Grafton’s Elaine Gottschall has dedicated her life to helping
people overcome colitis and other digestive diseases with the right
diet, writes Karen Hawthorne.
In the early 1960s, when her little girl kept having nosebleeds,
seizures and hallucinations that terrified her half the night, Elaine
reached a breaking point. She had taken her to doctor after doctor
after doctor, and the answer was always the same — her four-year-old
daughter Judy wasn’t going to get better.
She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a severe inflammation of
the lining of the colon that was unresponsive to standard medical therapy.
She was sick and malnourished; food would rapidly pass through her
body, almost completely unabsorbed despite Elaine’s frantic attempts
to find something that her child’s system could tolerate.
By the time Judy was eight, Elaine and her husband, Herb, had taken
her to several different specialists who said that surgery was the
only option — her colon had to be removed, she’d have to
wear a bag for waste collection and continue on steroids.
I couldn’t let that happen,” Elaine says. “I have
certainly prayed enough, but when she became sick, I almost lost my
faith. Why do bad things happen to good people?”
The worst of it came when Elaine broke down sobbing at her doctor’s
office. Instead of offering comfort, he fired an accusation: “What
are you crying about? You have done this to her.”
I couldn’t believe it,” Elaine recalls. The incident left
lasting scars, but it also became her defining moment. She would help
to save her daughter’s life — and the lives of people around
the world with her sheer determination.
She got the name through a friend of a 92-year-old physician in New
York City, Dr. Sydney Hass. He had developed a nutritional approach
to intestinal healing and published a textbook available in many medical
libraries; however, his colleagues had abandoned his work in pursuit
of new versions of the standard drugs and surgeries.
After examining Judy, he asked Elaine what she had been feeding her
daughter. It was that simple — Judy needed to eat mostly meat,
fruits and vegetables, and cut out carbohydrates such as grains, flour
and sugar. She could have foods baked with nut flours, including ground
almonds and pecans, bread made with boiled beans, specially-prepared
yogurt, and some natural cheeses. The diet was not hard to follow,
although it required extra food preparation and planning, and it changed
her life. “
Within a week, the seizures stopped never to return, it was incredible,” says
Elaine. In two years, Judy was symptom free and continued on the diet.
While her daughter became healthy, Elaine became angry. This was the
early 1960s and research on lactose intolerance dated back to the early
1900s. Her daughter had suffered so terribly and she wanted to know
why? Why had the medical community ignored food science? Dr. Haas had
died and Elaine feared that unless someone acted to carry on his legacy,
his simple diet remedy would die with him, robbing other patients of
the chance for recovery.
I said, ‘Herb, I’m mad. I’m truly mad.’ So
he told me to get back to school to find out what the blankety-blank
is going on.”
At 47, the former secretary and stay-at-home mom decided to go back
to school, earning degrees over the next 19 years in biology, nutritional
biochemistry and cellular biology.
I had to have the background and the credentials to debate this,” she
says. She went from being a “Leave it to Beaver mom” to
teaching at Fanshawe College in London, starting a consulting practice
and self-publishing a book, Food and the Gut Reaction, in 1987. She
saw it as the only way to get her message across and to help real people
who were suffering. That was the beginning. She ramped up to self-funded
distribution and publicity campaigns, appearances on the Dini Petty
show and coverage on CBC radio.
Today, at 82, Elaine still loves freshly-made carrot juice and cold
spinach soup. She is as much a go-getter as ever, blending her passion
for growing hollyhocks and vegetables with saving lives. With connections
to a number of on-line support groups, she checks her e-mail at least
three times a day, pouring over questions from people all over the
world who want information on treating digestive-related illnesses:
chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome,
celiac, even autism and cystic fibrosis. Above her desk, a poster reads: “Be
true to thine self”.
I’ve given up caring that it will be accepted,” she says
of the reaction of the medical community to her books and research. “The
world’s a crazy place anyway and you can’t do much about
Her second book, Breaking the Vicious Cycle, is now in its eighth printing
and has been published in more than a dozen different languages. She
runs her publishing company — packs up her books and ships them
off to Chapters locations, health food stores and private individuals
who call her up — out of her Grafton home, perched on a hilltop
with an inspiring view of the surrounding farmlands.
She and her husband moved here six years ago after selling their farm
outside Stratford; Herb died two years ago after a lengthy battle with
As Herb used to say, it’s one step down from heaven here,” she
says. Her daughter, Judy Herod, works in Port Hope and lives in nearby
Fenella on 12 acres conducive to following the diet, about 85 per cent
of the time, with home-grown vegetables, fruit, poultry, eggs and home-cultivated
honey. Judy, her husband and their two children are hardly ever sick. “I
had my life turned around (by the diet)” thanks to the determination
of her parents.
“She’s indomitable — I really admire what she’s doing,” Judy
says. “Sometimes people call her up three times in a night. She helps them
all. She has so much empathy.”
Elaine insists that she hasn’t done anything unusual, and she’s
not about to give up now:
If one parent is helped, by God, I’m going to keep going. That’s
good enough for me.” J
Based in Port Hope, Karen Hawthorne is a freelance writer and editor
of Go! Magazine.
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Breaking the Vicious Cycle Web site is intended to support the book Breaking
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Gottschall and is for information purposes only. It
is not the intention of this site to diagnose, prescribe, or replace medical
or nutrition expert should be consulted before undertaking
a radical change of diet.
© 2005 Breaking the Vicious Cycle