Note from FoundHealth: This post is contributed by Dr. Greg Barsten, a practicing clinician for over 22 years. As a chiropractor, certified clinical nutritionist, and registered medical herbalist, he relentlessly pursues and studies health and natural healing methods at his Health Quest practice in Los Gatos, CA.
“All diseases begin in the gut” – Hippocrates
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) isn’t really a ‘disease’, but a functional
disorder of the stomach and lower esophagus. GERD or heartburn can manifest as:
- Pain in the stomach, chest or throat
- Burping, bloating and gas
What Happens with GERD and Heartburn?
When we eat, food passes into the stomach via the esophagus, where a ring of
muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) prevents food from backing up
into the esophagus. When this doesn’t happen, foods and acid can back up, causing
symptoms. Statistics show 1 in 10 Americans experience GERD or heartburn at least
once a week. Triggers can be obesity, smoking, alcohol, pregnancy, certain foods,
and some prescription medicines.
Standard Medical Treatments
Although weight loss and avoidance of trigger foods (spices, tomatoes, citrus,
caffeine, etc) can be suggested, most conventional treatment revolves around drugs.
These fall into 3 main categories:
- OTC medicines (Tums, Rolaids, Pepto-Bismol, Mylanta, Maalox, etc)
- H2 antagonists (Pepcid, Tagamet, Zantac, etc)
- Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid, Protonix, etc)
With nearly $14 billion in sales, they rank as the 3rd highest selling drugs in the
U.S., with PPIs leading the way. However according to the SF Department of Public
Health, up to 69% of these may not be necessary.
Serious Side Effects from Medical Treatments for GERD and Heartburn
These drugs come with side effects like constipation, hair loss, bad breath, diarrhea,
depression, joint pain, opportunistic infections such as candida and clostridium
difficile (1), as well as mineral deficiency and osteoporosis. In fact, a recent study
found that people taking PPIs for 1 year or more increased their risk of hip fractures
by 44% (2). However if untreated, issues can arise such as dental problems, ulcers
and Barrett’s esophagus (precancerous tissue). Although knowing your triggers can
be preventive, it’s important to know your REAL CAUSES. So what do you do?
What’s REALLY Going On?
Drugs may be useful short-term. However all interfere with normal digestive
function. Many physicians don’t realize the problem is NOT hydrochloric acid
(HCL) excess, which we need to ionize and absorb minerals, disinfect pathogens
and stimulate gallbladder/pancreatic enzyme release. The acids causing symptoms
are metabolic waste acids due to food fermentation from a lack of sufficient HCL
production. This can be proven with a Heidelberg Gastric Analyzer in a clinic.
Fixing GERD and Heartburn: Restore Normal Gut Function
Ultimately, we need to restore normal nerve signaling between the brain and
stomach through the vagus nerve located in our brainstem. What causes the weak
communication? Turns out that inflammation (from stress, poor diet, infections,
smoking, weight gain, etc) dampen the area in the brain responsible for telling the
stomach to secrete a normal amount of HCL (through the parietal cells). Guess what
doesn’t happens with chronic, low HCL production? You get esophageal sphincter
relaxation, and then bingo, hello reflux!
The 5-Step GERD/Heartburn Fix
- Soothe gastric/esophageal irritation: using time-tested demulcent herbs like marshmallow root, slippery elm, plantain and deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). Can be taken as capsules or a tea several times a day for a few days to weeks.
- Rule out H. Pylori infection (bacteria responsible for most gastric ulcers) through stool, blood, saliva or breath test with your licensed healthcare professional.
- Rule out a hiatal hernia. Severe cases require surgery, however most are mild and easily fixed by manual therapies (chiropractor, osteopath, etc). It may take several visits to stabilize. Also consider yoga stomach vacuum exercises, which greatly help the abdominal organs.
- Take plant-sourced digestive enzymes with cooked meals. This helps support normal digestive process along with eating more raw foods (note: you may need to blend/puree raw foods initially if any gastric upset).
- Try adding 1-3 teaspoons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar after meals. If you feel improvement of symptoms, you may need more. If any digestive upset, you may need a longer period of the demulcent/soothing herbs.
In addition to these measures, you may want to try:
- Eat earlier in evening. Wait at least 2 hours after dinner before going to bed
- Chew your food well!
- Take a quality probiotic supplement upon arising in the morning
- Eat in a relaxed environment and avoid TV while eating
- Drink no more than 1 glass of beverage with meals (diluting effect)
Lifestyle, dietary and nutritional changes have proven highly successful for reflux
disorders in our practice at www.healthquestforme.com for many years. Please
consult your licensed healthcare professional before starting any treatments.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to
diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
1) Amy Linsky, MD, et al. Proton Pump Inhibitors and Risk for Recurrent Clostridium difficile
Infection. Arch Intern Med 2010 May 170(9):772-778.
2) Yang YX, et al. Long-term proton pump inhibitor therapy and risk of hip fracture. JAMA. 2006
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