So, the early-teen child of an acquaintance is dealing with ulcerative colitis, and when I heard, of course I offered to gather some alternative health and nutrition resources for her to consider. Since this may be of use to other friends in the future, and of course any of you reading, I figured I would make my response into a blog post.
I have not suffered from the digestive disorders described below, but I personally know a number of people who have cured their own gut disorders, and/or have read their books, websites, articles, or blogs, interacted with them on email lists, and/or listened to their lectures. I am offering this summary of what I have learned and read from many other people. Per my overall blog disclaimers, I am not a healthcare professional, and offer this information as a resource only to guide you on your own quest for health.
What Digestive Disorders Can Be Healed?
Sounds like pretty much any of them! The serious digestive disorders I have read about, while they have different diagnoses, seem to me, according to the reading I’ve done, to generally all respond well to a lot of the same advice. Different parts of the entire digestive system can be in crisis, with slightly different effects, but since the same protocols often help all of them, I get the sense that digestion could become troubled at many points along the alimentary canal, but the process of healing is similar in each case.
So, whether you have acid reflux, dyspepsia, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, diverticulitis, heartburn/Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), leaky gut, ongoing problems with diarrhea or constipation, food allergies/intolerances, candida, or other digestive issues, the following resources may help you.
The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)
Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas developed SCD to help people with digestive issues. Biochemist and parent Elaine Gottschall helped test and popularize it over many years. Gottschall wrote about the diet and her experience healing her eight year old daughter in the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health through Diet.
The diet excludes all carbohydrates except simple monosaccharides from fruit and a bit of honey (I would avoid her suggestion to use saccharine for sweetener; all artificial sweeteners are bad for you; see Sugar Free Blues for more info). The diet is based on meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, and fruits, and omits disaccharides and polysaccharides from other sugars and starches. Yogurt that has been fermented 24-hours to remove all the lactose (milk sugar) is allowed.
According to the official SCD website, their research has shown that 75% of those who adhere rigidly to the SCD diet experience significant improvement.
Gist of SCD Diet
Allowed (not a comprehensive list) are:
- Unprocessed meats, poultry, fish, bones, marrow, gelatin
- Yogurt fermented 24 hours, hard cheeses
- Very few non-starchy vegetables at first, others slowly added (checking for reactions), tough/fibrous parts removed
- Unsweetened fruits
- Nuts, nut flours, nut butters (no added ingredients)
- Animal fats, cultured butter, ghee, coconut oil, cocoa butter
Not allowed (not a comprehensive list) are:
- Processed meats
- Fluid milk, cream, soft cheeses, processed cheeses
- Starchy vegetables, canned vegetables
- Canned and/or sweetened fruit
- All grains
- All sugars other than honey and limited amounts of unsweetened fruit
- All beans and legumes
- Book Review: Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall: In her book, Gottschall relates her experience healing her daughter’s ulcerative colitis with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (see next section) built her GAPS Diet on the SCD.
- Breaking the Vicious Cycle/SCD website: Overview, intro diet, how to make 24-hour yogurt, research results.
- Kat’s Food Blog: Kat used the SCD to recover from her own digestive health issues and provides a wealth of info for others.
- SCD Lifestyle website: You can download a free chapter of their book, that includes shopping list and instructions for preparing your intro diet (first 2-5 days of SCD), as well as a chart of foods to help you tracking introducing them slowly, according to phenol/salicylate levels (a percentage of people with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are sensitive to salicylates). The cooking instructions are spelled out very thoroughly and simply, with pictures, which I think could be very useful to people who have never cooked much before. They also recommend being dairy free during the intro days (in contrast to Gottschall’s plan) because so many people with digestive disorders react to casein (at least while they’re in acute/crisis phase).
Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet
It sounds to me from reading her books and articles, listening to her lectures, and reading the blogs of others who have been implementing her protocol, that Natasha Campbell-McBride’s Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet may be a great place to start if you are dealing with serious digestive troubles. This doctor, originally from Russia but now living in the UK, has been doing amazing work primarily with children with autism and other severe disorders. She has found that they universally have severe gut dysbiosis, and that healing their digestive system is the key to mitigating or even eliminating their autism and other disorders.
