According to statistics, GERD affects 20% of people in the US and if left untreated, can lead to more serious complications.
The biggest misconception I see is that people think Acid reflux is caused due to too much acid in the stomach but, in reality, it happens because of too little acid in the stomach.
Let’s back up a bit and start from the beginning.
What is Acid Reflux & GERD?
Acid reflux happens when contents from your stomach move up into your esophagus instead of being broken down & pushed through the digestive tract. GERD can be seen as the chronic form of Acid reflux
Symptoms of Acid Reflux & GERD
- Burning sensation in your chest (Heartburn)
- Regurgitating some food & liquid from the stomach into your mouth after eating or drinking
- Burning sensation & acidic taste in your throat after meals
- Difficulty swallowing
- Tightness in the chest
- Feeling like your breathing is restricted
- Frequent coughing after meals
Depending on the severity of your condition, you may experience all or just some of these symptoms. I went through a stage of daily acid reflux that got progressively worse over a 6-month period. I had indigestion, regurgitating everything I consumed and a burning sensation in my throat after meals but never had chest pain, breathing or swallowing difficulties as I caught and treated it early enough.
What Causes Acid Reflux & GERD?
At the end of your esophagus where it meets the stomach, you have a circular band of muscle, LES for short. When this is working properly it relaxes and opens as you swallow but tightens & closes afterwards, preventing stomach contents from going back into the esophagus.
When looking at GERD from a conventional medicine point of view, it is said that the cause is due to this circular band not closing properly which allows digestive juices to rise up and cause a burning sensation in your chest & throat.
Yes, this is what happens however when we look at GERD from a functional medicine view, the inability of this circular muscle to close is not the cause, but is a symptom of a deeper imbalance that then results in Acid reflux & GERD. There must be something that is triggering your circular band (LES) to not work properly.
Remember, when we take a functional medicine approach, we are not looking to treat symptoms. We want to find what the root cause of the issue is and treat it at the source.
Most commonly, an imbalance somewhere in your digestive system is preventing your stomach from producing enough stomach acid (HCL acid) to properly digest your food.
When there is not enough acid to digest food, your bodies natural reaction is to want to get this excess food out and will actively try push it back up into your esophagus because it can’t break it down. This is what causes indigestion, acid reflux and the burning sensation in your throat.
Now we get to go deeper and find out what is going on inside your body that is getting in the way of producing enough stomach acid. This will be different for everyone. Each person is a unique individual with unique genetic make up which means your body will respond to things differently than my body will.
It is for this reason that the cause of your symptoms may not be the cause of my symptoms and its exactly why personalized medicine & treatment protocols are so important. We want to find out what is causing YOUR symptoms and treat it at the source.
Common digestive disturbances that can lead to GERD
- SIBO & IBS
- Gut Dysbiosis (too many bad bugs and not enough good bugs)
- Parasitic infections
- Leaky Gut & food intolerances
Other factors that aggravate GERD
- High sugar intake
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Excess abdominal weight
- Overeating at meal times, filling your stomach too much
- Unhealthy food & beverage choices
- Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as aspirin or ibuprofen
Conventional Treatment vs. Holistic Treatment
THE MOST IMPORTANT thing you can take away from this article – The most common treatment of GERD with conventional medicine is to prescribe antacids or Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs).
These neutralize the stomach acid to prevent the burning sensation however this is just a band aid for the problem and actually worsen the condition over time. PPI’s create a further imbalance in the gut and destroy your digestive health even more.
The main problem with taking meds that decrease stomach acid is this – Stomach acid (HCL acid) is necessary for the extraction & absorption of vital nutrients such as Vitamin B12. When we don’t have enough stomach acid, we are unable to extract Vitamin B12 from food or absorb it, leading to deficiency and ultimately a sever lack of energy and proper body function. Lack of B12 also effects our brain function.
Holistic treatment starts with making food and lifestyle changes that rebalance and repair the gut. When we rebalance our core systems (digestion & assimilation being one of them) we allow the body to function as it should.
Holistic Treatment methods
- Move to a whole food, plant-based diet, aiming for a minimum of 70% plant based and 30% animal products
- Minimize raw foods. Raw food is harder for our stomach to break down, especially if you have low stomach acid. Focus on steaming or roasting your veggies most of the time.
- Quit smoking
- Eat smaller meals
- Practice breathing techniques to switch your nervous system into rest & digest before meals
- Do yoga to promote digestive health and relieve stress
Foods to avoid when healing GERD
- Fried foods
- Chocolate, Cacao, Cocoa
- Citrus fruit
- Tomato & tomato based products
Foods/Herbs to include in your diet
- Aloe Vera Juice
- Celery Juice
- Chamomile Tea
- Marshmallow root Powder
- Slippery elm bark
Stress & anxiety can also aggravate GERD as high stress levels in a huge contributing factor to low stomach acid levels. Not to mention the condition itself is stressful. Since relaxing the circular muscle LES in the esophagus helps keep stomach acid where it belongs, it may help to learn techniques that can relax both your body and mind.
Yoga has enormous benefits by promoting mind-body awareness. If you’re not into yoga, try quiet meditation and deep breathing for a few minutes several times a day decrease stress levels
The best place I recommend to start when treating Acid Reflux & GERD is with your gut health. If you can rebalance your gut and get your digestive system in order, acid reflux will be a thing of the past, without ever having to take antacids or over the counter meds ever again.
The method I walk my clients through is the exact method I used to heal my digestive system & get rid of acid reflux, along with a host of other symptoms I lived with for years (Bloating, abdominal pain, acne, candida, the list goes on).
If you would like guidance on how to best start healing your gut and rebalancing your core body systems, reach out to me and together we can co- create a plan that has the power to unleash an UNLIMITED YOU!