My patient was in agony, several times a day, with acrid bitter fumes rising in her esophagus. Acid burned her throat. As time wore on, she could not eat certain foods at all, and the number of foods her body couldn’t handle increased. She came to feel that the situation was so severe she might die. Bewildered at the change in her body (previously she had been able to eat and enjoy everything), she asked me a number of questions:
Why does my stomach feel so bad after every meal?
Why do I taste that awful stomach acid in my mouth?
Are Prilosec and Tagamet vitamins? It seems everyone is on them.
I feel like I’m living on Tums and Alka Selzer. Are they ok?
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: What’s Going On?
In order to understand how and why the digestive system in the body breaks down (as in reflux of stomach contents up the esophagus), you need to understand how the body functions normally. It will then be easy to see how the common treatments of reflux may actually be making symptoms worse, or making you more unhealthy.
The purpose of the digestive tract is to digest and absorb food for the purpose of repair and energy in the body.
The first step of digestion occurs in the mouth with good chewing, until the food is liquid. It is difficult for the stomach and intestines to break down chunks of food, which is what they get when we wolf our food down without chewing thoroughly. It’s easy to forget how important it is to chew our food completely while we’re chatting on the phone, or driving, or even watching a movie. Bolting food down, or swallowing it nearly whole—or even eating while we’re stressed—diminishes the good that chewing can do in the whole digestion process.
Chewed food slides down the esophageal tube into the stomach. A sphincter muscle or valve allows the food to go down into the stomach. The acid in the stomach breaks down proteins, which are necessary for repair in the body. Stressors (including emotions, allergies, illness, and types of foods) can cause the sphincter valve to fail to close completely, which allows the acids to come back up through into the esophagus. This is what causes the “fumes” or “acid” reflux which are so unpleasant.
When we say “something is eating at me,” the comment is true, because our unresolved emotions are involved in the overall health of our body. When the acid comes back up through the sphincter valve, it eats at our esophagus.
After the food is liquefied in the stomach, it is passed on to the small intestines. At the first part of the small intestine a tube releases bile, to assist in fat digestion, and pancreatic enzymes that continue the carbohydrate, fat and protein breakdown. Further digestion of the smaller and smaller food particles takes place at the wall of the intestinal tract, along with absorption of the broken down amino acids, sugars, and fats.
Interference with any of these steps makes reflux (as well as other GI problems) more likely. Essentially, acid reflux, gall bladder problems, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and a host of other maladies are extensions of the same problems, beginning with the digestive processes.
What Triggers Acid Reflux?
There are common triggers that make reflux worse. Each person is different, so you need to be a reflux detective in order to find the sources that affect you personally. Then you can decrease the likelihood of reflux being a problem in your body. The most common triggers include
Stress is a major contributing factor (in fact, most of my patients who struggle with GERD have stressful events that trigger the initial problem, and without intervention it just gets worse).
Acid Indigestion Medicines
Conventional medical treatments are all designed to treat the symptoms of reflux—acid contents traveling up the esophagus past a sphincter that should be closed. The rationale behind this philosophy of treatment is that If there is no stomach acid, there is no harm from the reflux of non-acidic stomach contents.
Unfortunately, these approaches tend to do more harm than good. Antacid tablets or acid-neutralizing liquids often have aluminum in them. H2 blockers like Tagamet block the histamine receptors. Histamine receptors trigger acid production. Prilosec and Prevacid and Nexium are proton pump inhibitors, which block the secretion of acid from the acid-producing cells in the stomach wall.
There is wisdom behind stopping the acid from refluxing—since the esophagus is not designed to deal with the acid (only the stomach is), the esophagus lining will change over time in order to be able to handle the acid. Untreated, continuous acid reflux could lead to changes in the wall of the esophagus, eventually resulting in cancer.
But in the mean time, the lack of acid will also interfere with protein digestion. And the acid is necessary for optimization of digestion.
What You Can Do
So, what are the things you can try at home to stop reflux?
This includes a careful examination of the emotional triggers and stresses in your life.
Safe, healthy, and effective digestion all starts with eating real food—food typically found around the outside of the store--vegetables, fruit, legumes, meats. Hearty whole grains and legumes can also found in the aisles.
If you have been on H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors for some time, there has been chronic suppression of acid. When you come off the medications, there will be a rebound over-production of acid. This means you will have to wean yourself off slowly, and use DGL to coat the lining of the stomach or esophagus.
Some reflux is due to inadequate acid production, and you may need to try an acid stimulator like betaine HCl to see if it helps your reflux.
If you find you do need to stay on acid blockers, be sure to use pancreatic enzymes which have plenty of proteases in it to help break down the proteins.
And check with a professional if your symptoms do not improve.
For more information about Dr. Gardner and his practice, see www.stangardnermd.com. If you would like to purchase high quality DGL, pancreatic enzymes and betaine Hcl, you can find it on the site, under “Healthy Products” in the navigation bar. You can also schedule an appointment with Dr. Gardner at Keys to Healing Medical Center, 801-302-5397.