As you know from previous posts, I suffered a great deal from painful digestion which started about a year ago. It got so bad I was scared of eating and thought I’d be miserable for the rest of my life. I tried so many OTC (over-the-counter) digestive “aids” I could have opened my own pharmacy! When not even my GI doctor could help me, I felt completely hopeless.
After months of research, I came across an eating plan created for people with diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, chronic diarrhea, etc. and thought, hey, if this works for them - people with “real” painful gut conditions - why couldn’t it work for me? So I started following the advice of a book I came across called "Breaking the Vicious Cycle" by Elaine Gottschall. The eating plan is called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. When the book said: if the diet does nothing for you, you can always go back to eating the way you used to, what would it hurt to at least try it?
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), as the name suggests, is specific because of the limited carbs that are permitted. The basic premise is this: in our gut there is an ever-constant battle being waged between good bacteria and bad bacteria, and this is normal. But when bad bacteria take over, the good ones have no chance and this causes an imbalance in the gut flora. I felt strongly that this was my problem.
For those with digestive issues it’s a vicious cycle where the wrong carbohydrates create a hostile environment and the hostile environment creates gasses and bloating and pain. Usually we end up craving that which is causing the problem in the first place: more sugar. I used to have food cravings for bread and sweets like nobody’s business! Eliminating sugar, basically what all carbs turn into, seems to starve bad bacteria of food for them to multiply. So, in essence, it stops the vicious cycle.
When I first read this, I thought “sugar” meant sugar, but I learned it isn’t just about sugar. Sugar comes in a variety of forms and molecular structures that can impact digestion. There are monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. As you probably already know, mono means 1, di- means 2, and poly- means 2 or more. The culprits to feeding bad bacteria and slowing down the digestive process seem to be the di- and polysaccharides. The book said that monosaccharides on the other hand are much more easily digested, going through the digestive tract virtually unchanged, seeming to therefore cause few people problems. Examples of monosaccharides are honey, dates, and lactose-free yogurt, and tend to be fine for most people (proceed with caution as your results may vary).
The stuff you REALLY want to stay away from are all the other starchy things that feed bad bacteria, such as rice, corn, spelt, wheat, barley.....really grains of all kinds; cornstarch, thickeners, and emulsifying agents usually found in processed foods (guar gum, xanthan gum, carageenan and things like that); and all the usual starchy foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes and even regular dairy products. While many critics of the SCD site the difficulty in following it (because it does require “fanatical adherence” as it says in the book) I found that if you are motivated enough (pain is a great motivator) and have some cooking ability, it is not at all difficult once you understand the foods that contribute to your digestive distress. How long to stay on the diet probably depends on how bad things were when you started. I’ve been on it since right after Christmas (9 months) and feel I have a good handle now on what I can and can’t get away with, having only started experimenting in the last few months with reintroducing things that had been removed. What makes this process challenging is figuring out what YOUR particular trigger or problem foods are.
To say that this low carb way of eating has been a godsend would be the understatement of the century. Not to be too melodramatic, but it has given me the chance to return to normal and I am so glad I came across Elaine’s book.
It has become evident to me that there is something to this "low carb diet" thing. For many years, I was very skeptical of it, as many people still are. Who wants to give up eating bread, cookies, pasta and rice? I hear ya! But low carb seems to be working for a lot of people with digestive issues, not to mention a whole host of inflammatory conditions. People battling non-alcoholic fatty liver, diabetes and arthritis have managed their diseases with a low carb (LC) diet. And cancer research is discovering that starches feed cancer cells. In the absence of excessive carbohydrates, cancer cells don’t have much chance of reproducing. We hear a lot about inflammation and how we should be reducing it in our bodies. Well, come to find out, inflammation is a well-established driver of early tumorigenesis (the “genesis” or creation of tumors) and accompanies most, if not all, cancers. Wow!
If that isn't a reason to cut your carbs I don't know what is!!!
Unfortunately, being "low carb" is still considered somewhat fringe and radical, although you hear about it more and more in mainstream media. Everybody thinks of the Atkins Diet right away. It’s really not the same. I certainly think this low carb thing is something worth checking into if you have health issues, or want to avoid any in the future.
P.S. Additionally, something I have found that works great in controlling symptoms when they flare up is a product called Iberogast (check out this link as it explains how it, as well as other natural remedies, can help those with any sort of digestive ailment, from IBS to heartburn). Iberogast is made in Germany and is very popular over there but fortunately you can buy it in the U.S. as well. I bought mine on amazon. Another thing that helps me is enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules and a digestive enzyme called Digest Gold from Enzymedica. This trio of products, along with the occasional activated charcoal for when bad gas pains hit, are my arsenal in fighting digestive distress. I carry them with me everywhere I go and am fortunately using them less and less as the months pass. In fact, I’m at the point where I don’t need them regularly any more. Success!