Intestinal Health Through Diet
Reviewed by Irene Alleger
Townsend Letter for Doctors, February/March, 1994, #127/128
The title of this small book reflects the academic background of the author, Elaine Gottschall, a research biochemist and nutritionist, working in Canada. Although written primarily for those people who suffer from specific digestive and intestinal disorders, she documents the results of her years of research on diet-related illness, an area in which many physicians could educate themselves, as well.
The author, Elaine Gottschall, clearly explains the role of microbes and intestinal flora in the maintenance of a healthy digestive system, and how an imbalance triggers an unhealthy milieu, leading to intestinal disorders. The author's research focused on the gut's reaction to different kinds of diet, in the treatment of Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and chronic diarrhea. From this data a surprising diet emerged, showing the most optimal results from the restriction of carbohydrates.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) is the centerpiece of this book, with each segment of the diet explained in terms of how it works in the gut, and the scientific rationale for including or excluding different foods. Research has shown that the underlying problem in intestinal disorders is the inability to digest carbohydrates due to microbial overgrowth and toxins. The process that results in illness is begun in the altered milieu of the digestive system, a progressively more inflammatory condition, leading to the inability to digest a major part of our Western diet, with concomitant malabsorption and its resulting nutritional deficiencies.
Good explanations are given of the breakdown of foods by enzymes and their role in the digestive process. The author also explains the different kinds of carbohydrates found in food and the few, such as legumes, fruit, and yogurt, which are digestible by patients with intestinal disorders. Although celiac disease is explored in more depth than some of the other digestive disorders, the general thesis is that all of these (above named) intestinal disorders are simply earlier or later stages of the same process.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is highly nutritious, and by judicious choice of foods, can be well-balanced. The case histories cited often speak of subjective improvement within days of beginning the diet, and symptomology significantly improved within months. Although no large-scale studies have yet been done, patient populations in Canada that were put on the diet were often cured completely after several years. The value of this dietary treatment is in the scientific work done which is so completely ignored by the orthodox medical community. I dare say a chunk of the pharmaceutical profits are generated by drug treatments of these disorders, as well as keeping a large force of specialists in the style to which they've become accustomed.
This Specific Carbohydrate Diet is not merely a listing of foods allowable and not allowable, it is much more. In just the discussion of allowable fruits, for instance, distinctions are made between "loose" California dates (okay), and dates which stick together in a mass, showing they have had syrup or sugar added. Nothing is overlooked; one must be committed to improving one's health to stay with this diet, but the outcome is worth it. The most restrictive part of the diet is of course, with grains; no cereals or flour, no potatoes, But once the gut is healthy again, these can be re-introduced slowly.
The purpose of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is to deprive the microbial worlds of the intestine of the food it needs to overpopulate, the sugars from the carbohydrates. By using a diet which contains predominantly "predigested" carbohydrates, the individual with an intestinal problem can be maximally nourished without overstimulation of the intestinal microbial population. The diet presents a method for breaking the dysfunctional cycle by allowing only carbohydrates requiring minimal digestive processes which are absorbed and leave virtually none to be used for furthering microbial growth in the intestine. As the microbial population decreases due to lack of food (while being balanced by lactobacilli), its harmful by-products also decrease, freeing the intestinal surface of injurious substances. No longer needing protection, the mucus producing cells stop producing excessive mucus, and carbohydrate digestion improved.
Intestinal disorders are becoming endemic, and worse, the conventional medical wisdom has little to offer. Anyone with any of these disorders would be prudent to give this diet serious attention.
Food and the Gut Reaction by Elaine Gottschall, B.A., M.Sc.
The Kirkton Press, R.R.1 Kirkton, Ontario, Canada.