Specific Carbohydrate Diet


last updated 8.25.05

What is the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)

The premise of this diet is that a nourishing, healthy, natural diet, minus grains, sugar and preservatives, can often restore a digestive system to good health. The diet does not limit the amount of carbohydrates eaten, just the kind of carbohydrates. This diet is outlined in the book 'Breaking the Vicious Cycle' by Elaine Gottschall.

It has been used successfully by those with some form of bowel disease, including indigestion, a 'nervous stomach', chronic diarrhea or spastic colon, to the more serious and debilitating problems such as Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn's disease, Diverticulitis, Celiac and Cystic Fibrosis. The use of diet may help to overcome the symptoms associated with these illnesses. In children with serious digestive problems, this diet may result in improved cognition and behaviors as well as digestion.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) specifically selects carbohydrates that require minimal digestion and are quickly absorbed. This leaves virtually nothing for intestinal microbes to feed on. As the microbes die-off, the harmful by-products are reduced. The gut heals and overall digestion improves, and this strengthens the immune system and good health returns. The enzyme product No-Fenol appears to be accomplishing similar goals as the SCD does with food eliminations.
see The No-Fenol File

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet has helped some with yeast/bacteria overgrowth and autism conditions where other restrictive diets have not. This diet is based on the idea that carbohydrates have the greatest influence on intestinal microbes, such as yeast and bacteria. The SCD eliminates the availability of the difficult to digest carbohydrates in an effort to severely limiting the energy source of these microbes. When carbohydrates are not digested and absorbed in the small intestine, they remain as a source of food and fuel for microbes in the small and large intestines. They produce harmful acids and toxins that injure the gut and pollute the body. This starts the cycle where further damage to the gut only promotes further lack of digestion and nutrient absorption, more microbial growth, and an increase in toxins.

Whereas some diets focus on the quantity of carbohydrates, SCD focuses on the type of carbohydrates.

At this point, enzymes can be a wonderful addition to the SCD and may or may not be able to 'replace' depending on the person, the nature of the problem, and the enzyme blend selected. Some observations at this point include:

  • People using enzymes regularly at typical amounts (not therapeutic doses) and having severe intestinal problems including yeast and bacteria may still need to take extra measures in order to treat those problems.
  • Enzyme blends with broad-spectrum mixes, containing carbohydrate enzymes, and fiber digesting enzymes may address the same issues for some people.
  • The SCD provides a source of natural probiotics (special yogurt from goat, sheep, cow, or other mammal sources) included in the diet. Probiotics are very essential to good intestinal health. Enzymes alone do not provide any probiotics. Probiotic supplements may help but do not provide all the factors that a whole-food source does.

It is believed that enzymes may:

  • work synergistically to achieve SCD goals
  • speed up the time for gut healing and improved health
  • allow a wider menu of foods to be included, possibly sooner than otherwise

Most enzymes in capsules are SCD diet-approved. Check on non-encapsulated enzymes. Some ideas are:

  • All Enzymedica enzymes except for Digest and Gastro (Digest Gold is approved)
    (in health food stores, many online places. good price at www.getbigger.com and www.stayleaner.com)
  • All Houston enzymes in capsules
    (all versions of these enzymes in capsules have been approved as okay for SCD. Other forms, such as chewables or bulk are not at this time.)
  • Ultra-zyme Plus by Thropps Nutrition

Dairy on SCD

There are many interesting components to dairy. One concern involves the peptides from insufficiently broken down casein proteins. Here is a discussion on why this may not be a problem, with research.
see Dairy - the Multi-faceted Substance

Casein has some very beneficial aspects too. This is shown many times when someone with autism having been strictly GFCF or dairy-free for a year or more showing tremendous improvement once they put dairy back in the diet with enzymes such as Peptizyde. The improvements seen are far greater then even doing strict diet plus enzymes. So apparently there is something the dairy is providing itself that is needed in these cases. And not having dairy in the diet is compromising the person's health. So you might want to consider a trial of dairy, in the form of yogurt or otherwise, with Peptizyde to see if this helps.

The question was asked: "Can you do SCD without dairy. Would it still be a great diet without the dairy?

Yes, there are SCD recommendations and recipes without dairy. But whether it would still be a great diet might depend upon your philosophy and personal situation. What I see is there are two basic 'parts' to SCD. You have the food elimination part where you take out all the foods thought to be not totally sufficiently digested. This is rather similar to other restrictive diets.

But the really interesting aspect that makes SCD so much different than just another elimination diet is the second part: adding in the special SCD yogurt/dairy that supplies the pro-active healing elements of digestive enzymes, probiotics, minerals in a whole food form, lactoferrin, and other beneficial goodies. Adding in the yogurt seems to be the big kick toward healing for many SCDers. It appears this is the real pro-active element.

