The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is Backed by 124 Years of Research & Testing

by Steven Wright

In the early 1900s, researchers were feverishly working to understand the role of fats, proteins and carbohydrates in Celiac Disease patients.

At first, it was theorized that protein was the problem, then fat was the bad guy, but after 30-years of research the theories begin to converge on a single macronutrient: carbohydrates.

It all started with Dr. Samuel Gee’s 1888 report “On the Coeliac Affection” in which he clearly noted several important facts about his patients including:

 “if the patient can be cured at all, it must be by means of diet,” that cow’s milk “is the least suited kind of food,” and that “highly starchy food, rice, sago, corn-flour, are unfit.”[1]

It wasn’t until 1921 that the next major piece of the puzzle showed up… 


That’s when Dr. John Howland of the Vanderbilt Clinic gave his presidential address before the American Pediatric Society which included the paper “Prolonged Intolerance of Carbohydrates”.  In it, he stated:

“From clinical experience, it has been found that of all the elements of food, carbohydrates is the one which must be excluded rigorously; that with this greatly reduced, the other elements are almost always well digested…” [2]

Interestingly enough, Dr. Howland’s partner was Dr. Sidney V Haas, who also very interested in helping those with digestive conditions.  They both assisted Dr. Holt, who working with Dr. Herter, in 1908 wrote the paper “On Infantilism From Chronic Intestinal Infection” and said:

“Temporary relapses are very common in the course of this disease, even when great care is taken to prevent them.  The most frequent of such relapses is the attempt to encourage growth by the use of increased amounts of carbohydrates.” 

Dr. Haas saw the immediate and lasting results in his patients with a high protein diet

But, he was fascinated with the idea of finding a carbohydrate source that was tolerable.  In November 1923, Dr. Haas presented 8 patient case studies to the New York Academy of Medicine in the paper “The Value of Banana in the Treatment of Celiac Disease”.  He showed:

“8 patients who had been cured by a high-protein diet similar to Howland’s plus banana and other fruits and some vegetables which supplied carbohydrates in a form that was well borne even by advanced cases of Celiac Disease” [3] 

This is the first account of what we now know as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) successfully treating Celiac Disease.

Lucky for us, Dr. Sindney Haas has a captivating account of this research as it evolved into the 1950′s in his book “Management of Celiac Disease“.  The book was published in 1951 and outlined the first full version of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.  In it, he differentiated between a low-carb diet (something like the Atkins diet) and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.  The difference was in the details of which carbohydrates were allowed.  On SCD, only those from non-starchy fruits, vegetables and a small amount of dairy sugar left over after fermentation were deemed suitable to eat.

Dr. Haas successfully treated over 600 Celiacs using this Specific Carbohydrate Diet, reporting that:

“There is complete recovery with no relapses, no deaths, no crisis, no pulmonary involvement and no stunting of growth” after these patients were on the diet for at least a year[4]. 

Wow so I feel the need to pause and let this all sink in, no drugs, no relapses… remarkable.

The unfortunate thing is we don’t know how many other inflammatory bowel diseases he treated with his Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

Soon thereafter the trail of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet goes dark

Prior to Dr. Haas passing away in 1964, in 1958, Dr. Haas treats a patient named Judy Gottschall.  Her mother Elaine Gottschall recounted Judy’s poor health,

“Three years before she had been diagnosed by specialists as having incurable ulcerative colitis and her condition was deteriorating… innumerable other medical approaches had been unsuccessful and surgery seemed imminent.”

Dr. Haas put Judy on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and she was symptom-free in two years.  Elaine was so grateful and motivated that she dedicated the rest of her life to studying and improving digestive health treatment via diet.  Elaine Gottschall, a biochemist, published “Food and Gut Reaction” in 1987.  This was the first edition of the book now called “Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health through Diet” which has sold over 1 million copies (by 2005).

In her book she demonstrated not only how Celiac Disease can be treated with SCD, but many diseases such as Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Diverticulitis, Cystic Fibrosis and Chronic Diarrhea could also be helped by the Specific Carbohydrate Diet[5].  She furthered Dr. Haas’ theory by explaining how and why only simple monosaccharide carbohydrates are well tolerated when the digestive tract is damaged.  She also added sections on brain connection and how many people were reporting improved brain function and the successful treatment of Autistic disorders.