Many of the parents who have used GAPS for their children have followed the protocol themselves, since their children’s poor digestion can stem from a combination of heredity, subpar prenatal nutrition, and subpar nutrition in infancy and childhood. (Note, I’m sure most of these parents were doing their very best for their children including in utero, but the mainstream advice is so horrible that they did not realize they were depriving themselves and their children of critical nutrients by following that advice). When the parents followed the GAPS diet as well, they healed their own digestive issues. So the GAPS diet may be a great way for most people to address their gut issues, not just people with autism spectrum disorders.
It’s important to read her book Gut and Psychology Syndrome to understand the diet and why it works, and then read her articles and website for more info. She builds on the older Specific Carbohydrate Diet, but takes it further to address some of the specific concerns of autism spectrum disorders.
Dr. Campbell-McBride provides instructions for a GAPS Introduction Diet on her website, free to all. It is not included in the GAPS book. She recommends that you start with the introduction diet, moving through it as slowly or quickly as needed, before starting the full GAPS diet, which some people may be on for two years, depending on how long it takes their guts to heal. The introduction diet typically provides quick improvement.
Gist of GAPS Intro Diet
- Water and probiotics on awakening.
- Sensitivity testing of each food before using it.
- Stage 1: Homemade meat or fish stock, from which homemade soups can be made using specific allowed vegetables, meats, and bone marrow. Homemade probiotic dairy (yogurt and/or kefir) and the juice from lactofermented vegetable, such as sauerkraut. Ginger tea with a little honey between meals.
- Stage 2: Continue stage 1 foods, add raw organic egg yolks, stews and casseroles made with meat and vegetables, increased amounts of the fermented dairy and vegetable juices, introduction of fermented fish and homemade ghee.
- Stage 3: Continue all stage 1 and 2 foods, add avocado, scrambled eggs cooked in animal fat, the lactofermented vegetables (not just the juice), and pancakes made of nut butter, squash, and eggs, fried in animal fats.
- Stage 4: Continue all stage 1-3 foods; add roasted or grilled meats, cold pressed olive oil, freshly pressed juices from specific allowed fruits and vegetables, and breads made with nut and seed flours.
- Stage 5: Continue all stage 1-4 foods; add cooked apple puree, fresh juices with additional allowed ingredients, and carefully introduced specific raw vegetables (keeping an eye on stools to ensure these are being tolerated).
- Stage 6: Continue all stage 1-5 foods; add raw apple and other fruits, more honey, and some baked/sweet items per allowed recipes.
The link to the intro page above also includes a description of typical meals on the full GAPS plan.
More Info on GAPS and Dr. Natasha’s Work
- Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) by Natasha Campbell-McBride: In this article, Natasha explains what she has observed in working with children with autism. They near universally have severe gut dysbiosis. She has an amazing track record of CURING AUTISM with the GAPS Diet. If you read this article, you’ll get a sense of why the GAPS Diet also helps so many children and adults who don’t have autism, but do have severe digestive disorders. It is all a matter of degree…in the autistic children, the toxins in the gut are leaking out and severely affecting their brains.
- Food Allergies by Natasha Campbell-McBride: See the section “Healing the Gut Wall: The Diet” for Natasha’s overview of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, developed in the early part of the 2oth century and nearly forgotten until Elaine Gottschall, who healed her young daughter using the diet, published Breaking the Vicious Cycle. Since then many people have recovered from digestive disorders and food allergies using the SCD Diet. Natasha adapted it in her work with autistic spectrum children, and calls her version the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet.
