Biohacking Pioneer: Elaine Gottschall


Elaine Gottschall was a pioneer in nutritional healing.

She popularized the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, one of the first nutritional protocols Matthew and I tried when we began experimenting with nutritional healing back in 2009.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet healed Elaine’s child, Judy, who was suffering intensely from ‘untreatable’ ulcerative colitis as well as seizures and neurological problems in the late 1950s.

After Judy was healed completely through nutritional treatment, Elaine, housewife-turned-biohacker, started University to study biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology so she could continue to develop the Specific Carbohydrate Diet & share it with the world.

Inspired by her n=1 experiment with her own child, Elaine received her bachelors degree in 1973 at age 52. And promptly went to graduate school.

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet

The Specific Carbohydrate Diet has been seminal.

It contributed to the development of the Gut & Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet, by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, (another biohacking mum!), and Aglaée Jacob’s gut healing protocol, which is what finally gave Matthew some relief from his debilitating unexplained nausea.

The eerie part is that those of us who are pursuing nutritional healing in 2015 are still experiencing the same reaction from medical practitioners that Elaine did in 1960: nutritional therapies were dismissed & ridiculed then, as now.

But now have the internet (which means we have each other).


In 2015, we can participate in an international community of people committed to hacking their own health.

The internet has enabled us to share information with each other. Therefore we can learn & adapt much more quickly than if we were all working alone.

The internet has enabled us to apply a ‘hive mind’ to healing (Check out the comments on my recent post Dietary treatment for SIBO for an example).

Not only has the internet enabled us to learn more rapidly, it has created crucial networks of support.

Anyone with a chronic and debilitating health condition knows how isolating that experience can be, particularly in the face of minimal encouragement for taking a nutritional approach from friends, family and medical practitioners.

Biochemist Elaine Gotschall

Biochemist Elaine Gotschall 1921-2005

Now we have each other~.

Elaine Gottschall was alone.

But not entirely alone!

She had the full support of her husband Herb, and she found the elderly Dr Sidney Haas, who had co-written a book in 1951 called The Management of Celiac Disease. The book described a protocol he had developed that restricted complex carbohydrates and eliminated sugar, grains and starch.

The book had (of course) been widely ignored & then shelved.

Dr Haas dusted it off. Elaine & Judy gave the diet a try.

After just 48-hours, Judy’s seizures ended forever. 2 years later, Judy was healed. And Dr. Haas had died.

Elaine tells the story (it starts at the 53 second mark):

The following is also beautifully told, so I haven’t changed a word.

Elaine’s Story

Quoted verbatim from the Breaking the Vicious Cycle:

Elaine Gottschall harbored no lofty ambitions of changing the world. Back in the 1950s living with her husband Herb and two small daughters in suburban New jersey, she considered herself and average American housewife – “your typical ‘Leave it to Beaver’ mom,” as she reminisces today.

She thrived in her role as wife and mother, content to lead a quiet, “normal” family life in blissful obscurity.

Then calamity struck. Elaine and Herb’s four-year-old daughter Judy became dreadfully ill. Diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis, she suffered acute, chronic intestinal distress and bleeding that was unresponsive to standard medical therapy.

Despite Elaine’s frantic attempts to find something, anything, that Judy’s system could tolerate, no food would nourish her – instead it would rapidly pass right through, almost completely unabsorbed. Yet the doctor insisted that food had nothing whatsoever to do with her illness.

As the sickness and malnutrition took their toll, the little girl stopped growing, and her sleep was disturbed by frightening episodes of delirium. Frustrated by the failure of one medication after another to stem the relentless course of the disease, Judy’s doctor gave Elaine and Herb an ultimatum; either consent to surgery to remove their daughter’s colon and attach an external bag for the collection of waste, or watch her slip into further debilitation, even death.

Overcome with helplessness and despair, Elaine broke down sobbing. Incredibly, instead of attempting to comfort the anguished mother, the doctor pointed an accusing finger at her and exclaimed, “What are you crying about? You have done this to her!” That humiliating incident left lasting scars, but it was to become Elaine Gottschall’s defining moment.

Refusing to accept one doctor’s opinion, Elaine and Herb desperately inquired of specialist after specialist, hoping to find one who would offer a glimmer of hope and a different approach. Yet, no matter where they turned, they were handed the same ultimatum: if the standard arsenal of drugs cannot keep the symptoms under control, surgery is the only alternative. (It was also reiterated that – despite the fact that this disease primarily involved the very organs that digested and absorbed Judy’s food – the type of food she ate was irrelevant.)

Just when they had become almost resigned to their fate, a chance encounter between two friends led to Elaine being given the name of then -92- year old Sidney V. Haas, MD, in New York City.

Dr. Haas had developed his nutritional approach to intestinal healing over a long, illustrious career, and wrote a textbook, which could be found in nearly every medical library in the world. His colleagues, however – unschooled in nutrition and dismissive of its importance in maintaining health – had abandoned his work in pursuit of new versions of the same standard drugs and of increasingly complex surgical procedures.

