Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD or acid reflux, is a common condition that affects more than 60 million Americans at least once a month. It occurs when the liquid content of the stomach backs up into the esophagus. This backflow occurs when the valve between the lower esophageal sphincter fails to close properly, permitting stomach acid and other liquid contents to back up. The stomach acid irritates and can damage the lining of the esophageal tissues and causes pain.
Each year in the U.S., 100 million prescriptions are given for proton pump inhibitors, which suppress the stomach’s production of acid. In addition, antacid medications can probably be found in the medicine cabinets of most homes. These medications do not come without some serious risks.
For example, a 2006 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed an analysis of 16 years of medical records from 13,556 patients with hip fractures and 135,836 patients without fractures. Those records involved people over the age of 50. Researchers found those patients who took proton pump inhibitors at average doses for more than a year had a 44% increased risk of breaking a hip. Those who took higher than average doses more than doubled their risk of hip fracture. (Y.X. Yang et al. The Journal of the American Medical Association. December, 2006.) The prevailing thought is that these commonly used medications decrease calcium absorption. Our concern is that they also inhibit the absorption of many other minerals that require stomach acid for absorption. In addition, the breakdown of protein foods into smaller amino acids is also of concern. Protein that is not broken down effectively contributes to malabsorption and a host of problems including digestive problems (cramps, bloating, gas) and allergy symptoms as the immune system reacts to these larger than normal protein molecules.
A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that long term use of H2 blockers may increase the risk of mental decline in later life. Researchers looked at the use of H2 blockers among 1,558 over-65 African-Americans enrolled in a study of aging. The study showed that after taking into account other factors, elderly people who reported “continuous use” of H2 blockers had a 2.4-fold higher chance of some form of cognitive impairment. This risk included mild to potentially severe dementia similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers speculate the impairment of B12 absorption may be the reason for the increased chance of mental impairment. (Boustani, M. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, August 2007; vol 55: pp 1248-1253. Malaz Boustani, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine; scientist, Regenstrief Institute, Indianapolis; director of research, Indianapolis Discovery Network for Dementia. Charles J. Duffy, MD, PHD, professor of neurology and director of cognitive and behavioral neurology, University of Rochester, N.Y.)
Natural therapies should definitely be a preferred method of treatment whenever possible.
Untreated, GERD can scar the lining of the esophagus making it hard to swallow. It can also increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
- Eat basic, unrefined foods that have not been stripped of their natural fiber. Whole grains, raw vegetables, and raw nuts and seeds are all good choices.
- Avoid overeating by planning several light meals throughout the day.
- Drink plenty of water. To maintain good digestive health, you need to drink a glass of clean water every two waking hours. In addition, have a large glass or two whenever you feel symptoms coming on. The water will dilute and neutralize the rising stomach acids.
- Do not eat just before bedtime. Allow two to three hours for your stomach to empty.
- Stay away from foods that are hard to digest. Saturated, hydrogenated, and partially hydrogenated fats linger in the stomach and often lead to acid reflux. The most frequent culprits are fried and greasy foods, red meat, and heavy sauces.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, and spicy or minty foods. They irritate the stomach and can aggravate your symptoms.
- Elevate your head while sleeping. Raise the head of your bed six inches by placing wooden blocks beneath the bed frame’s head two legs.
Nutritional and homeopathic supplements are very helpful in combating reflux. Examples include aloe vera, DGL, limonene extract, and nux vomica.
Aloe is a popular medicinal plant that is used medicinally around the world. Ancient Egyptian texts describe its use for skin conditions. It has a historical use in China, India, Europe, and North America. It has anti-inflammatory effects when applied topically and taken internally. It also contains 20 amino acids that help with tissue repair.
Losing weight, coping with stress effectively, and stopping smoking are helpful in eliminating or improving GERD.