Paul Wellman

Smashed between two cars as a kid, Dr. Alexandra Carswell Engle suffered seven fractures to her left pelvis. On top of the constant back pain, the injury damaged her digestive system, and she was eventually diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. Into adulthood, she remembers, “I sought help from a wide array of practitioners, but it wasn’t until I met a naturopathic doctor that things really shifted. Making dietary changes alone, my pain dropped by half. I was hooked, and I knew I needed to learn more.”

She went all in, becoming a licensed and board-certified naturopathic medical doctor in 2015 at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. Professionally, the Santa Barbara native goes by Dr. ACE (a play on her initials), and in 2016 she opened Regenerative Health Medical Center on the Mesa. Her fiancé, David Downey, is the center’s director of operations and medical fitness programs, which also has an outpost in El Segundo.

I met weekly with Dr. ACE as she monitored my diet and vitals while I focused on the nutritional puzzle piece of keeping pace with my two young daughters and my middle-aged goals to remain physically nimble without sending myself to the ER (again). Basically, despite steady exercise and normal caloric intake, I was feeling sluggish and stressed. Dr. ACE put me on a strict diet for a month — no caffeine, refined sugar, dairy, or grains (except organic white rice and quinoa) — and then I reintroduced omitted foods in phases to see how my body responded. She discussed that nutrition is a foundational part of health but that other factors — such as hormones, movement, and stress — are also very important.

For me, the six-week reset program was more tune-up than overhaul, as I wasn’t suffering from Crohn’s disease or type 2 diabetes, like some of her other patients. I did shed a few pounds of fat and learned that sugar gives me a headache, coffee makes me tense, and dairy stuffs my sinuses. I could live with those symptoms — I did for decades, actually — but at this point, I’d rather not. So I’ve cut way back on the stuff, and I feel a lot better overall.

Here’s a quick Q&A with Dr. ACE for more.

Let’s start with a crash course in inflammation. Acute, or short-term, inflammation is important. If you sprain your ankle, for example, your body mounts an inflammatory response to bring new cells and blood flow and to clear metabolic waste.

Long-term, or chronic, inflammation from certain foods, stress, lack of sleep, dehydration — the list goes on — is the source of degenerative diseases, like heart disease, arthritis, etc. When dealing with chronic inflammation, on a basic level, safe and natural aids include fish oil and curcumin, which we can get by incorporating lots of wild fatty fish and curry. It’s always important to know why we are taking anything, however, and I recommend lab tests to assess patient health and to know exactly [where improvements can be made].

But eating my fatty fish curry at my desk at work is not good. It’s not, because when you’re stressed, your body shifts its priorities away from digestion and focuses on survival. You don’t secrete the digestive enzymes and stomach acid, so you don’t digest and absorb the nutrients as well, which can make you prone to bloating, indigestion, etc. So by taking a break from work and being in a relaxed state for lunch, your body can properly digest and absorb the nutrients it needs.

Your approach encourages patients to really get onboard rather than sitting back waiting to feel better. Your health is a product of the choices you make every day. To be healthy is a choice, and my job is to empower my patients to make informed decisions. I don’t cure people. I educate them and provide them with targeted recommendations for their health, be it nutrition, lifestyle habits, herbs, vitamins and minerals, hormones, manual therapies, etc. I can also work with their joints through injection therapy to increase stability and function while decreasing pain.

Anything you’d like to add? Your body is trying to help you. Listen to it, and learn what it’s asking for.

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