Recently two events in my life propelled the return to the connection between autoimmune disease and diet. The first, a doctor recommended that I listen to Dr. Jennifer Daniels, and give her my opinion. The second, a loved one was again hospitalized for a Crohn’s flare up. My primary focus in this essay will be autoimmune diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. This is an ongoing odyssey, one for which I have not arrived at a conclusive ending. The essay is set within a framework of an ongoing experiment and the desire to share my latest findings. My caveat clearly stated is that ‘your mileage may vary.’
Irritable bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term covering the common conditions of Crohn’s (CD), Colitis or Ulcerative Colitis (UC) among others. It is a chronic, meaning no cure, debilitating disease robbing the patient of her life. It is as unpredictable as it is painful. It is reminiscent of Parkinson’s in its manner of drug effectiveness variability. Drugs have a poor track record of managing the disease, much less making claims about cure.
Steroids are often needed, though not preferred by the most reputable doctors. Steroids produce anxiety, which is known as steroid psychosis. Depression is also a major correlation of IBD. It is indeterminate if IBD causes depression, as one might reasonably expect given the symptoms of the disease. Some researchers, such as Ricki Lewis PhD, speculates that perhaps what causes depression might also cause IBD.
If the patient is lucky enough to avoid intensive intestinal surgery with the concomitant complications, he is faced with an arsenal of pills needing a Tupperware container to fit them all, infusions needing lengthy doctor’s visits, insurance red tape, and enormous bills for these expensive treatments all with a 20 year outcome of dubious benefit suggests the 12/23/16 Journal of Clinical Pathways article.
The motivation for the odyssey to find a better way is profound. Enter, Dr. Jennifer Daniels. Dr. Daniels received a BS from Harvard, MD from Univ. of Pennsylvania while at the same time earned her MBA from Wharton Business School at Univ. of Penn. She paid her own way through college. No debt. She elected to practice in the ghettos of NYC, and had a successful practice for about ten years. She eventually ran afoul of the powerbrokers of NYC, and fled first to Jamaica, and currently she resides in Panama. Links to a more robust recounting of her journey can be found at the following blog posts.  Claims of malpractice by a diabetic patient who binged on a Caribbean trip was the catalyst to close her practice down. Dear readers, you are free to form your own opinion about the veracity of this incident.
Several articles from the mainstream medical literature are quoted in the February 5, 2017 program. The article Dr. Daniels is reading is from Medscape. Prompted by this Medscape article, I read the relevant articles and research.
The articles from the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, The Rheumatologist, and Medscape I believed Dr. Daniels presented the articles fairly. They substantiate the assertions listed previously. She, however, noted a small study showing great promise based solely on diet intervention.
The study is a small one, which is well worth noting. However, the literature has literally thousands of articles researching the connection to diet and IBD. It is not unknown should one know where to look. A screen shot, of over 2,000 articles with the search parameter of specific carbohydrate diet shows this.
The diet used in this study is called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. Dr. Daniels discusses a version of this diet, which she used with great success. Both of these diets are different from the diet recommended on the Mayo site.
To briefly summarize the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) espoused by Elaine Gottschal it is non-processed, with whole foods. No flour, no sugar, no dried fruits, with some dairy and nuts permitted. A full listing of allowed and not allowed foods is found here. Dr. Daniel’s has a more restricted list, one approaching a vegan diet highlighting organic vegetables & fruits (the patient’s system cannot handle the toxins), no dairy or nuts, she found those foods problematic for her patients. For a complete description of her diet, refer to show notes and program time at @37:34.
Dr. David Suskind, in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology Feb 28, 2018 issue found an 80% remission rate of the children treated in the Seattle Washington hospital over a 12 week trial.  As Dr. Steve Brant, of Johns Hopkins Dept of Gastroenterology notes, further research is needed to determine efficacy. Dr. Brant, with all due respect, it is at this point the patient can do an experiment of n=1 all on her own. While I appreciate the reticence of not wanting to ‘jump the gun’, but faced with the serious known side effects and poor prognosis of current treatment plans, it is a worth the gamble of getting off the processed foods. If there are known foods that have caused problems, listed in the SCD, don’t eat them. Use some common sense and start out on the journey of possible healing.
The diet does not contradict medications currently being taken. As the 20 year study shows, it is dubious what if any effect the variety of medications actually do, and it is certainly not close to 80%. Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson, a cognitive neuroscientist, discusses how stopping all processed foods, especially sugar and flours, healed her severe depression that had plagued her for over a decade. She clearly states it does not heal all those suffering from crippling depression, but it does heal quite a few as has been reported to her. Perhaps the processed foods cause both Crohn’s and depression.
I have emailed the Center for Clinical and Translational Research, where Dr. Suskind does his research, to see if there are follow-up studies. This essay will be updated if necessary.
Where in the odyssey of healing does this leave one? Impossible to say as is often the case in the midst of an experiment. Certainly, given the suffering of the patients afflicted with IBD the diet is worth a shot. However, it is almost an axiom that the more one avoids restaurants, processed foods, and cooks for oneself, the person is more in charge of their health.
“I struggled with Crohn’s disease much of my adult
life, to discover sixteen years ago a near-cure in alternative medicine
and following a plant-based diet. I have learned with difficulty the
benefits of taking charge personally of my own health care.”
NB one must have a Medscape account to access the article.