My daily weekday diet has always been a variation on a theme. Cereal and toast for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and then chicken with sauce and rice for dinner. During the day I would snack on cereal bars, chocolate and cake.
Following what I discovered about heartburn being caused by a lack of acid, too much carbs and a relaxed oesophagus muscle I decided to try a change in my diet. At a high level this meant cutting out some carbs, increasing my protein intake and cutting out the crap as much as possible. So breakfast turned into whole wheat cereal and an egg. I completely removed sandwiches from lunch and replaced snacks with healthier alternatives. I exercise about 6 hours per week so it’s important for me not to lose too many carbs and keep my calorie intake up.
The first week of this provided some interesting results. I always thought that eggs gave me heartburn, they don’t, it’s the toast I used to have with them. You don’t have to feel tired and bloated after lunch – again the bread! Only once did I experience heartburn in that first week and that was after eating too much in one go, but since then it’s been fine. I’m at the end of my second week and still no heartburn. I’ve also gradually introduced some treats into my diet but still no bread or crisps. I’ve stuck to very dark chocolate and even made some almond flour based donuts.
I’ve basically taken aspects of the Paleo diet. It’s interesting when you remove a chunk of carbs from your diet it forces you to look for other food to replace the calories and this tends to be more nutritious. The more nutritious food you eat, the better you feel. The better you feel, the more you want to eat well. What a great cycle!
I’m going to stick with this longer and see where it takes me, I’ll keep the blog updated.
I was 18 and my mum had been diagnosed with MS, I was just starting university to study a degree in physics and to be honest didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do with my life. They are meant to be the best years of your life but I’m not sure about that. What happened to me next knocked me side ways completely. I started getting a lot of tingling in my arms and hands, a lot more than you would put down to pins and needles. My walking was degrading and to be honest I just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t prepared for MS and well and truly knew the implications and what it meant for my life. It was horrible and thinking about it made me sick. It was difficult enough with my mum often stuck in bed never mind me coming down with a debilitating illness.
So that was my late teens and early 20s, luckily the symptoms dissipated once I got through uni and took up my first job. Life was good, good friends, MS nowhere to be seen and a bit of cash – what could go wrong. What about Motor neuron disease? How about that- well along it came when I was 33. Some similar symptoms to ME but more consistent and much worse a guaranteed death sentence. MND slowly decapacitates you until you no longer have control of any of your body functions, including the muscles that breath for you. Living 7 years is a very best case scenario but 3 is more realistic.
Luckily the MND was slow moving and I have been able to live a normal life into my late 30s. Well up until the point cancer came along. With a combination of a brain tumour, stomach cancer and bowel cancer I was in a bad place. The headaches, the aching stomach pains and constant diarrhoea was unbearable on top of contemplating death. Even though I had considered it before with MS and MND it didn’t make it any easier. I had and still do have a lovely wife and kids who just didn’t deserve it.
The final and most significant illness in my life of illnesses was diagnosed when I was 37. I clearly remember the morning, I was feeling awful, paralysed with pain and worry. I’m not one for going to the doctor but something made me go that morning, a voice inside of me if you like. I went along, almost on autopilot. Sat down in the surgery the doctor asked what the problem was. Instead of telling her all about the pains and illness something else took over me and I said “I’m not coping”, she said with what, and I said “life”. She said “well that’s tough, really tough. More common than you might think and luckily very treatable”.
That day I was diagnosed with Health Anxiety, also know as hypochondria and was probably one of the biggest turning points in my life. So you’ve probably guessed that I don’t have MS, MND or cancer, certainly not that I’m aware of. But it’s amazing what your body can physically make you feel if your mind instructs it. To me the symptoms were real, very real.
More about what happened next in my next post.
Your stomach uses hydrochloride acid to help digest the food you eat. It has the other added advantage of keeping unwanted bacteria at bay. He more acid you have the higher the pH of your stomach juices, the less bacteria can survive and the faster you can digest food. This is of course very high level and not a very scientific explanation but as long as you get the point that’s fine.
Things get interesting when your acid levels are lower. Firstly, your stomach cannot process foods as fast as it would with more acid. Secondly, unwanted bacteria starts to thrive. In particular the bacteria will thrive on the us digested carbohydrates (bread, crisps, pasta) sitting in your stomach. And what’s the matter with that I hear you cry, well the issue is bacteria create a lot of gas, litres of it actually. This all causes pressure, giving you that bloated feeling and helps push that acid back up into your oesophagus. It doesn’t end here though, for the most part the little valve that keeps acid in your stomach is strong enough to keep it down. But what if that valve was weakened or even relaxed, yep you’ve guessed up comes the acid. He unfortunate fact here is that some of our favourites, chocolate, coffee, alcohol do a good job of relaxing this muscle – spotting anything familiar? Coffee + chocolate + alcohol + bread = heartburn? That’s the reason, simple eh?
So the final part to the puzzle is to understand why you have low acid levels. As humans our acid levels drop over time as we get older, and based on your genes this may happen faster for you or slower. Not much you can do about that. What enhances this though is our good old friends, the heartburn pills and potions. They all are based around lowering acid levels. Sure it helps in the short term as it means there is nothing to push up the osopegus. But long term they are actually making you worse.
So that’s the reasoning, next post explains my experiment. See here
For many years now I’ve been a Zantac addict, well initially Gaviscon and more recently Zantac, in fact to be honest I’ve also been prone to the double dose ones you get in the US. Yes, a could of these usually sort me out but recently I’ve become more concerned that I’m not addressing the root cause. Last weekend I had a eureka moment. Well maybe it’s more of an epiphany. Due to my son having a race weekend I wasn’t able to have my normal weekend tipple – a whisky, Mojito, a few beers and some wine is normally on the menu – not all of them but certainly a few? I’m not a big drinker, 4 beers and I’m well on but I do like to chill with a few at the weekend – like most people. Of course with the drink came the acid in the food pipe and out comes the Zantac! But back to the epiphany. Last weekend I had no alcohol – not a drop. The odd thing was on Sunday morning the heartburn was there in all it’s glory. I thought to myself this isn’t fair – I’ve not had the treat but I’m suffering the consequences. Rather than play the victim I think it’s important in life to understand why you are in the position you are and then see if you can change it or at least stop it from happening again.
So I put on my research head and started googling. What I found completely stunned me and at the same time gave me that feeling when everything clicks into place – a chunk of your life makes sense. An epiphany I would say. So here it is. Heartburn is not caused by too much acid, it’s caused by not enough. Crazy I hear you say? All that acid burning your windpipe and it’s because you don’t have enough of the stuff. It sounds illogical but trust me it makes sense.
I’ll talk through the thinking briefly, and then a bit about my personal experiment to prove or disprove the theory.
More in part 2 …