The first step to healing the gut is to read the book Breaking The Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschell.
Now, this isn’t actually a necessity, but it will help to give you a clearer picture about the Specific Carbohydrate Diet and the role that bacteria play in your body.
Luckily, I made Gut Journey to help simplify things, so I’ll just summarize the book here for you.
Chapter 1: Past and Present
Right off the bat Elaine makes note that by following the SCD for a minimum of 1 year, many people with celiac disease and cystic fibrosis of the pancreas were able to return to a normal diet with “complete and permanent disappearance of symptoms. Others with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, diverticulitis and ibs have seen great results as well. I think that’s a good place to start because it sets the expectations that healing the gut requires time. It’s not something that will take a week or a month. Depending on where you are in your health, remember that it can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to completely heal.
The “specific carbohydrate” of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet is the simple sugar molecule glucose found in fruits, honey, properly made yogurt and certain vegetables. This is a single sugar, or monosaccharide that is easily absorbed and requires no digestion. The other monosaccharides are fructose, which is also found in fruit and some vegetables, and galactose which is found in fermented milk products like yogurt and kefir.
Chapter 2: Scientific Evidence Relating to Diet
The positive effects of diet on the gut dates as far back as 300 A.D. In the early 20th century a brilliant man named Christian Herter who attained his medical degree from Columbia at 18 started to focus his work on gastrointestinal disorders. He noted that although fat and protein were well tolerated in children with chronic diarrhea, carbohydrates caused relapsing of symptoms. Another doctor named Samuel Gee was having the same insights saying that highly starchy foods such as rice, corn, potatoes and grains were “unfit” for those with intestinal diseases and that milk was the worst offender. More recently sucrose, the disaccharide, was seen as unfit for those with Crohn’s.
Looking back to the months before my diagnosis, these “unfit” foods were the staples of my diet. Sugary cereals with milk, starchy breads and potatoes, loads of grains and even processed foods loaded with refined sugar (sucrose). I was following the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) and I ended up paying for it with ulcerative colitis…How have you paid for it?
Sucrose, the refined sugar added to almost all foods and beverages, is what stood out to the scientists when they studied Crohn’s patients. In a meta-analysis of 20 world-wide studies, those with Crohn’s ate anywhere from 20 to 200% more sucrose than those without Crohn’s.
A quote from Dr. Heaton, author of the report, should provide all the reasoning you need to completely eliminate sugar from your diet starting today.
“The connection between Crohn’s disease and a sugar rich diet is proved beyond reasonable doubt. Apart from smoking, this is the strongest clue to an environmental etiology of the disease.”
Sugars, which come from carbohydrates, can come in many forms. There are the monosaccharides glucose, fructose and galactose. These are 1 sugar molecule each. Then there are the disaccharides lactose, maltose and sucrose. These are 2 sugar molecules bonded together and need to be broken down in the intestines. Then there are starches which are multiple glucose molecules bonded together. These also need to be broken down by the digestive process.
The bacteria in our guts play a critical role in the breakdown and absorption of the more complex carbohydrates. Bacteria feed off of sugars, so if sugar is not properly digested it can feed the bacteria in our guts too much and cause them to multiply out of control.
Somewhere during this process, whether it be from the overly produced bacteria or the carbohydrates themselves, our intestinal lining gets injured. This results in an overproduction of mucus which further hinders our body’s ability to break down carbohydrates. This leads to “the vicious cycle” of increased bacteria by overconsumption of sugar, injury to the small intestines, impaired digestion and malabsorption of disaccharides, more bacterial overgrowth, mucus production and bacterial metabolic by-products which can lead to more damage and diarrhea. By cutting off the supply to these bacteria we can stop them from multiplying, lower mucus production and create an environment that will allow the intestines to heal.
Chapter 3: Intestinal Microbes: The Unseen World
There are hundreds of species of bacteria identified in the colon (large intestine), yet the small intestines is for the most part devoid of bacteria.
The bacteria and yeast inside of us live in harmony, but our modern diet, acid lowering medications and overuse of antibiotics has brought our intestinal microbiome out of homeostasis.
“Once the normal equilibrium of the colon is disturbed for any reason, its microbes can migrate into the small intestines and stomach hampering digestion, competing for nutrients, and overloading the intestinal tract with their waste products.”
Chapter 4: Breaking the Vicious Cycle
The microbes in our guts seem to prefer carbohydrates as their main source of energy. They ferment undigested carbs and create different products such as hydrogen gas and lactic acid. If the bacteria in our colons make their way into the small intestines, the amount of gas we experience can increase over one hundred fold, as is the case with the milk sugar lactose. The products of the fermentation process can cause damage to the lining of the intestines, which is part of the vicious cycle.
Chapter 5: Carbohydrate Digestion
When our intestines get damaged, malabsorption follows suit. Nutrients have a harder time entering the bloodstream because the microvilli (little hair-like projections in the intestines) have a hard time picking up nutrients and bringing them into the body. These microvilli help to break apart the disaccharides and starches from foods like grains and potatoes into monosaccharides, so when they get damaged we have a hard time digesting these things. When these sugars don’t get digested the bacteria in our guts ferment them which can create gases, acids and other products. This further damages the microvilli, causes more malabsorption of carbohydrates, feeds the bacteria further causing them to multiply, release more metabolites and continue the cycle. Mucus gets produced to help cover the microvilli which can further hinder the breakdown of disaccharides and starches.
The most important starches to avoid are all grains, corn, and potatoes.
There are other starches that seem to digest more easily that can be added in after 3 months in small amounts as long as the person reacts well to them. These are lentils, split peas and dried beans. They just absolutely need to be soaked for 10 – 12 hours and then rinsed, with the water being discarded.
The different types of sugars:
- Monosaccharides -These single sugars pass directly through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, bypassing the digestive process. They include glucose, fructose and galactose. Glucose and fructose are found in fruits and vegetables and galactose is found in fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir.
- Disaccharides – These need to be split apart by enzymes in the intestines before they can enter the bloodstream.
- Lactose – Made up of glucose and galactose, lactose is the milk sugar found in dairy products like milk, cheese and whey.
- Sucrose – Made up of glucose and fructose, this is table sugar and added to a lot of foods in the form of cane sugar. Watch out for added sugars in condiments such as ketchup and sauces.
- Maltose and Isomaltose – Made up of 2 glucose molecules, this disaccharide is what starches are broken down into before they end up as single glucose molecules. Starches are hundreds of glucose molecules bonded together.
That was an overview of the first 5 chapters of the Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschell. This summary is meant to give you a better understanding of how intestinal damage can occur with the consumption of certain carbohydrates and that in order to heal the gut, these sources of stress must be removed.
1. Those with damaged digestive systems can have a very hard time breaking down sugars that are not monosaccharides found in fruits and vegetables.
2. Undigested carbohydrates feed bacteria through fermentation, causing the bacteria to multiply and create toxic metabolites that cause further damage to the intestines. Eliminating the more complex carbohydrates such as lactose (dairy), sucrose (added sugars) and starches (potatoes and rice) will help break this cycle.
3. If you haven’t done so already, eliminate dairy because of the lactose sugars which are the hardest sugars to break down due to our lack of lactase enzyme.
4. Grains, corn and potatoes seem to be the most aggravating and hard to digest starches, so by eliminating them we will give our bodies a much greater chance at healing.
In the next article I’ll summarize the last 5 chapters of BTVC. Then I’ll get into the second step I’m using to heal my gut, which is the Solving Leaky Gut program.
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