Unfortunately, just as the internet and the ability to spread this important message was about to explode we lost a leader in digestive health when Elaine passed away in 2005.  But just as we lost one digestive leader another stepped up.  On the other side of the pond (Europe) Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride  was hard at work figuring out a way to help her young autistic son.  Her book “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” (GAPS) was published in 2004.

It was designed to be a comprehensive treatment plan for gut and brain disorders

The diet portion of the book was built on the previous work done with the SCD diet.  She then excluded a few extra foods, including dairy and industrial seed oils.  GAPS is much more of a treatment protocol than a diet (remember the diet part is 95% SCD) I say this because she recommends very specific supplements, detox methods, staging of foods allowed and extra potentially therapeutic foods (juicing for example).  It has been used successfully in the Autism community and digestive community since its introduction.

Maybe it was timing, maybe it is fear, but there seems to be some misplaced feelings from some members of the SCD community towards the GAPS community.  In many ways Dr. Campbell-McBride did as Elaine did for Dr. Haas, she added new pieces of research to the puzzle, spread the adoption of the diet, and helped thousands if not millions more people feel better.

If you’ve been following the research and adoption of real food diets over the past 30 years you’ll also notice a newer trend: Paloethic diets.  The most popular version of this is called The Paleo Diet or The Primal Diet and both have been delivering amazing results with almost every modern disease.  One of the original Paleo diet books was written by a Gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtilin in his book “Stone Age Diet: Based on In-Depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man.”  He noted positive results in his patients who suffered from digestive conditions such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion.

The best part about the success of these diets is…

They only reinforce and add to the body of research that backs the use of natural food diets like the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for the treatment of digestive problems.  These diets go above clinical and biochemical research to add the lens of evolutionary biology to guide our eating habits.  This meshes perfectly with SCD.  In fact, we believe SCD is just a variation of Paleo.  One that is specifically tailored to those with digestive complaints.

But what about _____ food? It’s not legal on _____ (natural food diet), You say…

Oh Stop it already, each of these diets are 90% the same and they share the same goals.  It’s time to stop being dogmatic and start being progressive.  The science moves on and therefore, so should the best possible solution for people suffering the awful symptoms of these digestive disease.  What science and case studies are revealing now is that we still have work to do.  Starting with these foundational works and incorporating behavioral psychology, the latest research and the feedback of 1000′s of people, the systems can still be improved, the healing process shortened and remission times made longer.  Our experience is showing that everyone has a custom real food diet, so that means you need to test everything.  Don’t think in terms of well they said it was okay, figure it out for your specific case.

Remember, the principles of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet started over 124 years ago, and if we view that fact through the lens of the Paleo community we see that it’s supported by 10,000’s to Millions of years of anthropological data.  The basic tenants of high quality, real food that are low-toxin, full of protein and fat while low in carbohydrate, remains the same.

It’s time to unite the real food groups, what do you think can we all be friends?

- Steve

Citations:

1. [Page 8] Haas, Sidney Valentine; Haas, Merrill P. (2011). The Management of Celiac Disease. Literary Licensing. ISBN 1-258-19621-2.
2. [Page 17] Haas, Sidney Valentine; Haas, Merrill P. (2011). The Management of Celiac Disease. Literary Licensing. ISBN 1-258-19621-2.
3. [Page 18] Haas, Sidney Valentine; Haas, Merrill P. (2011). The Management of Celiac Disease. Literary Licensing. ISBN 1-258-19621-2.
4. Haas, Sidney Valentine; Haas, Merrill P. (2011). The Management of Celiac Disease. Literary Licensing. ISBN 1-258-19621-2.
5. Gottschall, Elaine, G. (1994). Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet (Revised edition ed.). Kirkton Press. ISBN 0-9692768-1-8.

About the author

Steven Wright Steve Wright is a health engineer and author. In 2009, he reached a breaking point when IBS took over his life and the doctors didn't know how to help. Since then, he has transformed his health and started SCDLifestyle.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet Works

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Lou May 15, 2012 at 8:34 am

I’ve been on SCD for about 1 year. I’ve looked at Gaps and heard about Paleo.
When I started SCD, I realised that, generally, SCD has us eating food that most people did eat through out history and avoids food that we have started to eat in more recent times. Only a few hundred years ago, most people didn’t go to the supermarket and buy ice cream, packets of fried potato chips/corn chips, chocolate bars, biscuits, soft drink, fruit juice, etc… Their diets were basic vegies, fruits, protein, fats and some complex carbs like bread and pasta/noodles. I’m not an export, so I’m happy to be corrected, however, I expect that the less civilised the the population, the less they consumed complex carbs.

