Breaking the Vicious Cycle

Elaine Gottschall has a remarkable story to tell. At the age of only five, her daughter was diagnosed with an incurable form of ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is a disease of the immune system in which the body attacks the lining of the colon and, ultimately, destroys it. There was not much to rejoice about regarding the treatment plan: control the disease using steroids and sulfa drugs, both of which have serious side effects, followed by surgery to remove the colon, one piece at a time.

Mrs. Gottschall was a mother, not a medical expert, but when she was told that her daughter’s illness was in no way related to diet or digestion, she had trouble accepting this as fact. Although there were no support groups to turn to at the time, Mrs. Gottschall did not stop searching for a different answer. Two years after the diagnosis, physicians recommended surgery to remove part of her daughter’s colon. By that time Mrs. Gottschall had found a better answer from Dr. Merril P. Haas, a physician who had been treating a variety of digestive disorders using a diet he called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

This diet was different from any other in that it was highly selective as to the types of sugars and starches allowed. Her daughter’s condition improved quickly after starting the diet, and within two years she had completely recovered. A few years later she was even able to start eating normally without adverse consequences.

After this experience, Mrs. Gottshall wrote a book, now in its second edition and ninth printing, called “Breaking the Vicious Cycle” (available from if not in your local bookstore). While explaining the diet in a mother’s terms, the book also contains more than 80 pages of delicious recipes, including an excellent one for homemade yogurt. More recipes can be downloaded from the thirteen websites listed in the book that are mostly supported by individuals whose lives were transformed by this diet.

It soon became apparent that the Specific Carbohydrate Diet could do much more than cure many cases of supposedly incurable digestive disorders. It also helped individuals with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, headaches, arthritis and other chronic disorders. In children, it helped hyperactivity as well as hypoactivity, autism, chronic constipation or diarrhea and even schizophrenia. In my opinion, for many autistic children it is a far superior option to the generally recommended gluten-free/casein-free diet even though it is not strictly casein-free.

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