Batting the Burn Part 3

Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander
6 min readFeb 11, 2020

Discovering the root cause of my stomach problems

A brief history

In Battling the Burn Part One and Part Two, I described the history of my life with GERD. I suffered my entire life with GERD and can’t remember a time when I did not have issues with indigestion, fullness, and bloating. I spent many years trying to figure out how to get off medication, and it wasn’t until 2019 that I decided that I had to stop taking medication and find a way no matter how hard or time consuming that might be. In the winter and spring of 2019, I began an investigative approach to my indigestion. This strategy lead me to start eliminating certain foods. I also kept a detailed food log so that I might find the foods that cause the most issues. I also discovered many helpful rules around eating and hydration that lead me to stop taking any form of acid reducer. All of this took several weeks and was time-consuming as well as stressful. Even though I could go days without having issues, the “burn” was still there. At times I was so sensitive, and I felt like there had to be something I was missing. I was right in so many ways. I was missing vital pieces of information needed to heal my stomach.

Finding a better way

The first step toward understanding how my body functions and why I had continued indigestion, began when I started researching functional medicine and how it could help heal my gut. Functional medicine is a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Instead of looking at the symptom and just treating that manifestation, functional medicine looks at the root cause of a symptom. I realized that my entire life, I have been just treating a symptom, while never understanding the root cause of my acid reflux. The mainstream medical professionals didn’t help me find the cause; they were treating the symptoms, which caused even more issues like B12 deficiency, as I became older.

ALCAT Food Sensitivity Test

Before I was able to be seen by a functional medicine doctor, I had an ALCAT Food Sensitivity test as well as a micronutrient panel drawn through a private company. I was amazed at the results. I couldn’t understand why after months of eating clean, I still had indigestion. Not as severe, but still causing issues. It turns out; I have a lot of food sensitivities. To healthy foods! Bananas and almonds, for example. I ate those foods almost every day — avocados and apples, spinach and salmon, even black and green tea. I am severely sensitive to gluten, which I already suspected, and a few other things, which luckily I don’t eat. However, the list is long for those foods that cause mild to moderate irritation. When consumed in combination, a perfect storm of heartburn awaits. Now I had even more answers. Especially on why, after a day of healthy eating and no gluten, I might still have indigestion.

My first appointment

My very first meeting with my new doctor lasted two hours! Yes, two hours. I have never had anyone spend that much time with me. I was thrilled to delve into what could be the root cause of my issues and shocked at how my poor gut health was leading me to develop deficiencies such as Vitamin B12 and Oleic Acid. My new provider’s first questions were around the health of my mother and grandmother. I learned that my grandmother played a significant role in my stomach health by being sick herself.

I remember learning in biology about fetus development but didn’t put that together in regards to my health until my new doctor explained the link. Now so many things made sense. I realized that my food sensitivities might have ultimately begun because my grandmother was sick throughout her pregnancies. My mother was developing the egg and genetic material for me while developing herself. Although this was the root cause of my poor genetic material, other factors lead to even more damage to my gut. I was also very ill as a child and had to be on heavy-duty antibiotics. My good gut bacteria didn’t stand a chance.

The next few chain of events is what ultimately lead me to start taking medication — first, lousy genetics. Second, I was not born vaginally. Getting real personal here, but babies receive good gut bacteria through vaginally delivery. I missed out on that. Third, I was sick as a kid after having chickenpox that caused a severe staph infection. Then I kept getting strep throat in elementary school, and the cycle of antibiotics continued. Notice a sad pattern here. I also ate tons of processed foods and wasn’t interested in vegetables or much protein. Hence, at age 15 or 16, I began taking a proton pump inhibitor to keep the burn at bay.

All of this, I learned in my first appointment! I now have so much more information to determine the best way forward to heal my gut.

Overwhelming

There are days that I feel so overwhelmed with it all. Although I am a healthy eater now, believe it or not, I wouldn’t say I like having to think so hard about which foods to eat and what might or might not be on my list of foods to avoid. I feel abnormal and weird that I can’t enjoy an apple or banana without some level of pain or irritation. Thank goodness for berries and chicken! At this early stage of learning, I am trying not to stress and to think positively about the steps I have made toward a healed digestive system.

Forward Progress

Over the last two months now, I have made progress with my stomach in ways I never thought possible. I am ok most days. There are others that I can’t figure out why I hurt. I suspect I might have other issues going on and even something called SIBO. I plan to start a ten-day detox next week. No sugar! That means I make my owns meals, and I won’t be going to my favorite coffee shop, oddly coffee isn’t on the sensitive list, but I don’t want to have any added sugar. My next appointment is at the end of Feb, and I look forward to learning more about how to heal my gut.

Family Ties

My grandmother was a loving and kind woman. I remember clearly that she always made pimento cheese sandwiches for us and let us wear my grandfather’s t-shirts to sleep in on nights we stayed at her house. I don’t ever remember an unkind word from her. She was also very sick for most of her life. She had lupus and other chronic health problems. She gave birth to 5 daughters and was a grandmother of 11 boys and girls.

Almost my entire family has some variation of a chronic autoimmune disease. It is pretty mind-boggling. I don’t say any of this as a criticism or anger at my genetics, just an observation. The new understanding of my biology has helped me understand who I am at the cellular level. It means I have to work harder to combat my poor immune function and make sure I am eating foods that heal and promote my well-being. After 16 or more years of believing that I had no control over these things, I realize now that it is possible to control and maintain a healthy body no matter what genetics throw at you.

Originally published at https://pharmd-fitness.com.

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Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander

Pharmacist.Personal Trainer.Lift heavy, skip the run.Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.