Aileen Swenson teaches workshops on the GAPS nutritional protocol through her business, Persea Therapy, based in Winona. (Submitted photos)
Dr. Melissa Brennan, of Brennan Family Chiropractic and Nutrition Center in Rochester, performs Nutrition Response Testing.
Nutrition plays a big part in our overall health. Local businesses are teaching southeastern Minnesotans that what they eat can address their health issues.
The GAPS diet
As the owner of Persea Therapy in Winona, most of Aileen Swenson’s time is spent on teaching people the nutritional protocol for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, or GAPS. The GAPS diet uses nutrition to treat people with issues such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, schizophrenia, panic attacks and anxiety.
According to Swenson, GAPS also stands for Gut and Physiology Syndrome and the diet can help people with issues such as allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome and digestive disorders. She recommends it to people with autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
“From a GAPS perspective, when you heal the digestive system, you heal most mental and physical illnesses,” says Swenson.
She trained under the developer of the GAPS diet, London-based medical doctor Natasha Campbell-McBride, in the fall of 2011 to become a GAPS-certified practitioner.
“When I graduated, I was one of 200 in the country,” she says.
The diet’s goal is to promote a healthy mix of bacteria in the gut, so the digestive track can function properly. The idea is that when the digestive system works correctly, the body can properly absorb nutrients from food, feeding the brain.
“You want to have a healthy digestive system so your body can work like it should,” says Swenson.
The full protocol calls for a no-grain, no-sugar diet and uses three healing components: meat and bone broths to “heal and seal the gut,” as Swenson says; fermented foods, like yogurt, for probiotics, and “juicing” — drinking a blend of fresh fruit and vegetable juices to detoxify the digestive system.
“When the bad bacteria have gotten out of control, that’s when the fermented and cultured foods are part of the GAPS protocol. It reinstates the balance,” Swenson says.
She was originally interested in GAPS because her son, now 14 years old, was diagnosed eight years ago on the autism spectrum with Asperger’s syndrome. The Mayo Clinic’s website states that there is no evidence that gluten-free diets work to treat Asperger’s. Yet, Swenson has seen changes in her son that she credits to the diet.
Within the last year, he began adding the protocol’s broths, fermented foods and juicing to his no-grain, no-sugar diet. In a meeting to discuss his Individualized Education Program in May, school staff said Swenson’s son had no anxiety — a big improvement — and said soon he might not need any special accommodations at all in school.
Swenson also saw changes in her eight-year-old daughter two months after adding juicing to her diet. Before, her daughter wouldn’t hug people and was a perfectionist, but now Swenson says she is relaxed and more affectionate.
“It is amazing what nutrition can do for the body and the mind, because it’s one and the same,” says Swenson.
She leads workshops on the GAPS diet to educate people. She also offers nutritional therapy and helps people with weight loss.
Nutrition Response Testing
Brennan Family Chiropractic and Nutrition Center in Rochester is the only place in southeast Minnesota that offers Nutrition Response Testing. To someone experiencing it for the first time, it can seem bizarre. But the center’s owners, Jarrod and Melissa Brennan, believe that, for certain clients, no method will be more effective at finding the reasons behind chronic health issues and healing them.
Nutrition Response Testing is based on the idea that better nutrition can heal a client’s body, and the body itself can show a practitioner what it needs to heal.
The former owner of their chiropractic clinic, Dr. Dale Chambers, laid the foundation for the Brennans’ focus on nutrition. Chambers, who ran the clinic for 50 years, noticed patients weren’t holding their chiropractic adjustments as long as they used to. Meanwhile, more processed foods — including boxed meals and other convenience foods — became more popular with society.
“All of that had a common denominator and that is lack of nutrition,” says Melissa, one of the center’s certified advanced practitioners in Nutrition Response Testing.
Clients start with an electrocardiograph test that looks at the health of their nervous system. A healthy nervous system is critical to the treatment being effective, explains Melissa. If it is functioning properly, a client can proceed in the program.
Next is muscle testing, an analysis used to identify the part of the body that is stressed and find what the body needs to heal.
“We are not symptom chasing, we are literally trying to heal the body first,” Melissa says.
A client lays down, raises one arm and locks it in place so there is resistance while the practitioner lightly pushes on it. Meanwhile, the practitioner scans the client’s body with his or her other hand, putting slight pressure along certain points.
According to literature that the Brennans give to patients, this process is testing the body’s neurological reflexes and analyzes organs, glands, joints, muscles and more.
The practitioner identifies a stressed area by noticing when the extended arm goes weak while applying pressure to the body. If an area is stressed, the body sends strength there, which takes strength away from the arm.
After a stressed area is found, the practitioner puts different vials in contact with the client’s body. The contents range from foods to metals. The Brennans explain that a client’s extended arm will regain strength when his or her body recognizes something in the vial that affects them, regardless of whether it would solve or cause the health issue.
Food, for example, has energy as big as a two-foot radius, and the body can recognize that, just as a person can feel the sun’s energy as warmth on their skin, Jarrod says.
“Your body knows what it needs to heal,” Jarrod says. “No one can tell you what you need better than you.”
After the analysis, the practitioner creates a personalized health improvement plan. The plan removes the source of stress and puts the client on supplements that are meant to specifically heal his or her body. The supplements are made from whole foods, which have limited processing and come from farms that do not use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.
Plans do not take clients off any medication they may be taking, but they may ask clients to change their diet and habits.
“I honestly feel that people could just get better by changing their diet,” says Melissa, who credits better nutrition and chiropractic treatments with putting her own lupus into remission.
Over time — three months or so — the client may choose to reintroduce what was initially causing the issue, on a more limited basis. Teaching people how they can stay healthy is a major part of the treatment, says Jarrod.
Some people need multiple rounds of Nutrition Response Testing to help their multi-layered health issues. Over 90 percent of the center’s clients who go through the treatment have positive results, Jarrod says.
The Brennans became certified practitioners through Ulan Nutritional Systems, Inc., which is led by Freddie Ulan, a clinical nutritionist and the founder of Nutrition Response Testing. The first two sessions cost $45 with a coupon found on the center’s website.