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11 Minutes

Ask the expert: top gut-brain pioneer Dr Natasha Campbell McBride

In case you hadn’t already noticed (!) here at The Journey we are pretty obsessed about the growing research around the power of the gut. So, when we got the chance to interview one of the leading pioneers on the subject: Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride we nearly had a melt down! 

Dr Campbell McBride is not only a fully qualified medical doctor, she is also a specialist in both neurology (practised as a neurosurgeon) and human nutrition. She is author of several books (click here) and pioneer in treatment of both adults and children suffering with many of the issues we commonly face today on both the neurological side (ADHD/autism/depression/OCD etc) and in terms of autoimmunity/serious allergy and other chronic conditions. This is known as the Gut and Psychology or Gut and Physiology protocol (GAPS) which she created. She now teaches this and has treated thousands of people around the world. 

This has been one of the most illuminating and exciting interviews we have done for the full podcast click here. We HIGHLY recommend a listen to it! 

We have however, included a couple of brief snippets as a teaser below. Once again though, these are just small, brief extracts. The real juice comes from our conversation with her. Give it a listen here! 

’Children come to us as teachers. Children teach us the most profound universal truths.’ 

Dr Campbell McBride trained as a conventional medical doctor. She specialised in neurology before her son’s autism diagnosis pushed her to look for answers outside of the conventional norm. She felt her profession offered no solutions to her son’s diagnosis. 

Her view was that she had to learn herself how to help him. Which is exactly what she did. She has now worked with thousands of families suffering with neurological issues ranging from ADHD, ASD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, hyperactivity, bipolar, epilepsy as well as helping families suffering with autoimmune conditions and other immune based issues. 

Dr Campbell McBride is a pioneer and creator of the Gut and Psychology Syndrome and Gut and Physiology Syndrome protocol. Treatment based on the notion that all disease begins in the gut. 

She believes that the root of many chronic illness starts with abnormal gut microflora. What is microflora in the gut? This is the collection of bacteria, fungi, viruses and Protozoa that all live together within a person’s gut. Not only bacteria. It is a complete ecosystem. 

In fact, recent research shows that 90% of all cells in our bodies are in our gut flora. This implies the body is the remaining 10% – a shell for microbes! 

We have a highly complex but amazing ecosystem inside our gut. Ideally what you want is for them to all live together in harmony and balance. And like all good ecosystems, ideally it should keep itself in check. 

Our gut not only digests our food: it is now recognised as the biggest endocrine (hormone) organ in our body: 

Hormones are fundamental for controlling almost everything within the body. They regulate everything from metabolism to reproduction to signalling. It is also a major source of neurotransmitters for the brain. You may have heard of Serotonin (the happy hormone) and dopamine. The gut plays a key role in their production. That means the gut plays a role not only when it comes to our brain function but also in our emotions. A theory shared by Edward Bullmore who recently linked the gut and inflammation in the body to anxiety and depression. Click here for more. 

It starts from the very beginning. 

Dr Natasha firmly believes that a child with autism, hyperactivity, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autoimmunity etc generally has acquired abnormal gut microflora from their parents from day one. For her, this is the root of a potential problem. It starts as early as during conception and pregnancy. We know that the uterus, Fallopian tubes, placenta have microbes. A child will get exposure to this during pregnancy, but the first major colonisation of this all important microflora in the gut is by going through the birth canal. That microflora has been populated from the bowel and reproductive microbiome of the mother and from the father through sexual contact. Click here for more on this. 

Unfortunately this is an issue that is worsening with every generation: 

We know that there is more and more incidence of neurological difficulty and autoimmune disease in our kids than ever before. This is not in Dr Natasha’s opinion just simply because of better diagnosis. She has a firm view as to why this is happening more: 

Around WW2 the world was effectively ‘organic’. There was no mass agrochemical use, no huge pharma companies, much fewer vaccines allowing children to get infections which mature their immune systems. Far less man made chemicals used in food, beauty products. That meant the microflora in our guts were in much greater harmony and natural balance. 

Antibiotics were introduced in the 50s and 60s. At this point people had perhaps a couple of courses of antibiotics. The trouble is this that wipes out certain bacteria for anywhere between 2 weeks to 2 months. When this happens, the balance is disrupted. It allows other elements of the microflora: like fungi to take more of a hold. Starting the disruption and altering the balance. 

