Dr. Christine Bowen is a diet therapy expert. She is an experienced naturopathic physician, specializing in treating gastrointestinal conditions like IBD, IBS and SIBO, and a host of other conditions that can benefit from gut healing.
We have known her for years, and were delighted to see her adopting the Specific Carbohydrates Diet (SCD) and using it successfully on herself and her patients.
She participated in both SCD symposiums at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and lectured about SCD in patient education events organized by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCFA) NW. Recently, I got together again with Dr. Bowen for tea and SCD snacks to chat about her personal experience with SCD and the use of the diet in her practice.
Dr. Bowen, how did you become interested in SCD?
I have been following SCD for myself and helping my patients follow SCD since about 2008. I had suffered with daily diarrhea, pain, embarrassment and a feeling of being un-helpable since I was about 16 years old. At 32 years old, I was a newly practicing Naturopathic Doctor with a passion for helping my patients with digestive ailments. Yes, the irony is that I was still sick and miserable with my own problems but still very passionate about helping my patients. I had tried a slew of treatments: allergy elimination diets, probiotics, digestive enzymes, fiber, I even quit my job (to make sure stress wasn’t the cause). You name it, I tried it. I had a normal colonoscopy but showed positive fecal inflammatory markers. I was declared as having IBS and that was that. I got the message that this was going to be my “normal” for the duration of my life.
One day, I received a random e-mail at my office from a woman who had been following SCD for 10 years and had helped to get and keep her Ulcerative Colitis in remission. I was intrigued to learn more about this diet and in order to learn the details, I decided to follow it for myself and within 3 days of doing so was 100% symptom free for the first time in my adult life!!! I was amazed, surprised and inspired and dug deeply into SCD and never looked back! I realized that there was a huge community of children and adults who needed to know about this option for helping with IBD and needed support, guidance and thorough care while doing so. I became an SCD IBD specialist and continue to be to this day. This process is ongoing and my patients and I are constantly learning and growing together.
Are you using SCD as a diet therapy for conditions other than IBD?
In addition to using SCD for treating my patients with IBD, I have used it very successfully for treating many other conditions such as auto-immunity, diabetes, obesity, SIBO, IBS, Psoriasis and much, much more. I also recognize that SCD has its limitations and have sadly had to shift away from it when it isn’t the appropriate treatment for some patients. People with allergies to nuts, seeds, eggs or dairy may not respond favorably to this diet. Sometimes patient with auto-immune conditions may need to have nightshades removed from the diet to heal. I can give examples of a few cases of SCD healing in my practice:
One patient is a 65-year-old man with ulcerative pancolitis (the whole thing is inflamed and bleeding) that is completely steroid dependent for keeping him alive and semi-functional. On meeting him 2 years ago, he was a skeleton of a man and barely had energy for walking from one end of the room to the other. He was on 5 ASA and his Gastroenterologist wanted to remove his whole colon. He was in my office to fight for is life and to avoid surgery. Sound familiar? We started SCD and he had very little improvement in his health and symptoms until at least 6 months in. We wondered if he was having an allergy to 5 ASA and once we tapered it, found that he experienced very slight improvement in his symptoms. One year later, he had gained a few pounds and had been able to slowly taper his Prednisone to just a very small dose of 5 mg/day. 2 years later, his health is about 50-60% improved but he still has a long way to go. This is the reality of what a very complicated case is like and the key to his healing may have been nothing more than just applying the right therapy, removing the wrong therapy and sticking with SCD over a very long period of time.
Another case that I saw this year was a little boy, just 9 years old, with IBD, SIBO and general digestive problems since he was born. His malabsorption was so severe that it is suspected that his conditions made it difficult for him to develop normally and that he had permanent neurological and learning deficits. The first time I met him, he struck me as a very happy boy with a bright red and inflamed face, a tiny underweight stature and a voracious hunger (I watched him wolf down his blueberries in about 5 seconds flat). He had tested positive for SIBO and was recently diagnosed with IBD. Instead of just choosing SCD, I also had them eliminate High FODMAP foods (referred to as the SIBO Specific Diet) and due to lack of growth and general nutrition, added a powdered elemental diet to his protocol. One month later his fecal calprotectin was normal and he was growing and his face was not so inflamed. His parents took him to a local GI and they pushed for expanding his diet to include nuts and wanted to remove the elemental diet powder. One month later he was in flare again. After removal of nuts and adding back the powdered formula, he is back on a healing path.
What is your treatment philosophy?
We (doctors) have to know when to push, what to push with and by how much. We get anxious to see the commonly experienced miraculous cases of 3 day healing and may move too quickly through the stages. There are those cases where people experience complete elimination of symptoms in 2 weeks or less but that isn’t always the way this process unfolds.
I know that working with skilled clinicians, having a supportive community and family and just allowing time for healing will help individuals managing IBD with SCD to have the best possible outcome. The standard plan is right for only a fraction of the patients who try it, so a more tailored and individualized approach is often the best answer.
You volunteered your time to lecture about SCD on several occasions, including twice, on two different years, at patient education events that were organized the CCFA in Seattle.
Why is this outreach important for you?
SCD and holistic treatment approaches are often sought by patients with IBD and their families but rarely are these treatment approaches offered as a possible way to treat IBD when a new diagnosis is received or a medication is no longer working. I feel that diet modification should be among the first treatments tried instead of the last. The old rhetoric in the conventional medical community was "diet has nothing to do with digestive diseases" and now I am hopeful that as more research is done and more patients are helped that we can turn the tide toward diet therapy being a valid treatment approach and front and center in all cases, not just for the few who like doing research. One of my patients actually made the suggestion for me to speak at the CCFA because she felt that so many people could benefit from this approach and that no one ever talked about it at the conferences (that is no longer the case). I feel so passionate about this medicine that I want to shout it from the rooftop!
What is your advice for patients that you feel can benefit from SCD, but are reluctant to adopt such a restricted diet?
Try it for 2 weeks and then reassess how you feel. Talk to others who have done it or are doing it and get prepared. Not everybody is able to follow this diet. Even small amounts of dietary change such as eliminating sugar or processed foods can help bodies heal faster. What do you have to lose by trying it?
What are a few of your favorite SCD foods/meals or snacks?
Definitely anything with zucchini noodles or cauliflower rice! I make an SCD version of Beef Stroganoff that is a huge hit in my home and also egg fried rice made with cauliflower rice. I also have perfected an SCD Jambalaya that is fabulous even cold. My favorite dessert is a mushed banana, peanut butter, a drizzle of honey, chopped nuts and a sprinkle of sea salt, heaven!!
Here is a very useful SCD at a glance fact page that Dr. Bowen is sharing with her patients. The page was compiled by doctor Christine Bowen and by Michelle Gallik, a patient advocate and health coach.
Here is the article that Dr. Bowen wrote about the Specific Carbohydrates Diet for the alternative medicine magazine Townsend in June 2017.
Dr. Bowen is the owner of Bothell Natural Health.