By Janet Levatin, MD
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects a significant percentage of the American population. It has been viewed as a problem caused by overproduction of stomach acid, and has been treated with medications that suppress acid secretion called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs for short. The problem has become so prevalent in recent years that Nexium, a popular PPI, is one of the most commonly prescribed medicines in the US. Nexium and other PPIs net billions for Big Pharma each year. GERD, however, is not usually caused by overproduction of stomach acid, but rather by dysfunction of the valve between the esophagus and the stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This valve functions to keep stomach contents from regurgitating into the esophagus causing the severe burning sensations commonly referred to as “heartburn.”
Why is the LES malfunctioning ?
A number of factors, including obesity, food intolerances/allergies, and diets high in refined carbohydrates and other processed foods, can contribute to GERD, but the most overlooked cause is an underproduction of stomach acid, a condition called hypochlorhydria. Faulty digestion and a too alkaline environment lead to bacterial overgrowth and food fermentation. The gas and bloating cause the LES to open, and the symptom cascade begins. Both low stomach acid and high stomach acid can cause the same symptoms. Unfortunately most doctors do not make the distinction between low and high acid as the cause of stomach dysfunction. Not only can the use of PPIs often make GERD worse, the Purple Pill can lead to long term complications, such as food allergies, osteoporosis and ulcers caused by H. pylori, a bacterium that can grown in the stomach when not enough stomach acid is present.
Babies and children can also experience GERD. Causes of reflux in children include anatomical misalignment, constipation, formula feeding, and improper maternal nutrition while breastfeeding. Commonly overlooked factors contributing to GERD include vaccination, (hepatitis B and rotavirus vaccines) and antibiotics given directly to the baby or given to mother while pregnant or in labor. Sadly, children are frequently prescribed smaller doses of the same PPIs that are prescribed to adults.
A New Treatment for GERD... really?
A recently published study promotes use of a magnetic device that is implanted into the LES to keep is closed except when food is being swallowed. I was truly astonished when I read about this. Is the best the medical profession can do? What happened to identifying the source of a problem, and then removing or correcting the cause? I sincerely hope that this invasive treatment will not be recommended for infants as well!
Instead of taking drugs with substantial side effects or submitting to a surgical procedure with complications that can include pain, vomiting, and difficulty swallowing, consider some of these options endorsed by and offered at TIMC:
- A diet low in processed carbohydrates and other refined foods – this will naturally lead to weight loss and correct obesity-associated GERD
- Add hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzymes to support digestion,
- Schedule regular body work such as chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation to improve digestive function,
- Undergo a series of sessions with Sensitivity Reduction Technique (SRT) to eliminate food sensitivities,
- Homeopathy, which will balance overall health and can result in improved digestive health.
Please remember that much of your health resides in your intestinal tract. When imbalances occur, it is important to address them naturally if at all possible, as drugs and procedures will often lead to more problems.