Diet & Nutrition

Elaine Gottschall and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet: How It All Began

The SCD diet allows no foods containing carbohydrates other than those found in fruits, honey, properly-prepared yoghurt and those vegetables and nuts listed in Elaine’s book. Excluded carbohydrates are those which promote bacterial overgrowth. Case studies have shown that the elimination of ‘bad’ carbohydrates promotes cognitive development in many children with autism and ADD and heals digestive disorders.

Being a mother is seldom easy. We mothers have time and again been compelled to act with heroism and self-sacrifice for the sake of our children. In our determination to rise to a challenge and overcome it, we sometimes reach beyond all expectations; revealing hidden talents that bring blessings to others in ways we never would have imagined. Though we set out to save a child, in the process find ourselves changing the world.

Young Elaine Gottschall harbored no lofty ambitions of changing the world back in the 1950s living with her husband Herb and two small daughters in suburban New Jersey. She considered herself an average American housewife – “your typical ‘Leave it to Beaver’ mom,” as she reminisces today. She thrived in her role as wife and mother, content to lead a quiet, “normal” family life in blissful obscurity.

Then calamity struck. Elaine and Herb’s four-year-old daughter Judy became dreadfully ill. Diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis, she suffered acute, chronic intestinal distress and bleeding that was unresponsive to standard medical therapy. Despite Elaine’s frantic attempts to find something, anything, that Judy’s system could tolerate, no food would nourish her – instead it rapidly passed right through, almost completely unabsorbed.

Yet the doctor insisted that food had nothing whatsoever to do with her illness. As the sickness and malnutrition took their toll, the little girl stopped growing, and her sleep was disturbed by frightening episodes of delirium. Frustrated by the failure of one medication after another to stem the relentless course of the disease, Judy’s doctor gave Elaine and Herb an ultimatum; either consent to surgery to remove their daughter’s colon and attach an external bag for the collection of waste, or watch her slip into further debilitation, even death.

Overcome with helplessness and despair, Elaine broke down sobbing. Incredibly, instead of attempting to comfort the anguished mother, the doctor pointed an accusing finger at her and exclaimed, “What are you crying about? You have done this to her!” That humiliating incident left lasting scars, but it was to become Elaine Gottschall’s defining moment.

Refusing to accept one doctor’s opinion, Elaine and Herb desperately inquired of specialist after specialist, hoping to find one who would offer a glimmer of hope and a different approach. No matter where they turned, they were handed the same ultimatum: if the standard arsenal of drugs cannot keep the symptoms under control, surgery is the only alternative. It was also reiterated that despite the fact that this disease involved the very organs that digested and absorbed Judy’s food, the type of food she ate was irrelevant.)

Just when they had become almost resigned to their fate, a chance encounter between two friends led to Elaine being given the name of then 92-year-old Sidney V. Haas, MD, in New York City. Dr. Haas had developed his nutritional approach to intestinal healing over a long, illustrious career, and wrote a textbook, which could be found in nearly every medical library in the world.

His colleagues, however – unschooled in nutrition and dismissive of its importance in maintaining health – had abandoned his work in pursuit of new versions of the same standard drugs and of increasingly complex surgical procedures. Though Herb couldn’t bear to see Judy undergo even one more painful diagnostic procedure and their doctor ridiculed Dr. Haas and his methods as outdated relics of another era, Elaine was determined to hear what the kindly old doctor had to say.

After carefully examining Judy, Dr. Haas asked Elaine simply: “What has this child been eating?” No doctor had ever asked her that question before. He then instructed Elaine in how to implement his simple nutritional approach. Within ten days of starting the regimen, the child’s neurological problems diminished. Within a few months, her intestinal symptoms began to improve and she started growing again, making up for lost time. Within two years, she was symptom free.

By this time, Dr. Haas had passed away. Elaine feared that, unless someone acted to carry on his legacy, his simple but effective remedy for digestive maladies would die with him, depriving other patients of the chance to stop suffering needlessly and achieve true intestinal health.

She visited a medical library and poured over journals, soon discovering that Dr. Haas’s approach was well supported by sound scientific evidence. At Herb’s urging that she “find out what is going on,” she entered academia and the research laboratory at the age of 47, and earned degrees in biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology.

As her years of research wore on, Elaine began to experience a gnawing sense of disillusionment , which was fueled in part by her fellow researcher’s failure to share her interest in integrating all of the evidence for the effects of food on intestinal health and translating it into clinical practice. She despaired of all her hard work ever being channeled into helping real people who were suffering, people whose doctors might never recommend Dr. Haas’s approach.

Elaine came perilously close to giving up, but Herb refused to let her quit. He convinced her that the only way to get Dr. Haas’s message out to those who needed it most would be to begin private consulting and to self-publish a book and make it accessible to the lay reader.

And that is how Breaking the Vicious Cycle was born.

Now in its tenth printing, Breaking the Vicious Cycle has been translated into several languages and enjoys a worldwide following. Each day, countless individuals suffering from (or caring for a loved one who suffers from) Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, celiac, diverticulitis, and other ailments rooted in the digestive tract (even autism and cystic fibrosis) consult Elaine by phone, fax and email.

She devotes much of her time, free of charge, to helping these people, patiently answering the same questions over and over, or pondering new ones. Counseling, encouraging, sharing laughter with, and yes, “mothering” her vast “extended family” of intestinal-health devotees: including people from all walks of life, of nearly every nationality and religious faith.

It’s been quite a journey for Elaine Gottschall. Never in her wildest dreams could she have anticipated the many lives that would be enriched by her knowledge and selfless dedication to helping others. She truly is changing the world and it all began with a child.

Dr. Elaine Gottschall

In 1975, Elaine Gottschall became a member of the Department of Cell Science at the University of Western Ontario's Zoology Department. She spent four years there investigating the effects of various sugars on the digestive tract working mainly on the cellular level. She obtained a Master of Science degree in that Department in 1979. Results of her work are published in the journal, Acta Anatomic 123:178 (1985). Subsequently, Mrs. Gottschall worked in the Department of Anatomy of the University of Western Ontario investigating the changes that occur in the bowel wall in inflammatory bowel disease. Her main field of interest is the effect of food on the functioning of the digestive tract and on behavior. Elaine's best known book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle introduces us to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) which helps us to heal the intestinal tract and rid it of bacterial and fungal overgrowth. It has been successful in curing Crohn's disease, many cases of ulcerative colitis and other problems. Recent research indicates that it is proving to be a successful dietary intervention in treating autistic children, schizophrenia and other neurological disorders. See For the amazing story about Elaine's personal journey to heal her daughter, and her discovery of the SCD diet from Dr. Sidney Haas, please see Consumer Health Newsletter, January, 2004.

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