- GAPS Diet website: Dr. Natasha’s website with many resources
- The GAPS Diet Heals Ulcerative Colitis: One woman’s story
- GAPS Legal Meal Plans, and GAPS Lunches Cookbook by the Well Fed Homestead (those links include my affiliate code; she is a Real Food Media (RFM) blogger and I would get a commission on the sale if you purchased those via these links). Brenda has had her family (which includes seven children–bio, adopted, and foster with various issues!) on GAPS for two years so far. She has found GAPS very healing for her whole family. Check out her many free blog posts about GAPS.
- 30 Days on GAPS Intro Handbook (also includes my affiliate link; she is also a RFM blogger) by Cara at Health, Home & Happiness Blog. See also her many GAPS recipes on her blog, as well as her GAPS Intro Challenge Free Email subscription
Jordan Rubin’s Work
At age 19 in 1995, Jordan Rubin was sent home to die. Doctors had nothing more to offer for his advanced Crohn’s disease and he was wasting away, his gut so damaged that he was unable to assimilate any nutrients from his food. He set out to find a cure for himself. Among other things, the critical discovery was specific soil organisms that helped repopulate his gut with good bacteria. His before and after photos are remarkable–at his weakest he was just over 100 pounds even though he is 6′ tall! He looked like a concentration camp victim; pale, emaciated, hollow looking. A few years into his recovery, he was filled out, muscular, robust and vibrant looking.
Now he runs a company, Garden of Life, that sells the probiotic supplements that helped him, and various foods. I first heard him speak at one of the Weston A. Price Conferences. At his booth he was giving away copies of his first book, Patient, Heal Thyself, because at the time, the government had told him to stop selling it, I believe because they said he had unfounded health claims or something. However, they couldn’t or at least didn’t stop him giving the information away. It is apparently back on the market because I found it for sale on Amazon.
Since then, he has written many other books. I have read Patient, Heal Thyself, Restoring Your Digestive Health (with Dr. Joseph Brasco), and The Maker’s Diet. Since writing those, he wrote a series of books starting “The Great Physician’s Rx for …” including The Great Physician’s Rx for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. He is a Biblical literalist and Christians who share his views may enjoy these books (and The Maker’s Diet) because they put everything in the context of a deity’s plan for your health/healing. I have read the Maker’s Diet but not the Great Physician Rx series; however, I assume they probably build on his earlier work.
See his basic recommendations in this article: How to Restore Digestive Health. He says that restoring health is a matter of eating the right foods, taking the right supplements, and removing toxins.
I think that removing toxins is a good plus to his advice that I don’t see stressed as much in the reading I did on SCD and GAPS. Of course, since all three diets have you using mostly unprocessed foods, that’s going to remove quite a few toxins right there, such as refined carbs; rancid fats; protein powders; artificial flavors, colors, and sweeteners; MSG; and preservatives. But in addition, adding good quality air and water filters in your home if you can afford to would reduce your toxic burden further, as would discontinuing all toxic personal care and cleaning products in favor of non-toxic versions. That’s good advice for everyone, but when you’re really ill with digestive disorders, not only is your ability to assimilate nutrients from your food hampered, but quite possibly also your liver, kidney, and skin are also hampered in their ability to detoxify you. So reduce their burden any way you can to speed your own healing.
General Dietary Advice
You may want to follow SCD, GAPS, Jordan Rubin’s advice, or another protocol, exactly as described. However, the following advice is a generalized list drawing from all of the advice in the books and articles referenced in this post.
Foods, Superfoods, and Supplements to Use
- Use bone broths liberally. This is really really really important! The gelatin, minerals, and certain amino acids in bone broths are fundamental to healing the gut and allowing it to build back its protective mucosal coating. See this free online tutorial from Nourished Kitchen, as well as her post on Perpetual Soup, for a great tip on keeping enough bone broth around at all times. More about the miracle of bone broth in these articles: Stocks, Broth Is Beautiful, and Why Broth Is Beautiful.
- Eat butter from pastured animals liberally. The antimicrobial butyric acid in butter helps heal the gut. (Where to buy pastured butter: see realmilk.com listings; while primarily for raw milk, many of the farms sell butter, or cream from which you can quickly make your own butter in a food processor.)
