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The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) Healed My Son

Updated on October 1, 2012
Diarrhea episode on a 12 hour drive
Diarrhea episode on a 12 hour drive | Source

GI Issues

The first 20 months of his life, my son screamed and screamed and screamed for one or more hours in the middle of nearly every single night. There was no consoling him. My husband and I held him, walked with him, rocked him, drove him around, fed him, sang to him, and attempted to distract him in any way possible. He would arch his back and go stiff for five or so minutes, then he would relax and immediately fall asleep. But within a couple of minutes he was back to screaming again. His little tummy was as hard as a rock, and it looked like he swallowed a cantaloupe. Oh, and his gas could make a person pass out.

During the days, he rarely had cramping. However, several times each day he had explosive diarrhea – the kind that could shoot up his back all the way to his shoulders. Occasionally it had blood in it.

I was certain his pain was GI related. So, since I nursed him for the first five months, I cut out dairy, tomatoes, onions, and gluten. None of these things made the slightest difference. Well meaning friends gave us lots of advice, and as a result we also changed his laundry detergent, his type of pajamas, the amount of light in his room, the amount of white noise, the temperature, his medicine, the time we gave him his medicine, the time of his last feeding, the angle of his mattress…you get the picture. We even let him cry-it-out for several weeks (which I deeply regret now, since his waking was not behavior related). Nothing helped. And I was quickly tipping over the edge to insanity.

A Neurologist, Allergist, and GI Specialists

We have the best pediatrician on the planet. I can’t even say enough good things about her. I’m not sure if she realized I was completely sleep deprived and no longer in control of my actions, or if she is just extra nice to everyone. She gave me her cell phone number and encouraged me to call her on it. Several times over those desperately long months, she even called to check up on me. She gave us referrals to three GI specialists. The three gave us these diagnoses: non-acid reflux, acid reflux, and nothing. They each did multiple tests to confirm their diagnoses, and we are still paying on the medical bills. It did not seem to matter to them that my son’s symptoms did not match reflux symptoms at all. Most of the medications made him worse. And I am certain they all thought Hudson was fine and that I merely crazy.

The final GI specialist told me that my son had a sleep problem, not a GI problem. Ludicrous. But I do not want to be that mom who thinks she knows more than the experts. So we saw a neurologist. And she found nothing. And then we saw an allergist. And she also found nothing.

Impedance Test for reflux at 3 months old; EEG to rule out seizures at 1 year old
Impedance Test for reflux at 3 months old; EEG to rule out seizures at 1 year old | Source

And then it got worse. Hudson got the stomach flu shortly after Christmas in 2011. He vomited for seven straight days. The next six weeks, we didn’t sleep. Also his cramping and screaming started happening in the afternoons. One day my pediatrician asked if any of the GI doctors had said anything about Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). When I asked the current GI doctor about it, he said it was impossible. But I still did a little research on it anyway. So many articles online that talked about SIBO also mentioned the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). I was pretty sure it couldn’t make him get any worse, and our pediatrician decided it couldn’t hurt to try it for a month and see what happened.

Details of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)

This diet was made popular by Elaine Gottschall when her four year old daughter became sick to the point of death. Elaine worked with an elderly doctor committed to treating digestive illnesses through diet instead of medicine. Her daughter became well through the diet. As a result Elaine went back to school, receiving degrees in biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology, to understand and develop the diet more fully. Her book Breaking the Vicious Cycle: Intestinal Health Through Diet has more information about the diet, and should be read before starting the diet.

In a nutshell, legal foods in this diet are foods that are easily broken down by the digestive system. Allowable foods are meat, fish, eggs, non starchy vegetables, nuts, and fruits. Notice there are no grains and no sugars (except honey).

The official website says this:

"The allowed carbohydrates are monosaccharides and have a single molecule structure that allow them to be easily absorbed by the intestine wall. Complex carbohydrates which are disaccharides (double molecules) and polysaccharides (chain molecules) are not allowed. Complex carbohydrates that are not easily digested feed harmful bacteria in our intestines causing them to overgrow producing by products and inflaming the intestine wall. The diet works by starving out these bacteria and restoring the balance of bacteria in our gut."

Hooray for tasty taco meat wrapped up in an omelet-tortilla-thing.
Hooray for tasty taco meat wrapped up in an omelet-tortilla-thing. | Source

Gut Healed, Medicine Discontinued

Within three days of being on the diet, Hudson’s knock-you-out-gas stopped. His screaming sessions at night also became more bearable after just a few days. It took a few weeks for his explosive diarrhea to stop. And, finally, at 21 months old, he slept through the night and had formed poop.

