Acid reflux, also known as heartburn or acid indigestion (GERD – gastrointestinal disease), affects so many people, you’d think that we’d know more about it. Up to 20 percent of the entire world population suffers from heartburn. Sadly, many people confuse the symptoms for a heart attack, and mistakenly live with it though easy solutions are available to help keep acid reflux from ruining their health.
The chest pain, nausea, stomach fullness, upset stomach, bloating, gas, and even serious chest pain are the result of acid reflux. This happens when stomach acid overflows into the esophagus. Though chest pain should never be ignored, often the sharp pains of indigestion and acid reflux are because of that acid being where it shouldn’t be. It’s only proper place is in your stomach – to help break down the food you digest. It can be so uncomfortable that people mistake it for having a heart attack.
What Causes Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is most common in people who have an altered hiatal hernia – a little opening between the stomach and esophagus that is normally only open to allow food to pass into the stomach. When it becomes irritated or inflamed due to chronic inflammation from life-style choices, the foods we eat, and stress, this small opening can be negatively affected. The diaphragm, a muscle which sits below the lungs, and normally keeps stomach acid out of our esophagus, can become enlarged or ill-shapen, pushing the hiatal hernia out of place.
Acid Reflux Complications
Complications can accompany continued acid reflux, causing esophageal damage, and even scarring. If acid reflux continues for a prolonged period, the esophagus can become narrow due to the scarring, making it difficult to swallow. In extreme cases, Barrett’s esophagus can even occur where the normal cells in the esophageal lining turn into cancerous ones.
While there is no reason to be alarmed about these complications, it is certainly advisable not to ignore acid reflux and to learn more about ways to heal this health challenge.
Allopathic Treatments for Acid Reflux
The most commonly used therapies for acid reflux, at least in allopathic medicine may not always be the best. These therapies most often involve the suppression of stomach acids with antacids, histamine receptor antagonists or proton pump inhibitors. Let’s take a look at what this medical jargon really means:
PPIs – The use of proton pump inhibitors (PPI) remains the standard therapy for GERD. PPIs are a class of drugs that reduce the production of stomach acid by blocking naturally occurring enzymes in the stomach’s lining. They are often prescribed inappropriately and can cause an inability for your body to absorb important vitamins and minerals like iron, B12, calcium and magnesium. They also increase the risk of pneumonia, C difficile infections – caused by a foreign bacteria.
Antacids – Antacids, either prescribed or over-the-counter, act on acid reflux symptoms by reducing stomach acids. While they may provide temporary relief, they don’t solve the underlying problem, and can even harm your health. Those stomach acids aren’t just in there to help you digest an extra spicy burrito, or super caliente curry.
Stomach acids also decrease our exposure to viruses and bad bacteria as well as help to regulate our gut flora. When we take antacids for any considerable time, we also impair our body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Stomach acids are also vital to helping us digest macronutrients including protein, carbohydrates and fat. When food is eaten, the secretion of stomach acid (HCL) triggers the production of pepsin. Pepsin is the enzyme we need to digest protein.
Histamine Receptor Antagonists (H2-blockers) – Histamine receptor antagonists are another common solution offered by allopathic medicine to people suffering from GERD or acid reflux disease. Common H2 blockers you may be familiar with are Zantac, Pepcid AC or Tagamet. They also work by reducing stomach acid in the body, yet come with their own set of side effects, and the aforementioned ill effects of reducing stomach acid over the long term, such as reduced mineral and vitamin absorption and altering our healthy gut flora.
The elderly and pregnant women are especially sensitive to these side effects which can include dizziness, constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach, and headache. In some cases, people are allergic to these drugs, causing severe symptoms like heart palpitations, swelling of the face and throat, and even seizures.
