Food and the Gut Reaction,
the first edition of Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet
by Elaine Gottschall, B.A., M.Sc.
book review by Irene Alleger for Townsend Letter for Doctors
The title of this small book reflects the academic background of the
author, 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 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 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 malabsorbtion and its resulting
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 on this
diet were often cured completely within 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 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 this diet
is of course, with grains; no cereal 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 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 is 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.