Sugar, the Microbiome and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet

From my son, Alex’s, earliest days, he had digestive issues.  As an infant, he projectile- vomited daily.  He wouldn’t eat solid foods until he was 9 months old.  By the time he was diagnosed with autism, just after his 2nd birthday, he had frequent diarrhea and a very limited diet, which progressively got worse until he was constantly spewing out one end or the other – or both.  No gastroenterologist took us seriously (attributing his digestive issues to his autism) until he was 8 ½ and the situation was dire.  When he finally underwent a colonoscopy, we discovered that he had colitis and cryptitis (infections in the mucus crypts of the intestines). During the following year, he was loaded with medications which had little positive effect: pentasa and colazal (azulfidine drugs), 6MP (a chemotherapy agent), high doses of steroids, etc.  A year later, things looked no better and his gastroenterologist called me to talk about inserting a feeding tube.

Instead, I chose to put him on a diet I’d learned about several years before from another mom at an autism conference:  the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD).  At that time, I had bought the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle, by Elaine Gottschall, but as no doctor was recommending such a seemingly radical diet (on the contrary, I was being told to feed him anything he’d eat, as his weight was so incredibly low), I’d put the book aside. That day though, faced with Alex’s worsening health and the looming feeding tube, I decided to give one last diet a 3 month shot before scheduling the surgery.  Without a clue really as to what I was doing, not having even finished the book, Alex was on the diet by the next meal.

With that first meal on SCD, he stopped vomiting. 3 ½ months later, Alex had the first formed bowel movement he had had in years.  By 6 months, his bowels were completely normal.  His next colonoscopy a year later showed no pathology. Alex has never had any bowel issues again and now, at 22 years old, he eats a completely normal, healthy, balanced diet.

That is what the right diet can do.

So how does SCD work?  The theory is beautifully explained by Elaine in her book that saved our lives:

Carbohydrates come in 3 forms:  monosaccharides, single-molecule sugars such as are found in fruit and vegetables; disaccharides (2 sugar molecules joined together – which includes lactose (found in dairy) and table sugar); polysaccharides, or starch (such as wheat, potatoes, etc.)  In order to be absorbed by the small intestine, all carbs need to be broken down into those single-molecules of sugar.  If, for any reason, carbohydrate digestion is impaired, undigested carbohydrates are left sitting in the small intestine supplying a very abundant source of food for bacteria, which eat these sugars.  With such a plentiful food supply around, well-fed bacteria multiply…and multiply…and soon, you’re facing a small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), leading to a myriad of problems including irritable bowel symptoms, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.

By removing all carbohydrates from the diet except those single-molecules of sugar which do not require digestion (and can, therefore, be immediately be absorbed by the intestines), you starve the bacteria, reducing and normalizing the population. And a normal microbiome – as I’ve been talking about on this blog – means markedly improved health.

Having lived through the Alex’s transformation from SCD (as well as the hundreds of children and adults I worked with in my nutrition practice), I know this first-hand.  For years now, I have extensively written (including my book, We Band of Mothers:  Autism, My Son and the Specific Carbohydrate Diet) and lectured about SCD.

In the last 11 years since my friend, Elaine, died, there has been some truly amazing research showing just how right she was.  (And when it comes to autism, forgeddaboutit, as we say here in New York.  The evidence is overwhelmingly in support of trying the diet on every child with an autism diagnosis!) In fact, every time an article comes out supporting her contentions, my heart rejoices.

So, this morning was a good morning.  I spotted a new article[i] in The Journal of Nutrition about the effects of added sugar early in life on the microbiome.  Different groups of young rats were fed various amount of sugar (as would be found in sugar-sweetened beverages) and fecal samples were taken to analyze the microbial composition.  The researchers concluded that indeed, early-life sugar consumption affects the gut microbiome in the animals.

More on this subject soon as really and truly, you can never say too much about it.  Not when you see the amount of suffering that can be alleviated by the right diet.

So get used to reading a lot more about this!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
With my much loved friend and hero, Elaine Gotschall

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 [i] Noble, EE, Hsu, TM, Johnes, RB, Fodor, AA, Goran, MI, Kanoski, SE.  Early-life sugar consuptiom affects the rat microbiome independently of obesity.  The Journal of Nutrition: 2016 Nov 30.

 


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