This would be consistent with the fact that when most all people doing any type of restrictive diet add digestive enzymes, they get much better than on diet alone. And when they add probiotic supplements, they get better than on diet alone. And many people on restrictive diets also might get a bit better when they add in vitamins/mineral supplements (depending on the nutritional balance of what they are eating).

It is also consistent with research that digestive enzymes and probiotics have been independently shown to promote healing in the gut (and enzymes heal other tissues as well). Food eliminations are more like 'passive' healing...that is, you take out what you thing is really facilitating the problem, and then wait and hope the body can repair itself somehow. The enzymes and probiotics (and likely a few other things) are active healing...they faciliate and speed up healing that wasn't occuring before, or occurring very, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

So although you might see some success with the elimination of foods on SCD, you might not find it to be a 'great diet' without the dairy. Hopefully, you will find great success without too much problem either way you decide to go.

Now, the next thing to consider: Is 'yogurt' based from nut or vegetables (or fermented vegetables themselves) comparable to true dairy yogurt?

At this point, I don't see it. But it will take more investigation. That would be a good activity for someone sometime. Right off, mammal milk is of a different composition than nut/vegetable juice. Even if you can 'force' the issue of getting high probiotic counts up, that doesn't mean it acts the same in the body as dairy yogurt. And although the plant-based ferments have good elements to health, they don't have identical ingredients as dairy. So although other fermented things may be helpful and even acceptable, you still might not see the best results possible.

Now, given all these considerations, it still will come down to your individual situation, your personal priorities, and your personal philosophy on issues. You can always do a trial of one method or other, a trial of dairy yogurt, a trial of vegetable yogurt, or anything else and then re-evalate as you go. You don't have to 'know' all this in advance and a little testing might reveal many things you can't know at the moment. Good luck with your search and good health to your family.

Here is another discussion for a specific condition:
see Dairy yogurt and autism conditions

Can Enzymes Replace SCD

Do kids with autism conditions have great success stories coming off of SCD diet with enzymes like they do other diets?

This is not as straightforward as Peptizyde replacing GFCF simply because SCD is newer for use in autism spectrum itself and there just hasn't been that many people thoroughly doing SCD without enzymes, or SCD for a long time and then trying to leave it with enzymes. (SCD is under two years old in autism spectrum use at this writing although it has been used much longer in with other health conditions. No reports are in from SCD versus enzymes from non-autism sources one way or the other.)

A number of people used digestive enzymes before SCD and continued enzymes on SCD. A number of people started both fairly soon together so there hasn't been lots of time between measures.

There have been some doing SCD for some months and then added in enzymes. This almost always gives another boost in improvement just as adding enzymes to a GFCF diet takes you to another level in improvement. Nothing really surprising here. Even special diet food needs to be digested and absorbed. And food eliminations to not necessarily heal the gut. Enzymes pro-actively heal tissue, so you get gut healing thrown in at the same time as food breakdown.

Also, in SCD history, they advocate a special yogurt with live cultures which would have enzymes in it as well as probiotics other whole-food benefits. So the idea of adding in something with enzymes to promote gut healing isn't new to them. It is often said in SCD cases that the really big improvements didn't come until the special yogurt was added in.

A few people have started enzymes and do SCD part of the time and off-SCD part of the time (so they haven't totally left SCD although they are no longer 100% on diet). There is no loss in improvement going back and forth in these cases.

I do know a few cases of SCD folks that had been SCD for some time (over a year). One switched to Houston enzymes and one to Enzymedica enzymes and both left SCD with no loss in improvement. Although these cases worked out well, it really isn't enough to definitely say it works for most people. Hopefully over time, more info will come about.

Newer discussion Enzymes and SCD
Question: How are enzymes a better choice over SCDiet?

Comment: Maybe 'better choice' isn't the best way to word the question. Look at it as a different choice focused on the same issues. The important point is to look at the situation from the gut's point of view. Not the supplement vendor's marketing materials. Not the diet philosopher's. Not the diet food maker's. The gut's point of view is what counts.

Enzymes do one type of job. Probiotics another. And food/vitamin/minerals/nutrients have another job. All are needed in balance and combination. Enzymes aren't nutrients in themselves. And nutrients in food can't get into your body without enzymes.

My view has always been that yes, certain enzymes could replace an SCD (and assuming you are doing a healthy diet of mostly all natural foods, including grains and starches...not junk). If you are doing SCD or any other special diet, adding enzymes with the diet just about always improves results more than diet alone.

Even SCD says that you could potentially put in many of the foods initially restricted as the gut heals. And isn't Elaine's daughter SCD about 85% without enzymes? If her daughter chose to add in enzymes, she might be SCD 20% or lower. This is just an example. This is good because it indicates good gut health. It means there is improvement. It isn't a negative against any special diet if you are able to leave it. It means you are better and healthier.