This is then passed onto the next generation. This generation has far more antibiotic use. It is the generation where industrial agriculture became the norm. That means further heavy antibiotic exposure (pesticides/herbicides also have antibiotic elements). Dr Natasha also believes that the birth control pill (given hormonal influence) is a disruptor. We are now passing this on to the next generation. More and more disruption. 

How using GAPS can break this cycle and set a health foundation: 

The fundamental role of GAPS is to change the gut flora, establish normal healthy communities of microbes and drive out pathogens. 

To heal and seal the gut wall: 

This stops undesirable elements getting from the gut into the bloodstream. The good news is that the brain has a wonderful ability to clean and heal itself. The earlier we can do that the better when it comes to a child. However, even adults can recover. Everyone will react in their own individual way. 

The gut microflora can also play a role in autoimmune conditions/serious allergies etc: 

Toxicity from an impaired gut = inflammation. Click here for more. The immune system tries to deal with this. After a period of time it will create antibodies to fight it. These antibodies created by the body can then inflict damage on the body and itself. Healing the source of this can be very powerful. 

So what constitutes a ‘healthy gut’? 

The research is still in its infancy. However, Dr Natasha points out that much of the research only focuses on bacteria. Yet the gut microflora consists of viruses, fungi and Protozoa amongst others. In fact, the basis of every microbial community is fungi and not bacteria! So actually what we really need to do is to turn to nature in order to rebalance this important community. 

How can you set this up from the very beginning? 

Dr Natasha believes that given our modern new world we need to approach conception in a conscious way. We need to straighten out our own bodies before becoming pregnant ideally. 

For a comprehensive look at how to do this. Check out chapter 4 in her book, link here. 

Unfortunately these days we acquire toxins from lots of things. From nail varnish, to make up, the beauty industry, our food, to as many as 100,000 new chemicals created in industry that do not exist in nature. The body is not cut out to neutralise and remove these chemicals which means they get stored. It also means they are passed onto a baby during pregnancy. It is also passed by the father through sperm. So, reducing toxicity in our own bodies as parents/parents-to-be is paramount. 

Human skin is not a barrier it is a sponge: 

When you’re thinking as a mother/mother-to-be and cleaning up your own body, this is important to remember. Your skin absorbs what you put on to it. Dr Natasha’s rule is that if you cannot eat it, don’t put it on your skin. She uses edible oils and fats for skin: olive oil, coconut oil. 

Dr Natasha’s remedy for eczema: 

It starts with home-made Tullow. This is the inner fat of grass fed organic animals. This fat is different to that found directly under the skin. Go to your butcher who will help you. The fat is hard and solid at room temperature. Once you have heated to 110-120 it will melt into a fantastic medicine for the skin. 

To make it a touch more appealing Dr Natasha recommends pouring it into glass jars (leaving it ⅓ empty) adding olive oil and a few drops of essential oil and then putting it in the fridge. 

On the subject of the gut and it’s links to eczema/asthma/psoriasis/autoimmunity etc: 

The skin has a rich microbial flora (not just in your gut!). Her view is that we overuse soaps which wash off the natural microbial habitat. 

What is the link between the gut and skin conditions? 

When toxicity comes out of the gut, the body tries to eliminate it. One way: sweating. The microbes on the skin act on it and the immune system can then join in, particularly if there is a lot of toxicity from a compromised gut. This is when we get redness, itchy skin, dermatitis. This can then cause the microbial community to change and produce its own toxicity and things like eczema. Once again, changing the gut flora internally can stop this toxic elimination and reaction from the body. 

How can we heal the gut? 

For much more go to and/or click to buy Dr Natasha’s book here. GAPS is essentially removing all foods that are difficult to digest, that feed pathogenic (bad) bacteria and damage/challenge the gut wall. Some of the most obvious culprits are processed foods laden with sugar/pesticides/antibiotics. 

Instead it is a focus on whole foods and concentrated nourishment for the gut wall. Ideally going to the source as much as possible. Farmers markets and understanding where your produce comes from. 

