Are you ready to fix your GERD for good? Read on for functional medicine solutions that will help you get to the root cause of these issues so you can heal from GERD for good!
There it is again- that tight, burning feeling in your stomach or chest after eating a meal. It use to happen so infrequently that you didn’t pay much attention to it, but now it seems to happen a few times a week. It was merely uncomfortable at first, but now you’re getting concerned. Sometimes you can’t even get to sleep because of it. You’ve tried cutting back on the ‘usual’ triggers mentioned in that late-night internet search you did on one of said sleepless nights- coffee, spicy foods, and alcohol. That helped somewhat, but the symptoms are still there and on top of it, now you can no longer occasionally indulge in food or beverages you enjoy. You really don’t like the idea of living on a prescription antacid, but its getting to the point where you’ve got to do something.
Living with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is no fun. It’s uncomfortable, distracting and can even lead to scarier health problems like esophageal cancer. However, addressing the problem with acid-lowering medications (proton-pump inhibitors) comes with a whole new set of issues. For one is the acid-rebound effect that can occur when you try to discontinue the medication. The other problem with long-term use of these medications is that they can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Zinc, Vitamin B12, iron and calcium are just a few examples of micronutrients that need an acidic environment in the stomach for absorption. One of the many side effects of these drugs in an increased risk of bone fractures due to inhibited calcium absorption. (So please don’t think you can take something like Tums to get your calcium requirement, mmm’kay?)
To fix your GERD without living on acid-lowering medications and risking these nutrient deficiencies, you’re going to have to get to the root cause of problem.
1.) Hypochlorhydria. Yes, this seems like a paradox that low-stomach acid may be what is actually causing your acid-reflux symptoms, but here’s the thing- your stomach is supposed to be acidic. It’s designed for it- that’s why it has a thick mucosal lining found nowhere else in the body. The hydrochloric acid of the stomach not only helps break down proteins, but is also the first line of defense for killing food-borne pathogens. When there is not enough stomach acid, it takes longer for the food in your stomach to be mechanically broken down enough to continue on to the small intestine- the next part of the digestive system. So it just sits there…eventually pushing upwards on the diaphragm and the lower part of the esophagus and causing those familiar GERD symptoms. Other clues that hypochlorhydria maybe at the root of your GERD symptoms are that you have a hard time digesting dense animal proteins and that you feel bloated or burp a lot after a meal. (Bloating and burping can be signs of other digestive diseases as well, so make sure you work with a holistic physician or functional medicine doctor to make sure those aren’t symptoms of a different problem.)
2.) Food intolerances. If you have an intolerance to say, gluten, it can inhibit the release of a hormone that actually helps open the pyloric sphincter (the muscular ring between the stomach and the small intestine), allowing the digested food to move out of the stomach. When the food gets ‘stuck’ in the stomach it can lead to those acid-reflux symptoms you’re all too familiar with. I’ve had a few patients for whom we fixed their GERD simply by removing trigger foods that they were intolerant of.
3.) Hiatal hernia. This is a type of hernia where the top of the stomach slides up through the hole in the diaphragm for the esophagus. Symptoms can closely resemble that of GERD. Larger hernias can be seen on x-rays. Smaller ones, also called ‘sliding hiatal hernias,’ can be present and causing symptoms, without being large enough to see on an x-ray. What to do about it depends on how large and how problematic the hernia is. For most of my patients, they tend to have the smaller, functional version. In this case, a simple abdominal massage to ‘pull the stomach back down’ may be useful.
Armed with this knowledge, you may find that you can fix your GERD symptoms by simply changing your diet a bit and using some supplemental digestive enzymes to increase stomach acid. Once you are able to sufficiently digest & absorb proteins and micronutrients like zinc and B12, your stomach and pancreas will be better able to make enough digestive enzymes on their own and supplementation can be discontinued.
One important note here. If you have had GERD for long enough that it has progressed to Barrett’s esophagus, please do not try to discontinue your acid-lowering medications on your own. This is a serious pre-cancerous condition and you need to work closely with a specialist to make sure you aren’t inadvertently causing more damage.
Need some help or guidance to fix your GERD for good? We can help. Call my office to set-up your appointment today 845-687-6387.