Breaking the Vicious Cycle:

Intestinal Health through Diet -  Elaine Gloria Gottschall, B.A, MSc

Kirkton Pr Ltd; Revised edition (August 1994)


Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Well I have to say that this book kind of turned my world upside down.  After I read the chapter on Celiac Disease, I had to put it down for a bit to catch my breath.

The whole premise of the book is that many intestinal diseases: Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, Colitis, and of course Celiac Disease, are all manifestations of the body’s inability to process complex sugars.

These sugars feed the unhealthy bacteria in the stomach and cause bloating, gas, and various toxins which can cause a multitude of issues.  I may have rejected this notion, after all every celiac knows that the disease is caused by gluten, not starch; but for the fact that I was already familiar with Dr. D.C. Jarvis’s “Folk Medicine” and Dr. Robert Lustig’s work on sugar. (Lustig’s doesn’t deal so much with inflammation as with the toxicity of sugar itself)

Gottschall’s story is that her young daughter was having severe digestive problems including bleeding, along with night terrors.  She had constant diarrhea and was not growing properly because of malnutrition.  After seeing many doctors who could not find answers, they finally found Dr. Sidney Haas.  He was in his ninety’s at the time (this was in the 1960’s) and was trained before the primary focus of doctors was to prescribe medicine and do surgery.  He was the first doctor to ask Mrs. Gottschall what she was feeding her daughter.  He prescribed the “Specific Carbohydrate Diet” which is basically elimination of all disaccharides and polysaccharides (complex sugars).  This means no starches such as grains or potatoes, no refined sugar and no lactose.  The daughter ‘s symptoms settled down and within a few months she seemed to be nearly back to normal.  Gottschall, then decided that she wanted to learn more about diet and why this diet in particular worked so well.  She’d never had the opportunity to go to college because of the depression, so she decided now, in her forties was a good time.  She studied bio-chemistry and includes a lot of the science behind the diet in her book.  

Elaine mentions in an interview that’s links on her website that much of what she found regarding diet, the body’s difficulty with complex sugars, especially if the digestive system is compromised, and diet prescriptions for digestive diseases was all readily available.  In the medical journals and archives of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were a number of papers and documented studies on just these things.  Yet these studies had been buried in favour of the drug and surgical approaches to treatment.  Breaking the Vicious Cycle digs up those archives and puts them back on the table as a viable and responsible approach to treatment.

It was the chapter on celiac disease that was a bit of a shocker for me.  Elaine states that Dr. Haas had cured celiac disease a few years before she met him with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD).  It kind of makes sense that a celiac would get relief from the SCD because the elimination of all grains makes it a gluten free diet.  But it goes further than that.  She says that the current gluten hypothesis is just that, a hypothesis.  We really don’t know as much about celiac disease as you would be led to believe by reading all of the literature.  She suggests that it’s not just gluten, but the way gluten interacts with the starch that causes the problem.  She references experiments where the starch and gluten in wheat were separated, then recombined and given to celiac patients.   They generally tolerated this quite well.  So the real surprising claim (spoiler alert) is that the Specific Carbohydrate Diet actually cures celiac disease.  So after being on it for a year or two, people have been able to slowly introduce forbidden foods back into their diet, and in many cases could go back to a normal diet. 

Could it be that our whole understanding of celiac disease is wrong?  Could we be operating on a bunch of theories that are being presented to us as facts? 

My own experience with the gluten free diet has been only partially successful.  I certainly feel much better than I did before I went gluten free.  I don’t have the frequent stomach pains and my skin is much clearer.  But I still experience loose bowel movements about 50% of the time.  After going gluten free this improved for a few months, then slowly started creeping back in.  So I went off lactose.  Things improved for a while then gradually the diarrhea started again, interspersed with period of constipation.  I started taking a magnesium supplement to help with bowel function and pancreatin which is a digestive enzyme.  Things improved for a bit, but then the diarrhea started again…

I started digging through the internet to see if other people had this experience and if anyone had tried the SCD for celiac disease.  What I found was a bit astounding.  Somewhere between 40% and 70% of people (depending on what source you read) are not helped by the gluten free diet.

I was not however able to find anything to support the claims in "Breaking the Vicious Cycle" that celiac disease can actually be cured.  I’m a bit dubious about this one.  If you have celiac disease and you decide to follow the specific carbohydrate diet and try adding gluten back into your diet, please do it under the supervision of your doctor and get tested along the way.  Even if you are able to tolerate the gluten without symptoms doesn’t mean there is no damage being done, and the risk is to your long term health.

I highly recommend this book if you have tried a gluten free diet and are still having symptoms.  If you’d like some more info, check out these websites:

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