According to Healthline.com, “sixty percent of the adult population in the United States will experience some type of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) within a 12 month period and 20 to 30 percent have weekly symptoms.” One of the most common afflictions today, GERD, can cause weight loss, vomiting, and anemia among other discomfort and pain. The increased prevalence of heartburn and acid reflux among the United States population is incredible.
From 1998 to 2005, primary and secondary GERD diagnosis increased by 216 percent. This increase can be attributed to sedentary lifestyles and diet among other things. However, what if someone told you that your days of taking daily medications and suffering from heartburn were over?
OTC & Prescription Medicine
Common methods of GERD symptom control are over the counter medications that reduce acid build up and help to manage painful symptoms. There are three main types of drugs for heartburn and reflux:
- Histamine-2 (H2) Blockers – Prescribed for relief of heartburn and acid reflux, preferably if you have never had treatment before. H2 blockers are best taken 30 minutes before meals or at bedtime to suppress production of acid.
- Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) – Prescribed for longer relief of symptoms and block acid production more effectively. This medication is especially good for protecting the esophagus from acid for the esophageal inflammation to heal.
- Promotility Agents – These medications stimulate muscles around the gastrointestinal tract that may prevent stomach acid from staying in the stomach too long. These agents also work to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter to reduce the reflux effect into the esophagus.
Risks of Medications
All of these medications come with common side effects and risk. FDA guidelines suggest that PPIs should only be taken for less than 14 days in a given year. However, many patients do not heed this warning and take medications such as Pepcid or Prilosec each day without a plan to stop. Blocking stomach acid for a prolonged period of time can cause many problems and also block the benefits stomach acid has on our bodies.
Stomach acid is needed for healthy digestion and acts as a natural disinfectant. Stomach acid is one of our body’s most basic defenses against infection. If you eliminate stomach acid, bacteria can live in your typically sterile stomach environment. The stomach will not suffer from the bacteria, but they may be passed on (or upwards during reflux) to other parts of your body, making you very sick.
In a study conducted in the Netherlands, pneumonia was found to be more likely to occur in those patients taking acid reflux medications. Another report by Mayo Clinic researchers showed that even low dosages of PPI’s or H2 medications caused changes in natural occurring gut bacteria, which lead to intestinal infections causing diarrhea. This type of infection, Clostridium difficile, is linked to more than 14,000 deaths in America annually.
Just because your medication is not prescription strength, does not mean that health risks and complications aren’t associated with use. Prolonged usage of PPI’s can have detrimental effects, and even cause life-threatening illnesses. Alternatives to heartburn medication do exist, with natural ways to curb side effects of GERD.
Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux
Supplementing your diet with the right nutrients is vital to effectively combat symptoms. Digestive aids can provide the needed digestive enzymes and pH balancing needed for proper digestion. I’ve recommended Diamond Nutritionals’ Digestive Enzyme Formula to my patients for many years with great success. All Diamond Nutritionals products are professional, high-grade supplements made in America.
There are a few different classes of enzymes. Enzymes that are responsible for breaking down proteins are called proteases, those responsible for breaking down starches are amylases, and lastly enzymes responsible for breaking down fats are called lipases.
Digestive Enzyme Formula contains pancreatin, an enzyme derived from porcine pancreas and has amylase, protease, and lipase activity. Pepsin, bromelain, and papain also have protease properties. Betaine HCL and pepsin are also included to help bring the stomach to a more desirable acidic pH level. It is important to note that enzymes are measured in different units than most dietary supplement ingredients. Each enzyme has a unique unit of measurement including USP, GDU, and TU to name just a few.
In order to get on the right track with your gastrointestinal health, the next step to take is actually changing your diet. Avoiding foods that trigger symptoms can be a baby step to long term healthy diet changes. If you have GERD, avoid foods such as onions, peppermint, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, alcohol, fruit juices, tomatoes, and fried foods. Keep a journal or diary of your daily food choices and make note of trigger foods that set off symptoms. Not only will avoiding these foods help to stave symptoms away, avoiding fried foods and other unhealthy options will promote weight loss and improve your overall health.
Another great tip for reducing GERD symptoms is managing HOW you eat. Overeating can cause reflux, so decrease your family’s portion size at meal times. Try eating smaller portions more often throughout the day instead of three large meals. This will help to keep a balance in your system and is a great way to keep metabolism higher. Not only does eating smaller meals help, but eating slower also does wonders. Don’t rush while eating! Taking your time during each meal will give your stomach enough time to digest without building up stomach acid rapidly.
Are you a smoker? Nicotine, the most prevalent ingredient in cigarettes causes the lower esophageal sphincter muscle to weaken. This muscle is in control of the opening between the esophagus and stomach, therefore if this is weakened, more acid will be able to travel back up through the esophagus instead of staying in the stomach.
Don’t lay down right after a meal. Instead, prop yourself up with pillows at bedtime to avoid nighttime symptoms and the onset of reflux. By propping yourself up, you help your esophageal muscles keep the acid from creeping up from the stomach, thus reducing inflammation and discomfort.
Other Natural Remedies Include:
- Start your day with a cup of warm water mixed with fresh lemon juice. This helps the body naturally balance out its acid levels. It also promotes good digestive health and is safe for anyone, non-GERD patients as well.
- Try eating raw almonds for calcium and pH balancing. Almonds are a high alkaline producing food that will balance out acid levels in the stomach to prevent GERD symptoms.
- Tablespoon of baking soda in a half cup of water can serve as an alternative to the risk of daily medication dosages.
- Slippery elm supplement can soothe irritated digestive tract tissues.
- Chamomile, mint, or fenugreek tea can also be used as a natural remedy for GERD symptoms. These all promote healthy digestion and have been known to help with nausea, heartburn, and gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Aloe Vera Juice – According to Victor Sierpina MD, professor of integrative and family medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston, and author of The Healthy Gut Workbook, “it quiets down any inflammation that is in the esophagus as well as the stomach.” It’s burn-healing properties for skin also applies to the inside of the body through the juice of the aloe vera plant.
It is not a surprise that GERD and heartburn are so widely common, and that their symptoms cause millions of individuals millions of dollars! Not to mention the hours of pain each day. With the combination of a better diet, as well as some of the natural symptom solutions provided above, you can be on your way to a healthier body and happier stomach without painful heartburn.
As always, if suffering from severe symptoms, or planning to change diet or take a new over-the-counter drug, consult your physician for safety and advice. Many medications have adverse affects when mixed with heartburn medications. When in doubt, ask a doctor for help in choosing the best remedy for you. If seeking additional medical advice, I’m available for 1-on-1 telephone consultations.