Haas. She has used many of the principles of this diet to develop her own program.

While Dr. Campbell-McBride suggests problems with milk, she does not discuss the difference between pasteurized commercial or organic milk and raw milk from grass-fed cows. Within the Weston Price Foundation research, there are abundant examples of the benefits of raw milk in improving the function of people with autism, learning disabilities and mental illness. The pasteurization of milk alters its proteins, making them difficult to digest and of course destroys the enzymes. It seems prudent, therefore, to differentiate the use of raw milk and explore its possible benefits in her plan. Additionally, recommending the use of nuts that have been soaked in sea salt and dehydrated, thereby increasing their digestibility and nutrient availability could enhance her suggestion of replacing grains with nuts and recipes made with nut flours.

After the thorough discussion of her nutritional plan, the book contains a wonderful section of recipes followed by details of important supplements. At the end of the book, she outlines a significant natural approach to treating ear infections and constipation. She also again stresses the need to move away from finding answers to difficult problems with human health by merely turning to genetics.

Through the study of the principles that Dr. Campbell-McBride provides, alternative medicine practitioners, who frequently encounter patients that are plagued with allergies, may want to re-evaluate their approach to treatment. Food allergies are a source of constant stress to a patient’s immune system. Not only do they manifest as dyspepsia, abdominal pain and altered bowel function but they can also result in a variety of non-local symptoms such as headaches, joint pain and eczema, to name a few. In light of Dr. Campbell-McBride’s approach, a thorough review of a patients history and symptoms may lead a conscientious practitioner down a frequently traveled path that has it trailhead nestled between the cardiac and pyloric sphincters.

Although Dr. Campbell-McBride’s pivotal work focuses on the correlation between the often-severe digestive disorders and the development of brain disorders, learning disabilities and mental illness, we must not underestimate that these same digestive disorders are at the heart of the exponential increase of degenerative illness in our country. If we observe the amount and kind of medications that we as a nation consume, we will coincidently find that most of the top 10 prescriptions written in the US correlate to gut and psychological disorders—two were for ulcers and acid reflux, two were for depression, one was for schizophrenia, two for high cholesterol, one for sexual dysfunction, one for anemia and one for chronic pain. It appears that we need a paradigm shift when looking at the cause and treatment of what is ailing us as a nation and that Dr. Campbell-McBride has suggested a starting point.

The disturbing, far-reaching consequences of the mass-consumption of foods produced by the industrial farming industry and inaccurate dietary trends are affecting the health of our entire population. Besides the knowledge that we have gained on the nutritional requirements of optimal health and the nutritional causes of degenerative conditions from Dr. Price’s work, Dr. Campbell-McBride’s thorough discourse detailing the effects of faulty digestion on brain function and chemistry can serve as a template for the further exploration and explanation of the source of a multitude of diseases that plague our modern culture.

Reviewed by Kathryne Pirtle and Dr. John Turner, DC, CCSP, DIBCN
Co-authors, with Sally Fallon, of Performance without Pain

For more informationabout the book and seminars on this subject, see

How Effective are Gluten-Free Diets?

Beyond a “Gluten-Free Diet”

Harnessing the Power of Traditional, Nutrient-Dense Foods—
the Keys to Maximizing Treatment Success for Digestive Disorders

Healing from any long term digestive disorder is a very complicated issue. For Celiac disease, eliminating gluten is, of course, the first step to recovery. However, following this protocol alone may not be entirely effective in helping to overcome intestinal damage and the resulting long term malnourishment that ultimately may lead to many more serious health problems. While avoiding gluten is essential, to build optimal health where nutrient absorption has been severely impaired, a nutrient-dense diet is the only approach that will lead to true healing.

This was my experience. I am a professional clarinetist with a national career. Although I had been playing professionally and teaching for more than 25 years, I had spent much of that time in pain. Beginning in my late teens and 20s, I experienced musculoskeletal inflammation and early symptoms of digestive troubles such as flatulence—a sign of poor digestion. I relieved my pain through physical therapy-type approaches common to the field of music—you name it; I did it! In my late twenties and throughout my thirties, I was constantly “chasing” pain from practicing and performing. When I would solve the discomfort in one area, another area would become irritated. At 40, I developed acid reflux and in the fall of 2001, at 45, I became chronically ill with an inflammatory condition in my spine that left me with debilitating pain in my shoulders, fingers, arms, and hands.

Ultimately, I was diagnosed with a long-term digestive problem, intestinal damage, and malabsorption—all the result of Celiac disease. I then strictly followed a gluten-free diet. In fact, after my diagnoses, I ate only meat, eggs, vegetables and salad, fruit and olive oil—I ate no sugar or grains. My pain disappeared within a month, but six months later, my illness worsened and I suffered from chronic diarrhea. I thought would not survive.