- Use coconut oil liberally, unless there is a sensitivity to salicylates. It has marvelous antimicrobial properties, acting against viruses, fungi, and bad bacteria. Great against candida (yeast) overgrowth. Read more about coconut oil on the WAPF site here. Read more about how critically important saturated fat is, despite its ridiculous demonization by mainstream medicine and government, here. (Where to buy coconut products)
- Get enough sulfur from good food sources, particularly eggs, onions, garlic, kale and other dark leafy green vegetables. Meat, nuts, and seafood also have some sulfur. Do not eat a diet high in grains, for many reasons, but also because they are lower in sulfur and what they have is typically lost during processing steps. See the section “Muscle Wasting Diseases” in the article Sulfur Deficiency, for the link between sulfur deficiency and gut disorders. (Where to buy pastured eggs: see realmilk.com listings; while primarily for raw milk, many of the farms sell eggs too.)
- Get more omega-3 fatty acids (and less omega-6; see avoid list) from foods like salmon and other wild caught cold water fish, eggs from pastured chickens, organ meats, walnuts, and small amounts of flax oil.
- Use High-Vitamin Fermented Cod Liver Oil (CLO) daily: Provides true vitamin A, vitamin D, EPA, and DHA, among other factors. Only buy high quality brands (only Green Pasture and Premier are worth buying), because most CLOs on the market extract the natural vitamins and add back standardized amounts of synthetic vitamins! There’s no point in swallowing icky tasty (to me anyway) CLO for synthetic vitamins–you could just take a vitamin pill for that (not that I recommend synthetic vitamins)! (Where to buy cod liver oil, including both liquids and gels in different flavors and capsules.)
- Use High-Vitamin Butter Oil (HVBO) daily: HVBO is expensive but paired with fermented CLO it can work wonders. If you can’t afford HVBO, use even more pastured butter. (Where to buy HVBO.)
- Eat probiotic foods (like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented vegetables) and take additional good quality probiotic supplements: These provide good bacteria to help repopulate your gut, which is inevitably short on the good guys (especially if you’ve ever used antibiotics) and possibly overgrown with the bad guys. (Where to buy probiotic supplements…where to buy probiotic starters to make your own fermented foods.)
- Magnesium (deficiency is linked to digestive disorders; consider magnesium oil applied topically, because absorption is better through the skin, without the loose stools that oral supplementation can cause). You can buy magnesium oil, or buy magnesium flakes and easily make your own magnesium oil much more economically. (Where to buy magnesium oil and flakes…and how to make your own magnesium oil.)
Foods to Test Whether to Avoid or Reduce
- Consider avoiding medications and foods containing salicylates to see if that helps. Two percent of people with Crohn’s and seven percent of those with ulcerative colitis are intolerant of salicylates. Common medications that include salicylate are aspirin, Ben Gay, Pepto-Bismol, Doan’s, but may be in many others. Look for compounds with “salicylate” or “salicylic” in them, like “acetylsalicylic acid” (aspirin). Many fruits and vegetables contain salicylates, and those who are intolerant to it can typically only handle so much at a time. GAPS helps reduce exposure to salicylates, especially in the early stages, giving the gut time to heal. Often people can eventually enjoy the salicylate-containing foods again, though perhaps they will need to be moderate with them. See the article Plants Bite Back by Kaayla Daniel, the section under Salicylates, for a long list of the fruits and vegetables highest in salicylates, more info, and a link to a more extensive food guide.
- Consider reducing lectins from plants. See Plants Bite Back by Kaayla Daniel for more, under the heading Lectins and Blood Types. Contrary to probably most things you’ve read, a plant-based diet is not ideal for healing the gut. Many plants are very difficult to digest and contain antinutrients and defensive toxins meant to keep animals from eating them. A meat and broth based diet with small amounts of carefully prepared vegetables may help your gut heal, and then eventually you can eat plant foods more liberally, although care should always be taken with preparation (i.e., some fruits and vegetables are okay raw or fermented, others should be lightly or even thoroughly cooked, grains should be sprouted, soaked or sour leavened, etc. Nourishing Traditions is a good resource regarding this.)