I think it is great when someone writes "My son doesn't need enzymes any more." or "We only need enzymes for 2 foods instead of 40." I don't take it as a implying enzymes aren't working. On the contrary, this is a testament they are doing their job. We want gut healing.

If someone is doing any type of gut healing program and hasn't seen any improvements in 6-9 months...they need to re-evaluate what they are doing. There should be some improvement by then.

Quite a number of families are using enzymes now instead of food eliminations, and so they are no longer in the 'potential special diet pool' so to speak. The ones that switched to SCD initially were the cases that had much more gut injury than the enzymes alone could help at the doses given, or they chose not to use enzymes at all.

SCD has helped many families that GFCF did not, possibly because it eliminates many of the artificial and highly refined stuff allowed on GFCF. So yes, on one level, enzymes can make food eliminations unnecessary. But you still need to eat wholesome nutritious food of some kind. If that food is SCD okay food, great. If it is wholesome nutritious non-SCD okay, that can be great too. But then, it might be your choice to eat a certain way if you want. From the body's point of view, it just wants wholesome nutrition of some kind. And either your own enzymes or supplements one are needed to make sure the nutrition actually gets into the body instead of going down the drain.

Another thing to consider is that enzymes do other healing work in the body than just breakdown foods. So you would have to consider that taking enzymes gives these other benefits too. And enzymes pro-actively heal tissue including in the gut.

SCD yogurt would have this pro-active healing property too which is the really different aspect it brings to the table. Without the yogurt, you are just on another restrictive diet. But the yogurt is the 'kick' that can make a big difference. I think taking out foods you think are a problem is hoping for passive healing...you hope you take a problem source away and hope the gut just somehow spontaneously starts healing. This may or may not happen. Very often it does not. The probiotics and enzymes are a pro-active source of healing. They get in there and get to work. You can add the enzymes and probiotics as supplements or in the yogurt. Or both yogurt and supplements for faster healing.

And this is seen over and over and over again. When people go on GFCF it is very common to soon need to remove more and more foods. When people use enzymes they usually put back in more and more foods over time with the same amount of enzymes, or even less. With SCD, people commonly put in more foods over time particularly after they start the yogurt. I noticed that very often the people saying they are 'plateauing' on SCD, or not able to put foods in are also not doing yogurt. It is very common to hear in the SCD community that the real healing didn't start until they added in the yogurt.

If you have a seriously bad gut problem you might want to do SCD and enzymes to speed up the healing. I have heard many times from those starting SCD, and even seeing good results, eventually opt to add in enzymes and BAM! a huge jump in improvement.

Now consider the dosing with enzymes. If someone had a severe case of bacteria or yeast overgrowth, enzymes alone don't seem to do it unless possibly you went up to a much higher dose. I was giving 9 capsules of enzymes and 3 of probiotics a day for 5 months to my son with bacteria problems. While it did help noticeably, it didn't lick the problem. Maybe if I had given 20 or 30 enzymes a day for a month, it would have killed off the problem. I thought 9 was high, but now I know that is considered the minimum for a therapeutic use, and not high at all. In groups using enzymes with fibromylagia and cancer, those guys were giving 45-90 capsules a day. Yes, it was working, but it also lets you know that 9 capsules is really rather low in the great scheme of things.

When you are talking about 20-30 capsules a day, it can be a cost factor as well as getting a young child to take that much. So doing SCD at least to some extent may be a better option, and a faster option. For my son, he would have taken many more capsules than do diet. But for other kids, it would be the opposite. I am just glad there are choices out there because people have very different situations.

Does this help? Consider it from the guts point of view, and what fits best into your lifestyle.

If it were me, I would do enzymes first as they are generally cheaper, easier, and quicker (and do many types of healing across the board).
~~~ Then see what is left over.

And reduce as many artificial additives, hydrogenated fats, and junk as possible. Include epsom salts here. And replace any junk with good wholesome foods.
~~~ Then see what is left over.

Then add in any probiotics of minerals that might help.
~~~Then see what is left over.

Then do food eliminations as needed.
~~~Then see what is left over...

This is systematic way of getting everything to work towards that same goal and doing the cost-effective big-ticket items first and work your way down. After probiotics, other good supplements to pursue are essential fatty acids, and antioxidants. After that look at specialized things per the person: medications, particular supplements, special protocols.

to learn more about the specific carbohydrate diet

Overview of the diet
Healing Crow site


This site has a wonderful FAQ section that describes how different ingredients and foods may affect colon health (direct url below)

Discussion group for parents/people interested in learning about the SCD
Pecan Bread

site for autism spectrum, kids, and SCD


last updated 5.29.05



General Strategies
Feingold / Failsafe
Casein-free / gluten-free
Yeast Control
Specific Carbohydrate
High-protein / low-carb

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