Helping the body recover: 

Cell generation is a wonderful thing. All cells in the body live a short life, they die and then get removed. This happens fast in the gut wall. The body will not heal sick cells, it needs to be replaced with new cells. You need building materials for this. Where can you get them? 

Meat stock, not bone broth! 

Meat stock is a staple of the GAPS approach. Essentially you take a large pan, a whole chicken (ideally you want to go to an organic farmer and include neck, feet, giblets etc). Cover this with water, add salt/pepper and cook for 2-3hrs. The chicken cooked in this way is delicious and provides a full meal for a family. However, the stock is a medicine for the digestive system. Click here for more and here for the ‘how to’. 

Providing the building blocks for the gut lining/cell recovery: 

This contains gelatin, collagen, glucosamine and other things that the body can use to make baby cells to replace the gut wall. Including the bones/joints is crucial to provide maximum collagen. In fact, a third of protein in the body is collagen. Dr Natasha recommends a warmed up cup of stock at every meal. You can use it to make soup, stew and as a staple for cooking. 

What to do if you have to take antibiotics? 

Antibiotics can be lifesaving. However too often they are overused. The GAPS diet is great after a course of necessary antibiotics. Meat stock but also fermented foods. 

Why are fermented foods so important for the gut flora? 

Dr Natasha explains that for a huge part of our history foods were fermented. Aside from preserving it, it has several other important elements:

  • Pre-digests your foods (microbes break it down)
  • Releases hard to digest food/nutrients into the mixture
  • Example: fresh cabbage has a lot of vitamin C, but when it is raw and cooked this is essentially locked away. Fermenting it makes the Vitamin C bioavailabile. There is 20x more bioavailabile Vitamin C in fermented cabbage vs the fresh equivalent! 
  • Fermented foods are teaming with beneficial microbes.

What about store-bought probiotic supplements? 

The probiotic market is now a multi billion dollar market. They are also expensive. Dr Natasha argues that fermented foods like kefir for example will give more of what you need, they are also live and active. More than that, they are in the food form which will offer protection through the digestive system and allow maximum impact. 

Commercially derived are weaker. That being said she does use them selectively. However she uses Therapeutic Probiotics which are stronger. Doing this can cause ‘die off’ of unwanted members of the microbial community. This can cause flare ups of symptoms so it is better to use under supervision. For a list of recommended people click here. 

What to do if you have a Cesarean birth?

Ideally when a baby is born naturally, it picks up the microbes from the birth canal. This does not happen with a C-Section birth. However, Dr Natasha reminds us that birth is unpredictable and that a Cesarean birth can be lifesaving. That being said, the research does show that babies born this way can have impoverished gut bacteria. 

She recommends breastfeeding as a priority in this case. This will help provide beneficial flora. It is the right food for the right microbes. Click here for more. In fact even a woman’s breast is populated by a rich flora. Milk is probiotic. Even better is if the mother follows the GAPS diet (you do not have to do the introduction, just go to the full). Click here for this. She also advises having organic grass fed liver that provides natural vitamin A. She would avoid the synthetic kind (contained in processed foods). 

What about vaginal seeding?!

This is a technique which essentially attempts to populate a newly born baby with some of the microbes from the birth canal after a C-Section. Click here for more. Dr Natasha’s view is that it is a very good idea, however the research in this area is preliminary. That being said, there are some traditional practises that show people knew about the importance of transferring their microbes to a new baby. In rural China for example there is a tradition where grandparents put some saliva in the baby’s mouth at birth. According to Dr Natasha, we know from recent research that the flora in the mouth is very similar to the flora in the rectum. 

What about our water? You talk a lot about the need for filtered/purified water. How/Why? 

Purified water is important to filter out:

  • Hormones
  • Chlorine
  • Fluoride
  • Pesticides/Herbicides

All of these have been shown to disrupt the microbiome. 

Dr Natasha argues you do not have to spend a fortune. A simple carbon filter will do the job. In fact, she argues against using expensive systems like reverse osmosis and distillation which can break the crystal structure of water and filter out important minerals. 

For more from Dr Natasha check out her website here 

To listen to our full podcast with much more detail click here. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did! 


This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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Each month we will be giving away a curated box of goodies to suit the individual stage of your Journey, worth £100. To enter the draw and join us, enter your details below. Winner announced at the end of the month.


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