WHAT ARE ACID REFLUX AND GERD?
Acid reflux happens when contents from your stomach move up into your esophagus. It’s also called acid regurgitation or gastroesophageal reflux. If you have symptoms of acid reflux more than twice a week, you might have a condition called GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease. According to the latest research data, it appears that about 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from GERD. Now, more than ever, it is vital to know if you have this condition and work to improve healthy digestion. Knowing that 70 percent of your immune cells reside in the digestive tract, it is vitally important to maintain a healthy microbiome with healthy gut bacteria. It is also important to note the gut-brain connection that exists, which has been well-documented in Dr. David Perlmutter M.D.’s New York Times best- selling book entitled “ Grain Brain.” The serotonin receptors in the gut and brain help to keep your moods stable while improving digestive function. While there are many over-the-counter and prescription medications for acid reflux and GERD, there are also natural solutions, including lifestyle changes and nutritional supplements.
Acid reflux can cause an uncomfortable burning feeling in your chest, which can radiate up towards your neck. In fact, many people end up going to the nearest emergency room as they feel like they are having a heart attack. This is typically what heartburn feels like. You may also develop a sour or bitter taste in your mouth. There may be occasional regurgitation of food or liquid from your stomach into your mouth. In some cases, GERD can cause difficulty swallowing. It can sometimes lead to breathing problems, like a chronic dry cough or asthma.
COMMON CAUSES OF GERD
The lower esophageal sphincter or (LES) is a circular band of muscle at the end of your esophagus. When it is working correctly, it relaxes and opens when you swallow. Then it tightens and closes again afterward. Acid reflux happens when your lower esophageal sphincter does not tighten or close properly. This allows digestive juices and other stomach contents to rise up into your esophagus. Other factors that can cause or contribute to GERD include high stress, poor sleep, leaky gut or dysbiosis, junk food diet, and prescription medications, to name a few.
If your doctor suspects you may be suffering from GERD, he or she may refer you to a specialist called a gastroenterologist for further examination. The specialist may order tests to confirm a diagnosis for you. These include barium swallow, upper endoscopy or EGD, esophageal manometry, and esophageal pH monitoring.
CONVENTIONAL MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR GERD
For most standard medical care, the total focus has been on the overproduction of stomach acid as the primary problem and treatment with acid-blocking drugs as the primary intervention. Acid and the enzymes it activates in gastric secretions can irritate the lining of the stomach and lower esophagus, causing pain and other symptoms of GERD. Still, in very rare circumstances, the overproduction of acid is to blame. Adequate acid in the stomach facilitates the digestion of protein and absorption of key vitamins like B12, calcium, magnesium, and iron. It is also an important defense against infections. Trying to manage GERD solely by blocking acid production in the stomach without attending to the many other factors involved is not a wise strategy, especially in the long run. Acid blocking drugs are now some of the most widely sold medications in the U.S. These are the drugs that block histamine receptors, including Tagamet, Zantac (recently withdrawn from the market by the FDA), and Pepcid. These medications mostly affect meal-induced acid production but work poorly in between meals. Also, the proton pump inhibitors or PPIs are the most potent acid-blocking drugs available. Omeprazole ( Prilosec) was the first in this class, dating back to 1989. Think of all the television ads for “the purple pill” Nexium. PPIs are superior to the histamine blockers in healing gastric ulcers and intestinal ulcers and in the treatment of H. pylori (the bacteria that cause upper gastrointestinal problems). These drugs were initially developed to be used for 90 days of short term treatment. As you know, many people take these medications daily for years, with no regard for their long-term risks. Long-term use of these medications can inhibit normal, beneficial organisms, while encouraging the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
NATURAL APPROACHES TO MANAGING GERD
Evaluating dietary habits, stress levels, and other aspects of a person’s life known to affect GI function is the first place to start. Examining and changing dietary habits should be one of the first considerations when attempting to manage GERD naturally. Interestingly enough, waist size has a direct correlation to the risk of developing reflux esophagitis and other more severe conditions. Weight loss can significantly help with these symptoms and prevent long-term complications. Dietary strategies like consuming frequent small meals, avoiding high-fat meals, and limiting spicy and acidic foods can make a difference. An upright position should be maintained for at least three hours after eating to allow food to digest and empty from the stomach. Elevating the head of the bed at night and sleeping on the left side have been shown to benefit individuals with nighttime reflux symptoms. Other lifestyle measures to consider include smoking cessation, avoiding or limiting NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen) as they irritate the lining of the stomach and increase risks of bleeding. Controlling stress with meditation, exercise, deep breathing exercises, and herbal remedies can prove to be very effective.
NATURAL SUPPLEMENTS WHICH CAN HELP REDUCE GERD
Many herbal and natural remedies have shown the ability to promote gastric motility and reduce symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and GI upset, including Ginger, L- Glutamine, Probiotics, Digestive Enzymes, Zinc, and Pyloricil. They have also shown to be helpful in individuals diagnosed with GERD. Other natural therapies that can be effective include such things as aloe vera juice, DGL licorice, fenugreek, and slippery elm, to name a few.
Knowing when drugs are necessary, when natural alternatives are better, and when to let your body heal on its own is vital to optimal health.