Acid reflux is a condition in which the stomach contents (food or liquid) leak backwards from the stomach into the esophagus. This action can irritate the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms. Conventional wisdom has said that acid reflux is caused by excessive stomach acid production, however this is incorrect. What happens is that the acid actually comes out of the stomach, and the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes allowing acid flow back towards the esophagus. Also, people often do not produce enough acid. Low stomach acid causes bacterial overgrowth in the gut, which in turn produces gas that puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, causing it to open and inappropriately allow acid into the esophagus. This is why our approach with probiotics is very often successful. Symptoms are often felt after eating, and can become worse when lying down. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, 75% of people with GERD experience it during the night.
What are the Causes?
- Diet high in sugar, carbohydrates and acidic food or drinks
- Not enough water
- Food allergies
- Excess insulin
- Anticholinergics (e.g., for seasickness)
- Beta-blockers for high blood pressure or heart disease
- Bronchodilators for asthma
- Calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure
- Dopamine-active drugs for Parkinson’s disease
- Fosamax or Actonel for osteoporosis
- Progestin for abnormal menstrual bleeding or birth control
- Sedatives for insomnia or anxiety
- Tricyclic antidepressants
H. pylori causes chronic low-level inflammation of the stomach lining and is responsible for many of the symptoms of acid reflux. For a long time, the approach to acid reflux has been to suppress stomach acid production, however a review of over 16,000 medical articles have shown that when you suppress stomach acid, you suppress the body’s ability to kill H. pylori.
Long term use of antacids is a very poor approach to acid reflux. It is easily remedied by diet and promotes a healthy way of eating to prevent many related health-issues. Calcium is especially useful to buffer acids, and the source of dairy is very important because pasteurization changes the bioavailability of calcium.
The following contribute to an acidic environment:
- Sugar (negatively affects gut flora), refined carbohydrates, food allergies, medications, grain-fed meat, dairy, coffee, orange juice
- Stress can create acidic conditions in the body
- Lying down after a late meal can cause acid reflux, so make sure to eat your last meal 3-4 hours before bedtime
Recommended Foods and Drinks
- Fresh fruits with breakfast and fresh vegetables with lunch and dinner
- Grass-fed meat, wild fish and pastured chicken
- Goat yogurt and kefir
- Organic raw sauerkraut
- Soaked whole grains, nuts and seeds (in small amounts)
- Do not drink water with meals; it dilutes stomach acid.
- Raw organic apple cider vinegar
- Dandelion greens
Exercise and Sleep
Sit-ups, crunches and heavy lifting after a meal can exacerbate heartburn. Wait 2 hours before working out, and take a light walk after your evening meal to help digestion. Due to the location of the stomach, you can find relief by sleeping on your left side. Sleeping on your right side makes acid move upwards, while sleeping on your left side helps keep acid where it belongs.
Recommended Supplementation Program for Acid Reflux
When GERD persists, acid-inhibiting drugs like Tagamet, Zantac, Prilosec and Prevacid may be used. While this will give short term relief, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved their use for longer than 8 weeks. Acid stopping drugs promote bacterial overgrowth, inhibit nutrient absorption, increase digestive disorders, and lower immunity and resistance to infection. In fact, research has shown that women who take GERD medications long term experience bone loss in their spine. The reason why blocking stomach acid for the long term is not recommended because stomach acid has a very important function; it assists in the release of enzymes, bile, kills bad bacteria responsible for food poisoning, needed for the digestion of protein and helps the absorption of B12, iron and calcium.
Antacids use aluminum with calcium to buffer acids. Chewable calcium will give you the relief without aluminum.
Healthy gut flora is imperative for overall health and acid balance.
Optimizing vitamin D levels assists with the production of 200 antimicrobial peptides that will help your body eradicate any infections that could be contributing to acid reflux.
1. Naturalhealthmag.com April/May 2011
2. Well Being Journal. May/June 2011