Foods to Avoid
- Disaccharides (essentially, sugars) and polysaccharides (essentially, starches): So to avoid sugars, no table sugar, corn syrup, or nonfermented dairy products that have lactose (avoid fluid milk, ice cream, some soft cheeses; meanwhile yogurt and kefir without sugar added, and many hard cheeses can be eaten). To avoid starches, no grains, beans, legumes, soy, or starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets).
- Phytates, found in grains unless they have been carefully prepared through soaking, sprouting, or sour leavening. Phytates interfere with mineral absorption. Read more in the article Living with Phytic Acid by Ramiel Nagel.
- Avoid modern commercial vegetable oils and artificially created trans fats such as vegetable shortening, for many reasons, a big one being they are the primary culprits responsible for the surfeit of omega-6 in the body. Ideally we would consume omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of 1:1 or 2:1, but in modern American diets, it’s typically 20:1, in other words we get 20 times as much omega-6 as omega-3. This causes a lot of imbalances and inflammation, including in the gut. See the article Tripping Lightly Down the Prostagladin Pathways for more on why this ratio is so important. Overconsumption of poultry, which has a fair bit of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) including omega-6, should also be avoided. Eat more red meat and fish vs. relying heavily on poultry. (So the pinnacle of bad for you here may be the commercial chicken nugget, containing PUFAs and omega-6 in the chicken, breaded with starchesand fried in rancid vegetable oil full of omega-6!)
- Avoid modern unfermented soy foods (and perhaps even traditionally fermented soy foods while your gut heals). Two carbohydrates in soy in particular are difficult or impossible to break down. One of the breakdown products, a volatile gas called hydrogen sulfide, is linked to intestinal disorders, particularly ulcerative colitis. See Soy Carbohydrates: The Flatulence Factor, by Kaayla Daniel. More about the dangers of modern soy foods here.
- See the Dietary Dangers on westonaprice.org for a general list of things anyone should avoid, not just those with digestive disorders. (Avoiding the sugars and starches as required by SCD or GAPS, and avoiding commercial vegetable oils will take care of most of these!)
If you would like to purchase any of the books on this page, I would greatly appreciate if you would click through via my Amazon links to do so. I get a small commission on these sales, which helps me keep this blog going!
Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon: This is a must have in every kitchen. You may need a more specific healing protocol, especially if your issues are severe, but hopefully in time you will be able to eat most foods and this cookbook will serve as your basic nutrition primer and go-to resource for how to properly prepare traditional foods for maximum digestibility and nutrient absorption.
There are also easy recipes for preparing bone broth and soups, meats and organ meats, fermented fish dishes, fermented dairy foods, and an easy Mason jar method and tasty recipes for fermenting vegetables, such as sauerkraut. Fermented foods with their friendly bacteria are encouraged for healing gut disorders by many of the authors cited on this page.
Fiber Menace: The Truth About Fiber’s Role in Diet Failure, Constipation, Hemorrhoids, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, and Colon Cancer by Konstantin Monastyrsky: Title’s pretty provocative, eh? We don’t need as much fiber as you would think, and it can cause problems if you get too much, especially if you’re getting large amounts of fiber to the point that it’s crowding other essentials out of your diet. See review of this book by Kathryne Pirtle here. Per the SCD and GAPS diets, you eat very little vegetables and fruit at first, and cooked thoroughly. “Roughage” is very hard on the disordered digestive track.
- The Long Hollow Tube: A Primer on the Digestive System by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig: This gives a good basic overview of the digestive system, what should be happening, and what can go wrong.
