Like many digestive disorders, acid reflux disease or GERD (gastric esophageal reflux disease) has grown to be a substantially common problem among Americans. The National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Digestive Diseases reports that based on a study conducted in 2004, 20% of the US population suffers from symptoms of GERD on a weekly basis. This is just one of many digestive disorders that affect 60 to 70 million people, many of which may have been prevented with a good diet to begin with.
For those that don’t know, GERD symptoms arise as a result of the LES (lower esophageal sphincter), not closing well. This causes food and hydrochloric acid to leak back into the esophagus, which results in a burning sensation in the chest, also known as heartburn. Even though most traditional treatment methods can improve symptoms in the short term, over time these approaches can actually make the problem worse by not addressing the underlying cause and disrupting the body’s natural processes, which I’ll explain more about later.
There are many potential causes for GERD. A diet rich in fatty and fried foods, spicy foods, processed foods, citrus fruits, tomato based foods, garlic, onions, etc. can bring on acid reflux symptoms. This is also said to be the case with alcohol, caffeine and nicotine use. Dr. Chris Kesser, a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of integrative medicine believes that GERD is caused by bacterial overgrowth and maldigested carbs, a view that others in the medical community share.
People who are obese or even pregnant also have a higher chance of developing GERD. Even though researchers are unsure as to why GERD symptoms increase with weight gain, in 9 studies done between 1966 and 2004, two-thirds showed a link. This could be due to the excess weight’s impact on the stomach or to the diet that’s common to those who are obese.
The other cause frequently mentioned is a hiatal hernia. The hiatis, which the esophagus passes through to connect to the stomach, can cause the stomach to bulge up into the chest through that opening when a hernia is present. This can again cause the acid to come out of the stomach and produce GERD symptoms. Although the hiatal hernia and GERD appear to be connected, there are people with a hiatal hernia, that don’t have GERD, and vise versa.
Usually when people have mild heartburn symptoms, they turn to an antacid. Even though antacids reduce acid, which temporarily relieves the pain and discomfort, research tells us that acid reflux is actually the recent result of a lack of hydrochloric acid being secreted by the stomach, not too much, worsening the problem. In addition, antacids and other GERD medications deplete the body of the b-vitamins, trace minerals and other nutrients needed in order to produce stomach acid.
Even worse are proton pump inhibitors (PPH) which are not only addictive and require a slow weaning process to discontinue, they severely increase the problem when they are stopped due to the overproduction of acid that occurs to compensate for the drug’s role in completely blocking the production of stomach acid during use. This increases the symptoms of GERD and further aggravates the condition to potentially dangerous levels. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, it’s imperative to take a slow approach in stopping the use of PPHs and to even replace them with H2 blockers for another several weeks (which block the histamine receptors in acid producing cells) once you get down to the lowest dose of the PPHs.