Though Herb couldn’t bear to see Judy undergo even one more painful diagnostic procedure – and their doctor ridiculed Dr. Haas and his methods as outdated relics of another era – Elaine was determined to hear what the kindly old doctor had to say.

After carefully examining Judy, Dr. Haas asked Elaine simply: “What has this child been eating?”

No doctor had ever asked her that question before.

He then instructed Elaine in how to implement his simple nutritional approach.

Within ten days of starting the regimen, the child’s neurological problems diminished. Within a few months, her intestinal symptoms began to improve and she started growing again, making up for lost time. Within two years, she was symptom-free

By this time, Dr. Haas had passed away. Elaine feared that, unless someone acted to carry on his legacy, his simple but effective remedy for digestive maladies would die with him, depriving other patients of the chance to stop suffering needlessly and achieve true intestinal health. She visited a medical library and poured over journals, soon discovering that Dr. Haas’s approach was well supported by sound scientific evidence. At Herb’s urging that she “find out what is going on,” she entered the halls of academia and the research laboratory at the age of 47, and earned degrees in biology, nutritional biochemistry, and cellular biology.

As her years of research wore one, Elaine began to experience a gnawing sense of disillusionment – fueled in part by her fellow researchers, failure to share her interest in integrating all of the evidence for the effects of food on intestinal health and translating it into clinical practice.

She despaired of all her hard work ever being channeled into helping real people who were suffering – people whose doctors might never recommend Dr. Haas’s approach. Elaine came perilously close to giving up but Herb refused to let her quit. He convinced her that the only way to get Dr. Haas’s message out to those who needed it most would be to begin private consulting and eventually to self-publish a book and make it accessible to the lay reader…

Thank you, Elaine! And Herb~.

We’ll take it from here.

5 thoughts on “Biohacking Pioneer: Elaine Gottschall

  1. Petra – another wonderful post. I’m loving what’s happening here at petra8paleo.

    Thank you for reminding me of the wonderful Elaine Gottschall. What a woman she was.

  2. Hello Petra,
    What a great person and health journey to know about. Really brings home the importance of trusting one’s own lights and of remembering & learning from the hard work of pioneers.

    I’ve been lurking and enjoying/appreciating your creative, smart, empowered, and encouraging posts for a few months–thanks for what you bring to the world. This is slightly off-topic, but I also want to thank you specifically for the tip about dandelion greens. I started incorporating a ‘strata’ of them into my layered ‘lunch jars,’ to great effect. Just the right amount of bitter.

    They’re good fresh (w/vinaigrette & roasted veggies + chicken, for example), but to also like to harvest them in quantity w/scissors from a pesticide-free area, wash them well, blanch them for 20-30 seconds, then freeze in ziplocs. You’re right; it feels perfectly subversive to hack health with foraged greens!
    Thanks and all best to you & your family–

  3. Elaine Gottschall changed my family’s life and probably saved both of my children’s lives. In 1995, my then 5 year old could not gain weight. She looked fatigued all the time. Docs ran all the tests they could to no avail. After a year, the specialists agreed, because they could find nothing that I was making it up and convincing my child to be sick. (Logical how?) Luckily I had a GP who was more broad minded and he said I should try an elimination diet, even though she had tested negative for food allergies. This felt overwhelming. I went to our local library (imagine no internet) and found Elaine’s book. That book became my bible. My daughter gained 7 lbs the first month. By the 3rd month, her energy had returned. 2 years later they developed a special blood test and determined she was a brittle juvenile diabetic that is brought on by a virus. She has never controlled her diabetes with insulin, but has relied on diet alone. 20 years later, she is still eating SCD/GAPS and is appreciative of all the recipe books and the internet that has so expanded her dinner table. I was so grateful for my daughter’s recovery, I went to meet Elaine. She was such an inspiration and became a force of nature when our second child entered our family. She was born with serious liver damage and went on to develop autism. Elaine encouraged us to keep the same diet for her. (My daughter’s progress initiated Elaine’s work being adopted by the autism community.) Today at 18, my daughter is fully recovered from autism and our Dr. credits this to the diet of our household and the other therapies we pursued along the way (none of them conventional). I am always so grateful when people honour Elaine’s work. For she truly personifies what mother’s with children facing health challenges are willing to do for their children and how their efforts ultimately reach beyond their own families. (kind of like you helping Matthew.) On a daily basis I work with individuals with neurological challenges and try to convince them that there is a link between their nervous system and their digestive system and they look at me amazed, like I told them that carrots and dogs have the same ancestors. Doctors continue to be the hardest sell, but some are definitely beginning to listen. Regardless, I always encourage mom’s to read Elaine’s book, if only for her story of perseverance. Thanks again Petra for highlighting Elaine’s contribution. Our family would look entirely different had she not written her little book.

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