What was I going to eat? I had cut out all the offending gluten foods plus sugar and didn’t even eat grains. My diet should have been completely therapeutic for Celiac disease but yet, I was still very ill as my intestinal damage had profoundly affected nutrient absorption.

I found the answers to healing through a dramatic change in my diet, adopting the principles of Dr. Weston Price, whose research on healthy cultures worldwide during the 1930s led to the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and the Weston A. Price Foundation (, a foundation that helps people understand accurate dietary principles of human health and is helping to improve the food supply in our country.

I learned that my diet was severely lacking in the foods and nutrients necessary to healing my digestive tract and malnourishment and that many of the foods I ate were difficult to digest—especially the raw vegetables and fruit—and were not healing to the intestinal tract. In fact, my low-fat, high fiber “healthy diet” was actually killing me!

I discovered that in order to maximize the nutrients I ate, that all the meat, eggs, dairy, poultry that I consumed needed to come animals eating their natural diets—ie. the cows had to eat grass, the chickens needed to eat bugs and worms, and the fish needed to be wild caught. I found these foods by locating a farm co-op that delivered these foods to our area through The nutrients in naturally raised foods are immensely higher than even “organically” raised and especially factory farmed foods.

The first powerful food that I learned would help me recover was homemade bone-broth soup—traditional soup that people had made for thousands of years. I have eaten a bone-broth soup every day for the last seven years. There is a South American saying “Good broth raises the dead.” Good bone broth soup is loaded with easy-to-digest nutrients that will give the intestinal tract all the elements needed for repair and improvement of absorption. It is made by taking high quality chicken, beef or lamb bones, skin, tendons and ligaments–and simmering them in water with a little vinegar or wine for 12-36 hours, and then straining it. Soups can then be made by adding meat and vegetables to the broth and the broth can also be used in countless other recipes for added nutrition.

Next, through studying Dr. Price’s work, I found that all healthy cultures ate foods naturally high in vitamin A and D—such as cod liver oil, liver and egg yolks. They also consumed liberal amounts of traditional fats such as raw butter, cream, coconut oil and lard—fats that people had also eaten for thousands of years. Without both adequate vitamin A and D and traditional fat, you will not be able to absorb the nutrients in your food and your digestion can eventually be severely compromised. Thus, without adequate vitamin A and D and traditional fats in my diet, I was literally starving and chronic diarrhea was one of the symptoms. In fact, in historical records of expeditions to Antarctica and the lives of Indian tribes, when only lean meat was available, people starved to death.

I began to consume high-quality cod liver oil and butter oil (see for more information). I also added raw butter, coconut oil, raw cream, egg yolks daily and liver twice a week to my diet for the first time in my life. Little did I know that adding fat and vitamin A and D were also the missing links to recovery.

I then learned the importance of traditionally cultured foods—like whole-fat, raw-milk kefir, homemade sauerkraut and beet kvass—that promote healthy intestinal flora and supply enzymes, without which our foods are not broken down properly and unhealthy bacteria can thrive in the intestinal tract causing bacterial fermentation and intestinal damage. When the intestinal tract becomes damaged, undigested proteins can “leak” through the intestinal wall, causing an immune system response, such as chronic inflammation and food allergies.

From his research, Dr. Price established a set of dietary requirements necessary for optimal human health that involve nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest foods with adequate traditional fats from pastured animals and wild-caught fish. These include:

• High-vitamin A and D foods—cod-liver oil, egg yolks, liver
• High quality traditional fats—butter, coconut oil, lard
• Bone-broth soups made from chicken, beef, or fish.
• Traditionally cultured foods such as whole-fat kefir, yogurt and homemade sauerkraut and pickled beets.
• High quality proteins—meats, raw dairy, poultry, eggs, and fish—from animals eating their natural diets.

Through this approach, I reversed my intestinal damage, and provided my body with the nutritional elements necessary for building health. I am now recovered and vibrantly healthy! For the first time in 25 years I have had no pain or inflammation in my body for over six years.

Although finding high-quality foods and changing your diet may at first be complicated, your health is your most important asset—your health is your wealth! The dietary principles that Dr. Price found that supported optimal human health were the permanent answer to healing my digestive tract, and therefore, my long-term malnourishment. The exciting news is there is a growing movement of people across the country that is turning to these same foods to improve chronic illness of all kinds.

For more information on building health and healing with nutrient-dense foods see Performance without Pain and our new e-book on healing acid reflux.

Best in health,

Kathryne Pirtle