Interestingly, IBD is more common in western countries. There’s a lot on the internet stating this. See for example http://www.gastro-info.co.nz/%28S%28xukdhyyewgtsx555hkawxmj0%29%29/gastro-information.aspx?pid=11

So, I agree, we should look at all of these diets and work out what works best.

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Marie Puckett May 15, 2012 at 9:00 am

I have thanked you before and will again, and again. You both are great and it is so awesome that you take your time to help all of us. I totally agree with your comments that GAPS, SCD and Paleo all just need to get along. I love your approach of “do what works”, as everyone is different. Hope you are not discouraged in any way. Keep up the good work.

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Bruce May 15, 2012 at 9:38 am

I’ve been simplifying the SCD/GAPS/PALEO and others for my 16 YO son who has CD. All variations on the whole food diet. If it’s whole and you have to cut it or cook it, it’s good. Nothing with labels or in a package.
Of course he strays. But keeping it simple works better than a super rigid diet like SCD, which makes him rebel.
None of those diets are perfect.

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Steven Wright May 15, 2012 at 10:32 am

@ Bruce – Glad to hear your figuring out what works for your son that is the important part. That was the point of the bottom part of my post, it’s likely your still following the SCD diet. We advocate for a custom version of SCD and your doing exactly that!

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Jessica May 15, 2012 at 11:05 am

Stunning article! Looking forward to reading the books highlighted
Look for the launch of http://www.scdgroceries.com on June 1st!

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Roger Elliott May 15, 2012 at 11:37 am

Hi Steve

I heartily agree that a study of common factors in the various healing diets would be a very good thing. Regarding the research you quote above though, it could be interpreted to imply that these studies found carbohydrate in general to be problematic. Is it not the case that at this stage they didn’t know that gluten was the problem and so were tarring all carbohydrates with the smae brush?

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Steven Wright May 16, 2012 at 2:12 pm

@ Roger – Great question! They didn’t discover gluten until the late 50s early 60s from what I remember (can’t find the study right now). As soon as they did all this great research was instantly overshadowed. Our opinion if you’ve followed our Celiac Disease Series is that gluten is not the only problem for Celiacs.

Yes, they were grouping all of the Carbs together at this point. UNTIL Dr. Haas, he was the first with bananas, then later the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (other fruits and vegetables) to use monosaccharide carbs successfully with his patients. That was one of the main points of this article. Make sense?

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gfc_steve May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm

As someone who has benefitted from SCD and GAPS, thanks for the history.

But…

The use of the word “cure” in relation to Celiac Disease is causing a bit of concern on Twitter. Would you mind checking your feed and responding?

Even with our improved understanding of Leaky Gut and Fasano’s research, aren’t we a little far away from using “cure”?

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Steven Wright May 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm

@ Gfc_Steve – Agreed, we aren’t saying at this point that there is a “Celiac disease cure”. I changed my wording to say “successfully treating”.

I do want to point out that absence of proof is NOT proof against, our understanding of Celiac and Autoimmunity is growing every year… In general I hate the word “cure” as much as I dislike “diet” or “healthy”. All of these are subject to each person’s views, beliefs and lens of viewing the world.

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Anna May 16, 2012 at 7:24 am

Thanks for this post. It’s really interesting to see how it all relates.

Although you said “stop” above, I do have something that I don’t quite understand…
The carbohydrates that are supposed to be allowed on SCD are supposed to be monosaccharide carbohydrates (or glucose).
But a lot of the legal carbohydrates have fructose and some sucrose in them, don’t they? Like honeys and certain fruits.

I’m confused.. I know the intro diet eliminates most sugars in general to kill off the bad bacteria. but then they are OK?

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Steven Wright May 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm

@ Anna – great question that made me pause for second. To start fructose is a mononsaccharide as is galactose which is commonly found in SCD yogurt. Here’s more info http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monosaccharide

But to your point about sucrose being found in very small amounts in some “SCD legal” natural foods… If we go to a completely reductionist view point then it would seem to break all the rules of the diet right? However no situation in health is ever that simple and I think as much as it hurts my engineer head this would be a poor analysis in the face of so much evidence showing real world results. Just because we can’t explain/understand why something works doesn’t mean we should condemn it.