Getting him to stick to the diet has been a challenge. Not only because he is a normal picky toddler, but also because I am just not used to spending so much time in the kitchen making all of his food. And since I’m using things I didn’t know existed a year ago (read: almond flour, yogurt starter, cacao powder, and coconut oil), my hours in the kitchen often end up with nothing edible to show for them :(. After he was better for a few months, we gradually weaned him off a muscle relaxer (Baclofen) he had been taking. That is another story in itself. We are almost 8 months into the diet now. Hudson is pain free and medicine free. I am so so so thankful we found the SCD; it has literally changed our lives.

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    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
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      ExpectGreatThings 2 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Thewritingowl! I'm so thankful you persevered with your son. There is a ton of research connecting autism and the gut that I'm sad your doctors wouldn't listen to you. Hopefully the diet will give him some relief. It actually got worse for us before it got better. I recommend pushing through for at least 3-4 weeks before trying to decide if it has helped or not. Thanks for reading and commenting! God bless you on this journey.

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 2 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for that. My son has had GI problems too for years now and also has autism. I tried every doctor there was to try and even get a referral to a GI specialist. Was repeatedly told his problems were just his autism and that he was not in pain. I though knew differently. Finally just this year we took him to see Dr Arthur Krigsman and he was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel disease among other things. The photo's of his small intestine clearly shows disease even though no-one here in Ireland would even test him for bowel problems. Its a long road for sure so next step now is the SCD Diet so fingers crossed we can manage it and get some success.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      I do not envy you, Beth. At least if you are a baby, you are allowed to scream and writhe when you are in pain, but that isn't so acceptable for adults - we must endure pain in a more sophisticated manner! Plus, there seem to be an infinite number of variables that can affect a person's gut. And it's amazing that anyone ever figures out the trick to becoming well. I'm really glad probiotics have given you some relief! Hopefully you'll heal completely. Thank you for reading and commenting. It's always interesting to learn about the real lives behind the people who write hubs :) - Ginger

    • profile image

      Beth37 4 years ago

      You poor thing. What a trial. I believe I quite possibly have this issue, I have had unbearable stomach pain for years and have have by gall bladder taken out and more tests than you can imagine (well maybe you can imagine.) I told a doc. I thought I could have a bacterial overgrowth. He told me to stay off the internet. They can be horrid sometimes. I finally started taking probiotics and I am living a life outside the ER instead of in it. I am so grateful... I feel almost like a normal person again. Life was pure hell, really. Im sorry your boy had to endure this. Thank God he had you as parents... you didn't give up!

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Hi kellofudge, he did not. However the allergist did ask about his skin, so somehow it might be related. I hope you find the answer you are looking for :)

    • profile image

      kellofudge 4 years ago

      did your son happen to suffer from eczema by any chance as well??

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      MarieAlana - thanks for your encouragement! I was a wreck when I wasn't sleeping. Honestly, it's only by the grace of God that we got through that period of time. It turns out that sleep deprivation would be a good form of torture for me; I would have done just about anything to sleep!

    • MarieAlana1 profile image

      Marie Alana 4 years ago from Ohio

      Wow! You had to wait a full 21 months before having a full night of sleep. Your son's condition must have scared you a lot. I'm glad he got better. Good luck to your cooking! You can do it!

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for reading and commenting healthylife! And thanks for the compliment about our son. I think he's pretty cute, but I'm definitely biased! Until my son's sickness, I had never really believed people who said a healthy diet was worth pursuing. I have definitely changed my tune now, and am slowly but surely getting the rest of my family to eat more healthy also.

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      The impact diet has on health is so fascinating and I am so so happy you solved the mystery by pursuing it until you found an answer. It is so kind of you to share your story to help others and to save them possibly years of misery and research. So glad your son is doing well on the diet and he is absolutely adorable. Voted up!

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Yes, her allergies came as a big surprise. I mentioned it in my hub about anger management. I can't help but wonder how many families have children with undiagnosed food allergies. Good luck with your son. Now that his body is functioning peacefully it may well strengthen and recover from any long-term problems. Fingers crossed.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      LTM, it is really interesting that your daughter showed up positive for food allergies when you weren't even suspecting it. Our son did have allergy tests done for 33 different foods/pollens, and he showed up negative on all of them. Apparently, the tests aren't very accurate in young children, so if he continues to have weird symptoms in a few years, we would consider doing the tests again. I'm really just hoping that his symptoms were due to digestive issues that will correct themselves!

