Girding For GERD
The Causes and Natural Treatments for Heartburn
Heartburn, also known as acid reflux or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the most common digestive problems - 24% of us experience heartburn daily or even multiple times each day. It is often mistaken that GERD is due to too much acid in the stomach. In fact GERD symptoms are due to a weakened or damaged lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Your LES is the muscular gate that separates your stomach from your throat. When weak, it loses its ability to stop the backflow of stomach contents (including stomach acid) upward into your esophagus (throat), damaging its lining and triggering burning and pain in your throat and chest.
Most people are familiar with the heartburn associated with GERD however you can also experience other symptoms such as:
- Acid regurgitation
- Bad breath, sour or bitter taste in your mouth
- Chronic dry cough, wheezing
- Difficulty with swallowing, sore throat
- Hoarseness in the morning
- Tooth erosion
Everyone, from infants to adults can have reflux from time to time but there are some risk factors that increase your probability:
- Age (being over 50 years old)
- Weight (Excess abdominal fat puts pressure on the stomach)
- Hiatal hernias (when part of your stomach pushes upward through your diaphragm)
- Consuming certain types of food and drink (your personal triggers)
- Some medication can cause heartburn, such as anti-inflammatory drugs, some antidepressants, calcium channel blockers and corticosteroids
You can definitely change a few things to your daily routine to help manage GERD.
- Trim your waistline. Maintaining a healthy weight is the best way to control GERD or chronic heartburn. A study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology demonstrated that GERD symptoms were worse for each pound increase in weight. More startling is that losing just 10–15 pounds decreases the occurrence of frequent heartburn by approximately 40%. Losing 10-15 pounds may not be easy, but the payoff in pain reduction from heartburn is huge, as well as all the other health benefits.
- Eat smaller meals (instead of 3 copious meals) and try to take digestive enzymes before your meal to help encourage fast, more complete digestion.
- Avoid lying down or going to bed for at least 2-3 hours after meals as that's when acid production is at its peak. Lying down after eating makes it easier for the gastric acid to come back up.
- Optimize your gut flora by taking a good (preferably certified organic) Prebiotic + Probiotic supplement each day. Prebiotics are important as they are the food for probiotics and keep the probiotics healthy. This combination can soothe your gut as well as promote better digestion and immunity.
- Avoid nighttime reflux by raising the head of your bed by 6 inches. This will allow gravity to help keep your juices down.
- Exercise regularly, but separate exercise from eating by a couple of hours. This will allow your stomach to empty.
- Wear loose-fitting clothes and belts.
- Try to limit the fat intake in your diet (fried foods and those higher in fat tend to decrease LES pressure and delay stomach emptying thereby increasing the risk of reflux).
- Stay away from foods and drinks that contribute to heartburn by increasing the acid into the stomach (tomatoes, citrus fruits) or by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter (garlic, chocolate, peppermint).
- Sleep on your left side. Although it sounds strange, several studies have found that sleeping on your right side can aggravate heartburn; conversely, sleeping on your left side tends to calm it down. Researchers don’t know the exact mechanism of why this works but they think that what side you sleep on can potentially affect how relaxed your LES is.
- Try to keep a food diary to identify which foods or drinks are triggers specific to you. Once you know your triggers, actively avoid them.
Natural remedies may be helpful for treating heartburn symptoms.
- Chamomile: A cup of chamomile tea may have a soothing effect on the digestive tract and help digestion
- Ginger: Ginger root has been used for thousands of years as a digestive aid and for heartburn.
- Licorice root: Licorice acts as an esophagus protector by boosting production of mucin, which increases the mucous coating of the esophagus, helping it resist the irritating effects of stomach acid.
- Aloe vera juice: Aloe Juice is a traditional drink that is used worldwide to naturally help reduce inflammation. This can ease symptoms of acid reflux and help heal the lining of the stomach and esophagus.
- Chlorophyll: Can help restore the body’s PH balance and reduce its acidity. Additionally chlorophyll helps to heal damaged tissue, including the esophagus.
Over the counter medications are often used to treat the symptoms of GERD such as:
- Antacids (help neutralize stomach acid (Gaviscon, Rolaids and Tums).
- H-2-receptor blockers (reduce acid production - Pepcid AC, Zantac).
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) stronger blockers of acid production which allow time for damaged esophageal tissue to heal (Prilosec).
Use Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) with caution. One serious side effect of their use is a significant reduction in the ability to absorb nutrients from foods and supplements. This makes sense, as a significant reduction in gastric juices would logically reduce digestive capacity and the nutrients we obtain from digestion. Of particular note is a significant reduction in the absorption of calcium. The reduction is so significant that it causes a vast increase in the risk of bone (mainly hip and spine) fractures by as much as 80%, depending on sex, age and length of use. Another side effect is an increased risk of enteric and systemic infections (as high as 65% increased risk).
Left untreated, GERD can develop into serious cascading health problems. Be careful if you use medications to treat GERD or heartburn. Often users think they are cured but the medications are actually only masking symptoms. This leads to a gradual reduction in their efficacy over time, causing ever increasing dosages to obtain any semblance of relief.
The safest way to manage GERD is with lifestyle changes (sleeping habits, weight loss, food diary, avoiding triggers), and preventative remedies (Organic Prebiotic + Probiotic, Chlorophyll, Aloe, Chamomile, Ginger, Licorice). However, ignoring persistent heartburn symptoms can lead to severe consequences. Left untreated, esophageal damage can create problems swallowing and even turn cancerous. If reflux continues you may have to see a gastroenterologist for alternative treatments.