This article points out that the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and others like it were born out of trial and error to find what worked. Whole foods that have some sucrose in them are very well tolerated by most people. There is always an exception and that is why we encourage everyone to create a custom real food diet. I’m sure this won’t satisfy you but Here’s what Elaine had to say about this subject. http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/knowledge_base/kb/sucrose_in_bananas_carrots.htm

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Katieb May 16, 2012 at 8:08 am

We also use SCD/GAPS/PALEO to treat the CD with leaky gut for our family of 4—working great 6 months into healing from the Standard GF so far! For 6 years we struggled with the Standard GF diet, only ending up sicker and reacting to every food under the sun. We were introduced to GAPS healing protocol 6 months ago and within a month, it had provided SO much healing and relief it was simply amazing! Our leaky gut was SO severe, though, that our Legal/Illegal food list is definitely tailored for us, and we still avoid any prepared foods/packaged foods, even ones from SCD ‘safe’ companies due to reactions. It’s a long, hard road but very necessary to maintain health.

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Anna May 17, 2012 at 3:50 am

Hi Steve,
thanks for your reply. I think i got a bit confused also in connection to the recent condemning of fructose/sucrose and every type of sugar but glucose in that widely popular “sugar is toxic” youtube video.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM
While it’s probably good for people of western societies to realize that refined sugars are bad for them, trying to make sense of it all in detail in combination with the SCD diet, is maybe not as necessary, as it’s already a low sugar diet and the goal is less getting rid of a “sugar addiction” but rather healing your gut.

Elaines link + what you wrote was helpful, thank you

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Steven Wright May 17, 2012 at 7:34 am

@ Anna – Your welcome! Remember to run each piece of info through several filters, or look at it from every angle you can think of if you will. This takes time to digest, and hurts the brain but it’s the only way to keep perspective on new info, when the honest answer is there isn’t a complete answer yet.

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Miia June 21, 2012 at 10:26 am

Completely agree, they are more or less the same, for me there is no real difference. I started of with the GAPS introduction since it was closest to how I already was eating, but in the end I believe I would end up at the same place.

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Harlan March 4, 2013 at 4:30 am

“The Specific Carbohydrate Diet is Backed by 124 Years of Research
& Testing — SCD Lifestyle” roncamunez really got me personally simply hooked with your website!
I reallywill be back again much more often.
Thank you -Christopher

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neil March 23, 2013 at 9:53 am

I am coeliac and have been trying to remedy the condition using the GAPS diet. Yesterday I discovered your site on SCD and started reading all that I could on various blog contributions. The one point though that nobody appears to have addressed in comparing GAPS to SCD is that GAPS recommends ‘as much fat as can be tolerated’ whereas, from what I have read so far, fats are to be skimmed off “because they are difficult to digest”
Any clarity on this would be helpful because I am thinking of trying the SCD approach when the book arrives.
thanks
neil

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Steven Wright March 24, 2013 at 6:15 pm

SCD is not a low fat approach but in the beginning many people actually do not have good ability to tolerate fats so for the first week or 2 it’s best to slowly ramp up fat content.

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julianne April 14, 2013 at 9:09 pm

I’ve just been researching IBD for a PG Uni assignment. Despite the anecdotes and personal stories – there is virtually no clinical research on SCD and IBD. You also do not links to any clinical studies – just doctors reports and books.
Do you know of any at all in peer reviewed literature?
This is all I could find: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=%22specific+carbohydrate+diet%22

I recently came accross this: http://www.umassmed.edu/Content.aspx?id=138546&linkidentifier=id&itemid=138546 have a look at the poster abstract – it has good results.
I think it would be great it you did a formal analysis of all the people who have contacted you and attempted SCD, maybe a questionaire, and get accurate feedback on as many people as possible, especially for the medical community.

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Steven Wright April 15, 2013 at 9:04 am

@Julianne – Yes, clinical research is still lacking for SCD but that’s the case for almost every diet modification treatment including Paleo, GAPS and WAPF. I know of at least 3 currently running studies using SCD hopefully their results will be out in the coming year. But nothing completely SCD has been published yet that I know of.

Here’s the interview and my analysis of the Umass study http://scdlifestyle.com/2012/02/umass-ibd-diet-study-sees-success/

I’m not sure I understand what kind of formal analysis you are suggesting but I’d love to hear your ideas and talk more about it! Anything we can do to further research and allow funding for studying diet modifications like SCD would be great. Can you email at jordanandsteve@scdlifestyle.com ? Thanks!

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julianne April 16, 2013 at 2:35 am

Thanks – didn’t see your interview.

Will email you. Have to finish this assignment first!

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