Acid Reflux Surgery
Most patients are treated allopathically with one of the above methods, but in some cases, an anti-acid reflux surgery will be scheduled. Most commonly, the repair of hiatal hernia is attempted to stop acid reflux symptoms. There are both laser surgeries, laproscopic (incision-free) surgeries, but there is only a 50% chance that surgery will cure the symptoms long-term.
Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux
Common natural remedies may or may not help your acid reflux. Here’s why:
Baking Soda – One remedy, taking a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate or baking soda may temporarily relieve symptoms of acid reflux, just like an over-the-counter antacid, since it is a base substance on the pH scale, that lowers your stomach acids, but as we have discussed, those stomach acids are important for digestion of your food, the absorption of minerals and vitamins that your body needs, and keeping your gut flora healthy. This remedy is not ideal for managing long term acid reflux symptoms.
Aloe Juice – Aloe juice has a calming affect on an inflamed esophagus, and can offer temporary relief, but it will not solve the problem of a damaged hiatal hernia or chronic inflammation in the body.
Gingerroot Tea – This is another great temporary stomach and reflux reliever, when taken just before meals because it acts as a stomach soother and acid calmer, but again, it simply reduces stomach acid temporarily and does not solve the long-term cause of your acid reflux which is an unhealthy lifestyle and an imbalanced pH level which leads to chronic inflammation.
Licorice – Licorice works to reduce irritation in the stomach and esophagus. It has long been used as a digestive aid, but again, this herbal remedy will only work temporarily until the underlying causes of GERD or acid reflux are soundly addressed.
The Elimination of Cigarettes and Alcohol – Though this is a good idea in general, because the elimination of cigarette smoke and alcohol can reduce your symptoms, and esophageal irritation, simply removing these items won’t solve the underlying problem alone. Reducing alcohol consumption over time can also reduce inflammation, however, and smoking has obvious health consequences.
Traditional Chinese Medicine for Acid Reflux
Traditional Chinese medicine will use a combination of acupuncture, herbal remedies, and pinellia rhizome which causes the stomach to purge excess acids thought to cause acid reflux.
From a TCM viewpoint, most cases of GERD are caused by Cold Dampness in the Spleen and Liver Qi Stagnation. Though acupuncture and herbs can help alleviate this damp stagnation, lifestyle and diet choices may also be required to eliminate acid reflux for good.
Many herbalists believe the only way to cure acid reflux is to fix your pH levels. This is done by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and taking herbal medicines to reinstate the system health. Look into pH balancing natural methods like Grocare which do not alter your important stomach acids. By restoring your body’s natural pH levels, and reducing chronic inflammation, often the hiatal hernia that isn’t functioning will heal on its own, and acid reflux will no longer plague you.
Myths About Acid Reflux
There are many myths about how to treat acid reflux effectively.
Most of the remedies and advice given fail to realize that undigested food caused by the lowering of stomach acids contributes to GERD or acid reflux.
You should not:
- Attempt to reduce stomach acids. They are vitally important to your health.
- Eat foods that irritate the esophagus.
- Continue to ignore that your pH levels must be balanced to reduce acid reflux permanently.
- Continue to eat inflammation causing foods like caffeine (coffee), alcohol, tomatoes, garlic, onions, spicy foods, foods that are highly processed, and foods high in refined carbs and sugar.
- Continue to lead a sedentary lifestyle.
- Believe that your acid reflux is due to the consumption of spicy foods. While spicy foods may make your acid reflux worse, they aren’t causing it.
- Believe that if you’ve made it into adulthood without getting acid reflux you’ll never get it. This isn’t true. Even a few extra trips to a fast food restaurant can trigger GERD symptoms.
- Believe that if you don’t have “spit up” or regurgitated food in your throat you don’t have acid reflux. If other acid reflux symptoms appear, you may have what is called “silent acid reflux.”
- Think you can take a magic pill, over-the-counter or prescribed, that will cure your GERD or acid reflux overnight. You will have to change your body’s pH and chronic inflammation over time to see true, lasting results, but this can happen faster than you might think!