Just over 10% of Australians are diagnosed with GORD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). More of us are likely to be experiencing the symptoms, remaining undiagnosed.
Common symptoms of GORD
- A burning sensation in your chest (also known as heartburn)
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry cough
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux)
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
If you have mentioned these symptoms to your GP, chances are you have been put onto medication to manage them. One of the most popular medications used to manage the symptoms of GORD is a drug class known as ‘Proton Pump Inhibitors’ (PPIs for short). Some common PPIs include Somac and Nexium.
While these medications certainly can provide relief of GORD and acid reflux, they have a number of downsides.
You might already know I’m a huge fan of identifying and addressing the underlying cause of a health issue.
The stomach lining is designed to withstand the high acidity of your stomach acid, but the rest of your digestive tract is not. So, unmanaged reflux can result in long-term damage to the oesophagus, causing all sorts of other issues. This can include an increased risk of developing Barett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.
The pitfalls of medicating
In the case of GORD and reflux, there is an underlying issue that has not yet been addressed, and are being masked by the use of PPI medication.
PPIs reduce your stomach acid; therefore thankfully, decreasing the chances of your stomach acid crawling up and doing damage to other parts of your digestive system, as well as also reducing that burning sensation you’re probably oh so familiar with.
Your body needs stomach acid to break down your food and enable your small intestine to absorb many important substances. PPIs inhibit the absorption of nutrients including B vitamins, Magnesium, Zinc, and more. Many of those taking PPIs long-term will exhibit deficiencies in these nutrients and experience symptoms relating to these deficiencies.
it’s a similar story if you are constantly relying on antacids such as Gaviscon, Mylanta and Quick-eze.
The most common underlying issue may surprise you…
One misconception of GORD and reflux is that it is caused by too much stomach acid. In reality, and in my clinical experience, usually the contrary is true: there will not be ENOUGH stomach acid!
Again, the main purpose of PPIs is to reduce stomach acid – this affects the way a person digests their meals, and therefore, affects the way our food is broken down to be absorbed, potentially resulting in malnutrition which can then exacerbate symptoms and bring about other health issues.
Naturopathically, it can be fairly simple to determine if a person has high or low stomach acid without invasive techniques. This includes iridology (looking into the iris), the condition of the nails, as well as other signs and symptoms.
A personal story
When I was about 13 years old, I complained to my mum of chest pain and trouble breathing when eating. I would often pat my chest because it felt like the food was stuck. We went to the GP and he said it was reflux. He didn’t act like it was a big deal. In his own words, “even babies get reflux”.
Apparently, it was not all that uncommon for a young girl to experience the symptoms of GORD. It made sense, because mum had suffered for years with acid reflux and had trouble eating a wide range of foods. It seemed I was to suffer the same fate.
I’ve now learned that what I was experiencing was actually more like indigestion than acid reflux, which also occurs as a result of low stomach acid (combined with poor food choices). But without knowing this as a child, I was shrugged off by the GP and mum gave me Quick-eze to manage my symptoms.
You can just buy Quick-eze from the supermarket or chemist without a prescription. I didn’t know about the ramifications – I guzzled those things like lollies, because they tasted nice, too! If I felt a bit peckish I would grab one out my pocket and have one for the sake of it (I cringe at the thought of it now).
Who knows what that did for my digestive health, but at least I know better now. What was probably just low stomach acid and nutrient deficiencies that needed to be corrected probably stemmed into other things I experienced later on in life, because the underlying cause was not addressed.
So, what CAN be done for reflux and GORD?
There are many things that can be done to reduce symptoms and prevent them from coming back. What can and should be done really depends on the person. Treatment could involve methods such as:
- Further investigations to rule out other causes, such as Hiatus Hernia or Peptic Ulcer Disease (PUD)
- Correcting nutritional deficiencies
- Improving overall digestive function and gut health
- Identifying and addressing food triggers
- Testing for other potential food triggers using food intolerance testing, or something I find quite helpful in these cases – 500 foods hair analysis.
The above can be done using dietary, herbal and/or nutritional strategies.
A simple home remedy
Try drinking a warm glass of water with 1-2tsp apple cider vinegar or juice of 1/2 lemon before or with your meals. This helps to stimulate digestion and reduces the likelihood of developing symptoms.
Other things you can try to resolve reflux:
- Avoid foods that are known to exacerbate your symptoms, as well as suspected triggers (coffee, wine, chocolate, spicy foods, as well as processed and high-starch foods)
- Drinking licorice or marshmallow tea daily, or taking licorice in the form of a chewable tablet (DGL Licorice which is safe for those with hypertension) can also help to soothe the digestive tract and encourage healing.
Other therapeutic methods will sometimes be needed for a longer-term solution, as often there are other issues to address, as mentioned above.
Could there be a more sinister condition lurking?
The other danger of chronically low stomach acid is the potential to develop SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. This is a condition where bacteria is present in the small intestine (where it shouldn’t be) – and can interfere with nutrient absorption even further. SIBO can present with symptoms similar to IBS and can be diagnosed via a breath test. Unfortunately, it is not easy to treat and requires help from a knowledgable practitioner.
If you suffer from symptoms of GORD and acid reflux, there are certainly things that can be done about it. You don’t have to suffer through every meal!
Call me on 0433079960 to discuss an appointment to improve your GORD symptoms or book online today.