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Understandable that you were not absorbing everything going on around you. It must have been totally exhausting. Are you intending to have him tested for a wide variety of food allergies before you risk returning to the chaos? My daughter was tested via a blood test for a diverse range of food allergies and found to be positive to things we never suspected. I wish we'd run the test when she was little instead of waiting until she was an adult, but there were no obvious symptoms at the time. Just a thought for you. :)

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 4 years ago from Illinois

      LongTimeMother, those are great questions! According to the official book of the diet "Breaking the Vicious Cycle" we can start adding non-SCD foods when he has been symptom free for one year. Apparently, that amount of time gives his gut a chance to heal and the good bacteria time to get established. I am looking forward to that day!

      If I ever had an explanation of why this happened, I have forgotten it. I was such a crazy sleep-deprived mom at that point, that I didn't really take in much, sadly. Usually, Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth happens as a result of a medical procedure, which my son never had, so it couldn't have been that. Thank you for your sweet compliments.

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      I had never heard of this diet. Does your son have to stay on it forever, or do you introduce other foods after restoring the balance of bacteria in his gut? I am wondering if you have been given any explanation about why he developed this problem. Was he born with the bacteria imbalance? Fascinating. Thank you. Voted up.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 5 years ago from Illinois

      The book was very informative, Ronna. There are also a lot of blogs and groups online for support if you end up trying it. The diet seems impossible at first but once you get used to it, it's amazing how your body will start craving food that makes you feel better! I do hope you find something that works for you.

    • Ronna Pennington profile image

      Ronna Pennington 5 years ago from Arkansas

      I bet your Hub helps tons of people! I've never heard of this, but plan to get the book you mentioned soon because it sounds healthier for my own digestive issues. Thank you for sharing this info!

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 5 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you for sharing your collegue's experience mrshoki. I hurt for anyone going through what we went through. I do hope they find answers soon.

    • mrshoki profile image

      mrshoki 5 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks for this great and interesting hub, I have a collegue with a son around 2 he is suffering from some form of digestive problem and I will definitely share this with her. Voted up and more.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 5 years ago from Illinois

      Steve West,

      I sincerely sincerely hope that you are able to get good answers for whatever is causing your child discomfort. I know how miserable it is to watch your child suffer. This diet works for us. But there are a lot of other options as well. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

    • Steve West profile image

      Steve West 5 years ago from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

      Great information. We are discovering our four-year-old has a sensitive tummy to all of the junk out there. I'm glad to have read this, thank you. Voted up and useful. Read ya' later.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 5 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you for reading and encouraging me today Escobana! I completely agree with your hub on the power of positive feedback, and appreciate that you have taken the time make my day more positive :)

    • Escobana profile image

      Escobana 5 years ago from Valencia

      Amazing story! Truly challenging what you all went through.

      You wrote a very interesting Hub about all this and a very helpful one for those who are in the middle of similar situations.

      Voted up, shared and hit some buttons!

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 5 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you for the up vote! And thank you for sharing about your experience. I do hope your son grew out of it. It must be miserable to have stomach problems.

    • ExpectGreatThings profile image
      Author

      ExpectGreatThings 5 years ago from Illinois

      Mary615 and RTalloni - you are so encouraging! Thank you! I'm not sure you would think I was a good mom if you had known me during my sleep-deprived days, but at least our story has a good ending :) I really appreciate your comments.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you for sharing this valuable informative information. I'm sure it will help many who read this and the children that they have who may well have similar problems.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Your son sounded so much like our youngest son. We found out his allergy was milk but even after taking him off milk he still seem to have stomach problems just not as bad. I wish I had known about this diet years ago. I would have tried it. The list of things you tried reminded me of all the things we tried. We let him sleep with us just so we could get a little sleep in between his crying.

      So good that you wrote a hub about this it might help a lot of sleep deprived parents. Voted uP! Glad he's doing good.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      Wow. You've done a good job of telling about your experience and you are indeed a wonderful mother in diligently pursuing the right answer and continuing to work on the solution. Your effort to share what your son and you and your husband have been through will surely help others who may have the same unexplained symptoms.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      As a Mother and Grandmother, I can only imagine what you went through with your son. I hope he is well now. You are a wonderful Mother!

      I voted this Hub UP, and will share and Pin to my children and family board.

      So nice to meet you, Mary