- Tripping Lightly Down the Prostagladin Pathways by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig: This is not an easy article to read, but fascinating and important. There are two prostaglandin pathways in the body, in which the action of enzymes assists numerous processes in the body. At the beginning of one of the pathways, if the action of delta-6 desaturase (D6D) is blocked, so is the entire pathway. This can lead to numerous diseases, including Crohn’s, colitis, and other digestive disorders. Go down the page for “Tips for Tripping Lightly Down the Prostaglandin Pathways” for dietary do’s and don’ts to ensure these metabolic processes are unimpeded in your body.
- Acid Reflux–A Red Flag, by Kathryne Pirtle: Scroll down to Program for Recovery from Acid Reflux, and you will see a relatively simple diet plan that bears a lot of similarity to GAPS Diet. This may work for you if you have milder problems. If it’s easier for you to follow than GAPS or you don’t want to buy the book, you might try this; it could help a lot if not completely heal your gut. If you see progress, that may inspire you to get a little more hardcore with GAPS or other protocols.
- Constipation by Dr. Tom Cowan: Note that Dr. Cowan references Dr. Burkitt’s observations among healthy Africans that they had from 1-3 substantial bowel movements PER DAY, and that bowel transit time for food eaten was less than 24 hours. Cowan reviews dietary factors that may play a part in this easy excretion.
- A Holistic Approach to Cancer by Dr. Tom Cowan: He uses GAPS with cancer patients, and in the section headed “GAPS Diet” he gives a helpful analogy for what happens to the villi in our intestines that leads to disorders like autism and ulcerative colitis, and how/why the GAPS diet works
- Moods and the Immune System by Dr. Tom Cowan: He mentions using low-dose naltrexone (LDN) to heal ulcerative colitis. Naltrexone is used to counter heroin or morphine overdose, but at low daily doses it has all kinds of other amazing effects, with almost no side effects. In this earlier article about using LDN for Leukemia, he mentions other uses, and a 2007 study that showed 67% of people with Crohn’s recovered completely with no therapy other than LDN.
- Ask the Doctor about Steroid Drugs by Dr. Tom Cowan: This is subtle, but Cowan points out that people with colitis may be given a cortisone enema; he ties the side effects of steroids to weakened adrenals and says that for anything that conventional medicine might prescribe a steroid, we should consider strengthening the adrenals instead. So, look into strengthening your adrenal glands as well, as part of the whole picture of healing your digestive disorders. See also the short sidebar “The Adrenal Gland” by Dr. Cowan at the end of this longer article, Further Experiments on Cortico-Adrenal Extract: Its Efficacy by Mouth.
- Health Hazards of Mercury by Eric Davis, DDS: Colitis, irritable bowel, constipation and diarrhea are listed as possible symptoms of mercury toxicity. Consider removal of any amalgam fillings by a dentist who specializes in this and who follows best practices in mercury removal to protect you from swallowing bits of dislodged mercury and from breathing fumes (as well as protecting the dentist and his staff). You should also follow a detoxification protocol before, during, and after the period when the fillings are being removed. Consider other detox protocols as well to chelate and remove mercury and other heavy metals from your system. Avoid other mercury exposure.
- Plants Bite Back by Kaayla Daniel: The section on salicylates may be helpful if you are among the small percentage of Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis sufferers who are sensitive to salicylates. If you don’t know, a temporary elimination diet could help you find out, and then ultimately, you may be able to heal your gut and then be able to again eat foods with salicylates in moderation. See my note on salicylates in the general dietary guidelines above.
- Reversing Food Allergies online course by Ann Marie Michaels. While I have not taken this course, I am in the middle of her Healthy Whole Grains Course and it’s excellent. I know Ann Marie personally, and know her story of healing her own food allergies. She also founded and runs Real Food Media, the blog network I am part of, and writes the excellent Cheeseslave blog. The link includes my affiliate code; I would get a commission on this if you purchased the course via that link.
This post is linked to the following blog carnivals–check them out for more great articles, and recipes!
- The Healthy Home Economist Monday Mania 03/12/2012
- Hartke Is Online! Weekend Blog Carnival 03/12/2012
- Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday 03/14/2012
- Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday March 16 2012
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Filed under: Healing by Jill